Results tagged ‘ Blake Snell ’

DURM Aces: The Path to DURM Night

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The path to success is rarely easy. Regardless of how ‘success’ is defined, it’s more than likely there will be setbacks, bumps in the road, and perhaps even moments of doubt along the way. It’s what an individual does in those moments of doubt that can define a person, and make the difference between becoming ‘successful,’ regardless of how it’s measured.

In the case of Blake Snell, there were definitely moments of doubt. Selected by the Tampa Bay Rays as the 52nd overall pick in 2011, the expectations were always high. Tall, hard-throwing left-handed starters are always at a premium, and as a high draft pick much was expected out of the Washington native.

The young southpaw didn’t disappoint in his early years, putting up good numbers in the Gulf Coast League the year he was drafted, and earning Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2012. The 2013 season saw the highly-touted prospect take a step back though, as he went just 4-9 with a 4.27 ERA for Single-A Bowling Green.

“There were points when I stopped caring for a little while,” Snell said. “I thought I lost that drive – I was more just doing it to do it.”

It was around the same time of the 2011 draft that Gabriel Eng-Goetz, born and raised in Durham, kicked off his clothing company, RUNAWAY. The clothing line’s founder and creative director, Eng-Goetz was experiencing trials and tribulations on his path to success like Snell, albeit in an entirely different way.

“There have been several points where I was very close to giving it up, but that was mostly because I was younger and I was frustrated I wasn’t getting straight to the top,” he said. “But now I realize after five years that everything else takes time.”

The 2004 graduate of Jordan High School has seen the last five years as a learning experience, constantly absorbing new information about design, business, and everything else that comes with launching a business.

While Eng-Goetz was learning the ins-and-outs of getting a company off the ground, Snell was aiming to re-focus, and embark on a straight line to the major leagues.

“After that year (2013), when I thought that I lost that drive I just sat there and talked with my family,” Snell said. “And that’s when I dug deep and thought, ‘I’m a lot better than this.’ I had a major opportunity and chance in front of me, and now I’m here.”

“Here” is referring to his status as one of the game’s top prospects, the 12th-best prospect in Minor League Baseball according to Baseball America. The consensus top prospect in the Rays’ system was named both Baseball America’s and USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2015 after he went 15-4 with a 1.41 ERA across three levels, meeting the high expectations of the 2011 draft.

Coming off a prolific season, the 23-year-old opened the season in Durham, but was promoted to the Rays for a start at the end of April, where he would join his new teammates in New York City to take on the Yankees.

“I only pitched one game – I was with the team for one day, so it almost doesn’t feel like I was up there,” Snell said. “But pitching in New York, on a Saturday with 40-something thousand people watching and it was on national TV – that was fun.”

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Eng-Goetz (left) and Snell have had similar experiences over the last five years on their path to success

It was only fitting Snell’s big league debut came just shy of five years after he was drafted, as he took the mound at Yankee Stadium less than a month after Eng-Goetz saw a long-time goal become reality. RUNAWAY opened its storefront on Main St. in Downtown Durham in late-March, giving people a chance to see the brand in-person in a store of its own for the very first time.

It was in that very store that the two finally met in early-June, as Snell picked Eng-Goetz’s brain about his journey from nothing to a storefront on Main St., and Eng-Goetz asked about the journey from high school prospect to big league pitcher. It was also in that store where the two got a glimpse of the Bulls’ DURM Night jerseys, which the team will wear on Thursday, June 9.

In addition to the opening of the RUNAWAY store, Eng-Goetz and his team had another thing up their sleeve that had been in the works since the winter – a collaborative jersey design with the Durham Bulls.

What started as an innocuous tweet from RUNAWAY friend @ProfessorToon – suggesting the Bulls wear a uniform designed by the clothing line – was seen by the team’s social media department, and a plan was put in to place.

“When the Bulls reached out for that first meeting, I wasn’t exactly sure what they wanted to do,” Eng-Goetz said. “My goal was to design something that the Bulls would wear on field, even though I never said that explicitly. But as soon as the Bulls came in and sat down in that meeting, it was crazy to me because we were that much on the same page for the whole project.”

As the Bulls met with Eng-Goetz and RUNAWAY’s Communications and Media Director Justin Laidlaw (another Durham native), the two sides brainstormed how they could take their different and unique businesses and brands, and combine them for an unforgettable event.

“I was looking forward to making a jersey that carries this new flag for Durham, which is this hip/tech area, but also keeping in mind all those old Durham memories,” Eng-Goetz said. “The Bulls are a very old team, and for me it was a nostalgic thing to think about working with the Bulls.”

