Tampa Bay Rays Affiliate Analysis: Durham Bulls
By Robbie Knopf
The minor league season is just underway, and after speculating after which Tampa Bay Rays prospects would head where for months, we finally know for certain. Over the next couple of days, let’s run through the roster of each Rays affiliate and get a feel for the top prospects at each level and the team as a whole. We will start with the Rays’ Triple-A franchise, the Durham Bulls.
Starting Pitchers: Dylan Floro, Everett Teaford, Scott Diamond, Matt Buschmann, Andrew Bellatti
Between a back injury to Enny Romero, the promotions of Nate Karns and Matt Andriese, and the trade of Mike Montgomery, the Bulls’ rotation is suddenly unimpressive. The good news for the Bulls, though, is that several of those guys will return and that prospect status isn’t necessarily a good indicator of how these pitchers will perform at Triple-A.
Floro is the best prospect of the current group basically by default. He stands out for his heavy groundball tendencies and impeccable control, although his inability to miss bats is concerning. The only other player of prospect age in the rotation is Bellatti, who has started a grand total of one game in his three years at full-season ball. There is some reason for optimism, though, thanks to his low-90’s fastball, very good slider, and decent changeup, and this is a nice opportunity for him.
Teaford and Diamond are further rotation depth as two guys with big league experience but questionable stuff while Buschmann has no big league time but may be a bit more interesting. He pairs his sinker in the 88-90 MPH range with a good slider and solid changeup, and he pitched quite well for the Bulls in 2013. It is reasonable to expect a good season for him in Durham, and he can dream of finally getting called up for a game or two.
Relievers: Jose Dominguez, Jordan Norberto, C.J. Riefenhauser, Brandon Gomes, Jim Miller, Jim Patterson, Bryce Stowell
The relievers are arguably more interesting than the starters on this team right now. Dominguez’s triple-digit fastball makes him the candidate to be the next Tampa Bay Rays reliever that finds his way to a high-leverage role after starting in the minors, following guys like Brad Boxberger and Alex Torres. Jordan Norberto is another guy to watch as a lefty who touches the mid-90’s to pair with a promising breaking ball.
C.J. Riefenhauser may be the best bet to go up and down for the Rays a few times this year. The lefty’s fastball velocity is unimpressive, but his slider is spectacular. We know about Gomes–now he’s going with a fastball-splitter-slider arsenal–and we’ll have to see if he gets another chance to prove that the league won’t adjust to him every single time. Miller could also be big league fill-in, although his secondary stuff is quite questionable.
Catchers: Curt Casali, Luke Maile, Mayo Acosta
Everyone knows that Casali is better than Bobby Wilson, but it’s nice for the Rays that they can afford to let Casali develop a little more in the minors. He looked