The end result was a uniform that ties together the Bulls, RUNAWAY and the City of Durham. The most striking characteristic of the uniform are its colors, as royal blue, gold and red are seen throughout to pay homage to Durham’s flag.

Highlighting the uniform is the jersey’s chest, where DURM is emblazoned across the front, beginning with the Bulls’ iconic ‘D’ logo. DURM is a term coined by RUNAWAY as an ode to the city’s hard-nosed history, and just above the letters on the chest are the seven stars of Durham, seen on the city’s flag.

The hat the players will wear is a variation of the Bulls’ existing hat, as the team’s block ‘D’ will be in red and trimmed in gold, while the seven stars of Durham will burst through the letter, instead of the team’s iconic snorting bulls. The uniforms final touch comes from the bottom, as the team will don blue, gold, and red socks as a final tribute to the city.

“As lifelong fans this is a dream opportunity,” Eng-Goetz said. “What better stage to showcase pride for our hometown than under the bright lights of Durham Bulls Athletic Park?”

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Fans can buy tickets to DURM Night here. Game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off online, with all proceeds benefiting Durham Bulls Youth Athletic League.

The Arrival: Blake Snell

Take a peek at how Tampa Bay Rays’ top prospect Blake Snell prepares for a start, beginning from the time he leaves his apartment to the time he takes the mound.

Blake Snell: Constant Improvement

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Three players in Durham Bulls history have won both the USA Today and Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year awards in the same season: Andruw Jones in 1996, Jeremy Hellickson in 2010 and Blake Snell in 2015.

That’s already pretty impressive company, but how about this: Snell’s 1.41 ERA in 2015 was the lowest in the minors since Justin Verlander had a 1.29 in 2005.

He’s garnering a reputation in the International League, too.

“He has a power fastball from the left side and that always plays,” said Kyle Roller, who played with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2015. “I never faced him, and I’m glad I didn’t have to. I’m glad he’s on my team.”

He is also the second-ranked left-handed pitcher in the minors, according to Baseball America, and the consensus No. 1 prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.

So after all that Blake Snell accomplished in 2015, it’d be easy to think he should keep doing the same thing he did in preparation for last season to continue that success. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Or maybe he earned some time to coast and enjoy the success he already accomplished. Snell had other ideas. On top of his usual offseason training he tried something new — an improved diet.

“It was more I just started eating healthier foods,” Snell said, “and I dropped the soda, the ice cream, all the bad food I just dropped out and made it every day I was eating healthy and pretty much only drinking water. That was more of a good mix and I felt really good every day.”

Jettisoning the junk food might not have added five miles per hour to Snell’s four-seamer, but he already noticed having more energy, feeling better every day, and never having a day where he feels like he’s dragging.

“It was [tough] at first because I like drinking soda pretty frequently, and eating ice cream and that food pretty frequently,” he said. “But after a while I got used to it.”

Another unique offseason training technique was perhaps more tied to Snell’s offseason location. He spent the fall and winter in his hometown of Shoreline, Wash., just north of Seattle, where he had easy access to a plethora of hiking trails in the nearby mountains.

“I went hiking a lot of places, but my favorite was Lake Blanca,” Snell said. “I want to say it’s a 14 or 12 mile hike, and you go all the way up the mountain. It’s just all repetitive, and you’re like, ‘Am I there yet?’ I was getting bored so I started running up the mountain and it felt like I got nowhere.”

You won’t hear of many pitchers running up a mountain as part of their offseason training. But Snell said he remained focused on the prize at the end, and the long combination of trail running and hiking was more than worth it.

“Out of nowhere you get to a little valley and over that is Lake Blanca, which is all glacier water and it’s like the most beautiful water I’d ever seen,” he said. “It was pretty cold, but I told myself I had to get in it. So I got in, not my whole body, but at least half my body, so I was excited about that.”

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Another product of his successful 2015 season was an invitation to Spring Training with the big league club. There he got to share a locker room with Tampa Bay Rays aces Chris Archer, Drew Smyly and Matt Moore, among many others.

“I would say I learned a lot of stuff,” Snell said. “Not like pitches or anything like that, but I learned just watching the big league guys and how they carry themselves, how they go about their days. It’s not like you get to big league camp and you learn so much, there’s just little by little that you learn, and I learned some pretty cool things from watching.”

Snell got a taste of how the big leaguers carry themselves when Matt Moore came to Durham on a rehab assignment in 2015, and Moore again caught his eye in Spring Training.

“He’s taught me more than he can imagine just in certain situations on the field, pitch count, just more of nothing to do with a pitch, just when to throw it, how to throw it,” Snell said.

One other change he noticed in himself after spending part of the preseason in Major League camp was his aggressiveness in workouts, Snell said. He’s taking each workout and training session more seriously and being intentional about what he does between starts.

He’s not only working harder, Snell has his sights again set on high goals. After such a successful season in 2015, he’s not pausing or coasting to enjoy the limelight.

“It’s weird because I did win all those awards, but I never really felt it,” Snell said. “If I don’t feel it, I don’t know how to show it. So I was excited about it, but I don’t feel it in that sense because I’m the kind of guy that feels like I always have something to work on.”

Snell also isn’t the type of person who leaves a checklist of goals on his locker for all to see. He prefers to keep his aspirations for the season to himself and use them for personal motivation.

“I get up and think about it and say, ‘Ok you have to work to get to where you want to be,’” he said. “I don’t set goals that are necessarily easy. I really want to reach for the moon and go for it.”

So while fans may not know exactly what Snell is working toward, they can trust his training. It already led to wild success last season and improved energy, and there’s little doubt that what he accomplishes this season he was focused on the entire offseason.

Spring Training Notes: Motter To Minor League Camp, Rays May Tap Durham Pitchers For Spot Starts

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Left-handed pitcher Blake Snell, the Rays’ No. 1 prospect, could be one of a handful of Bulls who sees time in Tampa Bay early in season.

As Friday’s split-squad games mark the end of Spring Training for the Rays, the team announced a few of the final cuts and reassignments of the spring.  Infielder/outfielder Taylor Motter’s move to minor league camp is perhaps the most notable move of the past week to Bulls fans.

Motter impressed Rays coaches and front office staff with a .250 average in 14 games this spring, including a home run and three doubles. His defense was also impressive for a utility player, as he showed the ability to play almost anywhere on the field in the majors.

“We’d have all the confidence in the world (bringing him up), basically playing him anywhere,” Rays manager Kevin Cash told the Tampa Tribune. More from Cash on Motter.

Motter will likely see time all over the field, but Cash mentioned wanting him to get more time at shortstop. MLB.com’s Bill Chastain had more on how Motter’s strong showing makes him a likely call-up.

The Motter move likely signals that Tim Beckham will start the season with the Rays. With one option remaining on his contract, Beckham could very well see time in Durham if a roster spot is needed for the big league club.

Last season saw 213 (!!!) transactions for the Bulls, with a few players on the “Durham Shuttle.” The Shuttle is the affectionate term for players who are called up or sent down to accommodate holes in the Rays’ roster due to injury, fatigue or performance. This week, Roger Mooney wrote about Mikie Mahtook’s time on the Shuttle last season.

Mooney also noted that since the Rays announced they will go with a four-man pitching rotation to start the season, a starter from Durham will likely be the fifth when needed. This goes against the assumption that Erasmo Ramirez would have been the fifth starter when needed, instead suggesting that he will only be used out of the bullpen for the first part of the season.

The Rays’ schedule allows for only one or two times a fifth starter would be needed (based on when their off days fall) through the first month of the season. Any Bulls players who could be the Rays’ fifth starter when needed will use this as another chance to prove themselves as a viable full-time fifth starter for the big league club.

The less-heralded catcher position battle in Tampa Bay could have affected the Bulls roster this season, as Curt Casali, Rene Rivera and Hank Conger all vied for two spots on the roster. The Rays will go with Casali and Conger splitting time to begin the season, as Rivera was released on Wednesday. Conger could still see time in Durham his season, as the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin noted that he still has an option left.

In a flurry of moves on Wednesday, March 30, the Rays released RHPs David Carpenter and Dan Johnson, informed 1B James Loney that he would not make the team, and reassigned INF Richie Shaffer and RHP Matt AndrieseLoney could be traded or released, while Andriese and Shaffer should see time in both Durham and Tampa Bay. Andriese went 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA in three games this spring and Shaffer hit .125 with a home run and a double in 12 games.

Other players optioned in the past week included RHPs Jhan Marinez and Tyler Sturdevant, C Mayo Acosta and OF Jaff Decker.

One notable 2015 Bull who wasn’t reassigned to Durham was OF Mikie Mahtook. Hitting .241 with a home run and 4 RBIs in 13 games this spring, Mahtook appears to be in contention for one of the final spots on the Rays’ Opening Day Roster.

Relief pitchers Andrew Belatti, Danny Farquhar and Dana Eveland are also in contention for the final two spots on the Opening Day roster. Eveland has an opt-out he can exercise on Friday if he doesn’t make the active roster.

***UPDATE: Topkin now says Eveland may not have a Friday opt-out. The final two roster moves may not be made until Saturday or Sunday.***

Notes: The Rays’ farm system jumped from No. 24 in 2015 to No. 11 entering this season in Baseball Prospectus’ latest Organizational Rankings… The Tampa Tribune’s Roger Mooney noted that the Rays’ lineup is essentially set and previewed the batting order… Some other reassigned players from late last week: RHPs Kyle McPherson and Mark Sappington, and INF Juniel Querecuto… After the Rays used iPads in the dugout to access scouting reports and other advanced analytics last season, the MLB and Apple signed a deal to make iPads available in every dugout in the league… The consensus among Rays beat writers is that the active roster will be finalized sometime Saturday, April 2. The Bulls roster won’t be far behind that.

Snell, Faria, Guerrieri Optioned to Minors

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Blake Snell will most likely open the 2016 season with the Bulls

There was much talk this past offseason if whether or not the reigning USA Today and Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year, Blake Snell, would open the season as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays pitching rotation. Coming off a season in which he went 15-4 with a 1.41 ERA across three levels (and 6-2 with a 1.83 in nine starts with Durham), it wasn’t out of the question the 23-year-old could compete at the big league level. However, with a full staff of starters, today the Rays optioned Snell, Jake Faria and Taylor Guerrieri to Minor League camp.

Should the Rays stay healthy through Spring Training, this all but ensures Snell will open the 2016 campaign in Durham. For Faria and Guerrieri, the answer isn’t as clear. Both right-handers, they each split last season between Advanced-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery. Faria led all minor leaguers with 17 wins, while posting a 1.92 ERA. Guerrieri, in his first season back from Tommy John, combined to go 5-3 with a 1.85 ERA in 20 appearances (18 starts). Despite their 2015 success, there’s still a chance they could open the year in Double-A to ensure they’re ready to make the jump to Durham. Still, it would come as a shock to no one if they broke Spring Training and headed north to the Bull City.

Additionally infielder Ryan Brett was optioned to minors camp today, while nine players were reassigned from big league camp to minors camp.

 

Decoding Terms You’ll Hear During Spring Training

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Blake Snell is just one of the former Bulls who was invited to the Rays’ Spring Training camp.

Rays pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Friday, Feb. 19, but players for other major league teams have already started reporting as of today. During Spring Training, the Rays play and practice at their facility in Port Charlotte, Florida, the home of the Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League (High-A). As Spring Training ramps up, there is a good chance fans are going to read and hear some unique terms thrown around. Split squads, extended Spring Training and non-roster invites are just a few examples. To help readers understand more of what goes into Spring Training, here are explanations of a few key terms.

25-Man Roster

Also referred to as the “active roster,” the 25-man is the group of players who play for the organization at the major-league level. The 25-man is not usually set until the end of Spring Training.

40-Man Roster

Sometimes referred to as the “expanded roster,” the 40-man is made up of all of the players in the organization who are signed to a major-league contract. This includes every player on the major league club, injured players on the 15-day disabled list, and minor league players who are signed to a major-league contract. One exception is if a player is out with injury for an extended period of time, and is put on the 60-day disabled list. In that case, their 40-man spot is open until they are active off of the disabled list, and teams are free to add another player to their 40-man roster. To remove a player from the 40-man, that player must be “designated for assignment” (DFA).

Click here to see the Rays current 40-man roster

Designated For Assignment

A player who is designated for assignment is removed from the team’s 40-man roster, after which the team can place the player on waivers within the first seven days after being designated for assignment, or the team has 10 days to trade the player, release the player, outright them to a minor league team, or return them to the 40-man roster. A player who is already in the minors, but on the 40-man, may be designated for assignment just to free up a 40-man roster spot.

Player Options

A player who is on the 40-man and gets called up to the majors, but then sent back down to the minors uses one of their options. Teams can call up and send down a player multiple times in a season because they get three seasons of options to use on a player. Once a player has used their three option years, they must be kept on the 25-man roster, or they have to be placed on waivers and go unclaimed before they can go back down to the minors.

Non-Roster Invitees

A player may attend major league Spring Training without being on the 40-man roster if they are classified as a non-roster invitee. Players who receive non-roster invites are generally top prospects or players close to the major league level who the team thinks need the experience around major league players, or veterans who signed a minor league contract with the chance to make the major league team in Spring Training. Some veterans may sign a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, but if they don’t make the team they would have the option to be released from their contract and try to sign on with another major league team.

Click here to see the Rays 2016 non-roster invitees

Split-Squad Games

Teams sometimes schedule two games on the same day, so they split their roster into two squads and have them each play a game that day. This is done to get more players playing time, and to make sure the players are getting enough rest. These games count against the team’s Spring Training win-loss record as one game each.

Intra-Squad Games

Teams sometimes also play a game against themselves during Spring Training, where the team is split into two squads and they play each other. These games do not count against a team’s Spring Training record. Other games that would not count against a team’s Spring Training record include games against college teams, minor league teams, or B games, where two major league teams play a scrimmage.

Minor League Spring Training

Players who were not invited to the major league club’s Spring Training camp report to minor league Spring Training camp. Similar to major league Spring Training, they play Spring Training games, do drills and train, but in an environment where they get more focus than if they were all in one Spring Training camp with the major leaguers and non-roster invitees. The Rays have four minor league Spring Training teams for the four main levels of the minor leagues (Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Low-A). Usually two teams will play home games and two teams will play away games each day during Spring Training. Players may be assigned to minor league Spring Training from the major league camp throughout Spring Training and as the major league spring schedule comes to a close if they aren’t going to make the 25-man roster.

Extended Spring Training

After major and minor league Spring Training camps conclude and those teams head to their respective cities to start the season, some players in the organization may not have been assigned to a team. Those players stay at the Spring Training facility for extended Spring Training. These are usually the youngest players in the organization, who will eventually be assigned to a rookie or short-season league, or veterans recovering from injuries.

Cactus League

Half of the major league teams play their Spring Training games in Arizona, which is referred to as the Cactus League. The Los Angeles Angels play in Tempe, Arizona, Colorado and San Francisco play in Scottsdale, Seattle and San Diego play in Peoria, the Chicago Cubs and Oakland play in Mesa, Cincinnati and Cleveland play in Goodyear, the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers play in Glendale, Milwaukee plays in Phoenix, and Kansas City and Texas play in Surprise.

Grapefruit League

The other half of the major league teams play their Spring Training games in Florida, which is called the Grapefruit League. Atlanta plays in Lake Buena Vista, Baltimore plays in Sarasota, Boston and Minnesota play in Fort Myers, Detroit plays in Lakeland, Houston plays in Kissimmee, Miami and St. Louis play in Jupiter, the New York Mets play in Port St. Lucie, the New York Yankees play in Tampa, Philadelphia plays in Clearwater, Pittsburgh plays in Bradenton, Toronto plays in Dunedin and Washington plays in Viera.

Bulls and Rays 2016 Spring Training Key Dates

Feb. 19: Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 21: First pitchers and catchers workout

Feb. 26: First full squad workout

March 2: First Spring Training game, Rays vs. Washington Nationals, 1:05 p.m.

April 3: MLB Opening Day, Rays vs. Toronto Blue Jays, 4:05 p.m.

April 7: MiLB Opening Day, Bulls vs. Charlotte Knights, 6:05 p.m.

Rays Prospects Well Represented in Rankings

Over the last two weeks, MLB.com revealed its Top 10 prospects at each position, before unveiling its Top 100 prospects at the end of last week. Tampa Bay Rays prospects were seen throughout, as Blake Snell, Richie Shaffer and Jake Bauers were all named a Top 10 prospect at their position, while Snell, Brent Honeywell and Willy Adames all cracked the Top 100.

Snell, coming off a historic 2015 campaign, will be fighting for a spot in the Rays rotation when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in three weeks. After posting a miniscule 1.41 ERA a season ago, the 23-year-old southpaw was ranked the No. 2 left-handed pitching prospect in the game, and No. 14 overall.

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Richie Shaffer hit 19 home runs in just 69 games with Durham in 2015

Shaffer, who burst on to the Triple-A scene with Durham in May of last season, was tabbed the No. 8 third base prospect in the game. After spending two stints with Tampa Bay in 2015, he’s another guy that will go in to Spring Training looking to make the big league roster.

Although just 20 years old, Bauers could make his way to Durham in 2016 coming off an impressive 2015 season. After opening the year in Advanced-A Charlotte, he earned a midseason promotion to Double-A Montgomery where he hit .276 and tallied 36 RBI over 69 games. A first baseman, the former 7th-round draft pick was ranked the No. 7 prospect at his position.

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Brent Honeywell has posted a 2.74 ERA over his first two seasons (MiLB.com)

While he couldn’t crack the list of top-ranked right-handers, Honeywell came in at No. 43 in the Top 100. The 72nd overall pick in the 2014 draft has made a name for himself with an effective screwball, and combined to go 9-6 with a 3.18 ERA in 24 starts between Single-A Bowling Green and Advanced-A Charlotte a year ago.

Acquired by Tampa Bay in the David Price trade of 2014, Adames is the No. 81 ranked prospect in the Top 100. In his first full season in the Rays organization, the 20-year-old hit .258 over 106 games with Advanced-A Charlotte.

2016 State of the Bulls, Based on the Rays

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It only comes once a year. Today, as we sit just a little more than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Port Charlotte, Fla. for Spring Training, we examine the state of Durham Bulls baseball. Over the next 10 weeks the Rays’ (and therefor the Bulls’) rosters will take a more defined shape, whether by trades, free agency or other. For now though, we take a look at who could be bound for Durham come early April.

Starting Pitchers

As is typical for Tampa Bay, the starting rotation is strong and young. Headlined by Chris Archer and complimented by Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly and Erasmo Ramirez, the Rays’ staff seems fairly stable. So what does this mean for Durham? First things first, Blake Snell could make a run at the big league staff. He’ll be just 23 this year, but coming off a historic 2015 campaign will earn him a good look in camp. If he doesn’t make the squad, expect him to take the ball on Opening Night for the Bulls. Behind him in that rotation could be Jake Faria and Taylor Guerrieri, two right-handers who were added to the Rays’ 40-man roster back in November. Behind those three the rotation isn’t so clear, with a number of options. Burch Smith and Grayson Garvin are expected to return from injury at some point in 2016, and both have been starters in the past. Additionally Jaime Schultz went 9-5 in 27 starts for Double-A Montgomery last season at age 24, while Ryne Stanek – a 2013 first round pick – made 16 appearances for the Biscuits in 2015. Righty Austin Pruitt posted a 3.09 ERA for Montgomery last year, and Jared Mortensen joined Durham over the final week of the 2015 season, winning both his starts. One unknown is where Dylan Floro fits in, after he spent much of last season in Durham’s rotation but finished the year in the bullpen. Additionally, if Tampa Bay decides to keep Matt Andriese as a starter, expect him to open the year in Durham to stay on a regular routine. The righty was dominant for the Bulls last season, but split the entire year shuttling between North Carolina and Florida as both a starter and long reliever.

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Blake Snell aims to crack Tampa Bay’s rotation out of Spring Training

Relief Pitchers

A veteran relief corps could begin the year in the Bull City. Signed before the 2015 season, Jonny Venters and Neil Wagner each sat out all last year with injuries, but each have significant MLB time. Dana Eveland and Tyler Sturdevant were each picked up as a minor league free agents, and Danny Farquhar was acquired in a trade with Seattle. Most likely to return is Jhan Marinez, a 2015 IL Midseason All-Star who went 4-1 with a 1.92 ERA for the Bulls in his first year in the Rays system. On the younger side, Andrew Bellatti, who opened 2015 in Durham, had a lot of success at the big league level with Tampa Bay but struggled at the Triple-A level. Parker Markel, who’s fastball reaches the high 90s, could open the year in Durham after a call-up late last season, and he could be joined by Brad Schreiber, who saved 30 games between Advanced-A and Double-A last year.

Catchers

After his promotion last summer, Curt Casali took the reins as Tampa Bay’s number one catcher. Rene Rivera appears to be the backup, but Hank Conger was acquired for cash and Luke Maile played well in his first taste of the bigs in September. Expect the Rays to open  the season with Casali and Rivera, leaving Maile and Conger for the Bulls. Don’t forget about Justin O’Conner though, one of the best defensive catchers in the minors and a member of the Rays’ 40-man roster.

Infielders

The Rays infield has had a little bit of a shakeup so far this offseason, acquiring shortstop Brad Miller to replace Asdrubal Cabrera, who signed with the New York Mets. Other than that Evan Longoria will play third, Logan Forsythe second and James Loney first. Assuming the team carries no more than two infield backups, it would appear Tim Beckham and Logan Morrison would have the inside track. On the Durham front, that would mean Richie Shaffer, Ryan Brett and Taylor Motter (all 40-man players) would return to the Bulls to open the year. Still, Durham could also see 22-year-old Daniel Robertson open the year at shortstop after a solid first year at the Double-A level. Tampa Bay also has 2015 Southern League All-Star Cameron Seitzer who can play first base, along with Kyle Roller, an East Carolina University product that hit 14 home runs for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year.

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Daniel Robertson looks to make his Triple-A debut in 2016 (Marvin Gentry)

Outfielders

Brandon Guyer, Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr. all have secured spots on Tampa Bay’s roster. The big question is whether or not Mikie Mahtook will make the big league Opening Day roster after hitting .356 with four homers in 23 games last September. If not, expect him and Motter (who can play infield and outfield) to hit in the top third of Durham’s lineup. After Tyler Goeddel and Joey Rickard were taken in the Rule 5 draft, Tampa Bay’s minor league outfield depth has shortened some. Still, 20-year-old Jake Bauers has a chance to make Durham’s squad after hitting .276 across 69 Double-A games last season, after opening the year with Advanced-A Charlotte. Additionally Johnny Field, another prospect, could make his way to the Bull City as well after tallying 14 homers and swiping 18 bags for the Biscuits last year.

Aside from the bullpen, the 2016 Bulls squad is shaping up to be very young. Still, with plenty of time left between now and the beginning of April, expect Tampa Bay to round out the roster with some veteran additions.

Durham Bulls Top 10 Moments of 2015

2015 marked another historic season of Durham Bulls baseball. From attendance records to another winning season to breakout prospects, the year offered constant surprises and memorable moments. On the doorstep of a new year, we look back at the Durham Bulls Top 10 moments of 2015.

*Editor’s Note: Please take the term “moments” lightly. Some of these are not actual “moments.” We are aware of that. Bear with us.

10. The DBAP Hosts the ACC Tournament

This season Durham Bulls Athletic Park kicked off a four-year run as the site of the ACC Tournament. The six-day event drew a total of 64,140 fans (third most in tournament history), while the championship game between NC State and Florida State drew a tournament-record 9,759 fans.

9. Mike Birling is Named International League Executive of the Year

For the second time in his career, Bulls General Manager Mike Birling earned the IL’s Executive of the Year award. After starting with the club in 1998, Birling led the franchise to back-to-back single-season paid attendance records in 2014 and 2015, while guiding the team through the process of hosting the 2012 Triple-A National Championship Game, 2014 Triple-A All-Star Game and the 2015 ACC Tournament.

8. Jared Sandberg Named Durham’s New Manager

On January 20 Jared Sandberg became the youngest manager in the Triple-A ranks when he was named the new skipper for the Durham Bulls. Just 37, he led Durham to a 74-70 mark, despite seeing the team undergo a franchise-record 213 roster moves and playing in a division in which every team finished at least four games above .500. He became just the fourth manager in the franchise’s Triple-A history (1998-present), following an eight-year stint by Charlie Montoyo.

7. DBAP Celebrates 20th Anniversary Season

2015 marked the 20th anniversary for one of Minor League Baseball’s most iconic ballparks. In the preseason fans voted for the All-DBAP Team, players wore a special commemorative patch on their jerseys and fans shared their favorite ballpark moments all season long using #DBAP20

6. Joey Butler Hits Walk-Off Home Run

On April 24 against Gwinnett, Joey Butler cracked a walk-off, two-run homer to beat the G-Braves 8-6. It marked the first time Durham had won a game via a walk-off dinger since Aug. 11, 2013, and was the team’s only win via a walk-off homer of 2015.

5. Boog Powell Becomes a Human Highlight Reel

Promoted from Double-A Montgomery at the end of June, Boog Powell made the most of his time in the Bull City, turning in highlight reel catches regularly. The play below earned him No. 2 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays, while he also turned in this play and this play. A fan favorite, BOOOOOOOOOOOG was traded to Seattle in November.

4. Richie Shaffer Hits Three Homers in One Game

On June 12 at Louisville, Richie Shaffer cracked three home runs in Durham’s 11-7 win over the Bats. Promoted from Double-A Montgomery just 20 days earlier, Shaffer became just the third Bull in the team’s Triple-A history – and first since 2009 – to hit three homers in one game. The 24-year-old posted four multi-homer games for Durham after he had never had a multi-homer game in his career prior to joining the Bulls.

3. Matt Moore Strikes Out 16

Gaining strength after returning from Tommy John surgery, Matt Moore struck out 16 Columbus Clippers in six innings on Aug. 22 at the DBAP. The southpaw broke the franchise’s Triple-A single-game record for strikeouts, breaking the previous best of 13 set by him and two others.

2. Blake Snell Takes the International League by Storm

After joining the Bulls in late-July, Blake Snell was brilliant over the first nine Triple-A starts of his career. The left-hander allowed one earned run or fewer in eight of his nine starts with Durham, and from the time of his promotion through the end of the season led the league in opponent’s average (.187) and ranked second in wins (6), ERA (1.83) and strikeouts (57). At the end of the season he was crowned the Minor League Player of the Year by both USA Today and Baseball America.

1. Bulls Set Numerous Attendance Records

In 2014 the Bulls completed a $20 million renovation and hosted the Triple-A All-Star Game en route to breaking the franchise’s single-season paid attendance record by drawing 533,033 fans. In 2015 the organization shattered that record – drawing 554,788 fans to the DBAP – over 21,000 fans more than the 2014 campaign. The 20th anniversary season of the DBAP saw the stadium hold a record 15 sellout crowds, hold three capacity-plus crowds on three consecutive days for the first time ever, and set a new single-game paid attendance record on July 4 with 11,871 fans.

From all of us here at the Bulls, we wish you a happy, safe and healthy New Year, and we can’t wait to see you at the DBAP in 2016!

Baseball America Announces Rays Top 10 Prospects

On Friday our friends at Baseball America published their annual list of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Top 10 prospects. Here we take a look at who made that list, and if/when they’ll make an impact on the Durham Bulls.

Snell

Blake Snell combined to post a 1.41 ERA between three levels in 2015

1. Blake Snell

Named Baseball America’s and USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year, Snell had an unreal season. You can read about it here or here, so we’ll skip that part. The real question is whether or not the 23-year-old will open the 2016 season in the Bull City or with Tampa Bay. Coming off the year he had, it’s not crazy to expect him to start the year at the big league level. Don’t forget though, the Rays still have a stacked pitching staff, and they might want to limit Snell’s innings by keeping him in the minors to start the year.

2. Willy Adames

A key piece in the David Price trade in July of 2014, Adames is still just 20 years old. The shortstop hit .258 with Advanced-A Charlotte this season, and projects to spend the majority of 2016 with Double-A Montgomery. Still, with a strong campaign there, a late-season promotion to Durham might not be out of the question.

3. Brent Honeywell

A 2nd-round pick in 2014, Honeywell will turn 21 just before Opening Day 2016. This past season he combined to go 9-6 with a 3.18 ERA between Single-A and Advanced-A, striking out almost a batter an inning. He’s received notoriety for his effective screwball, but is most likely still a season away from reaching the Triple-A level.

4. Jake Bauers

Picked up by the Rays in the same deal that saw Tampa Bay ship Wil Myers to San Diego, Bauers had a strong first season in the Rays’ system, hitting .272 with 11 homers and 74 RBI between Advanced-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery. After the season, the former 7th-round pick was selected to the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars team. Though he’ll spend the entire 2016 season at age 20, it’s not crazy to think he could join the Bulls at some point after hitting .276 over 69 games in Double-A this past season.

5. Garrett Whitley

Whitley was the 13th overall pick the 2015 draft, and struggled in his first foray into professional baseball as he hit just .174 between the Gulf Coast League and Short-Season Hudson Valley. He’s just 18 years old, so don’t expect him in Durham for the next couple of seasons.

Mahtook

Mikie Mahtook ended the 2015 season hitting nine home runs with the Rays

6. Mikie Mahtook

After he was Durham’s MVP in 2014, Mahtook shuttled back-and-forth between the Bulls and Rays throughout the 2015 campaign. Upon being called up for the rest of the year in September, the 26-year-old rattled off a strong month, and finished the season with a .295 average and nine homers at the big league level. Mahtook will compete for a spot on Tampa Bay’s Opening Day roster in Spring Training.

7. Taylor Guerrieri

After missing almost all of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Guerrieri came back with a strong campaign in 2015. As the Rays limited his innings, the 2011 1st-round pick was 5-3 with a 1.85 ERA between Charlotte and Montgomery. The Rays added him to their 40-man roster in November, and he projects to start 2016 with the Bulls.

8. Jacob Faria

Faria, 22, split the 2015 season between Charlotte and Montgomery, going 17-4 with a 1.92 ERA and leading all of Minor League Baseball in wins. A 10th-round pick in 2011, the right-hander should start the year in the Bull City coming off a year in which he struck out more batters than innings pitched.

9. Casey Gillaspie

The 20th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Gillaspie spent the majority of 2015 with Bowling Green, while appearing in 13 games for Charlotte. The 22-year-old showed good power this season by cracking 17 home runs, but is still most likely a year away from joining the Bulls.

10. Daniel Robertson

Acquired from Oakland in the trade that sent Ben Zobrist to the A’s, Robertson missed almost half of the 2015 campaign after suffering a broken hamate bone. Still, the 21-year-old hit .274 and drove in 41 in 78 games for Montgomery. The shortstop, taken 34th overall in 2012, projects to spend significant time with the Bulls in 2016, if not begin the year in Durham.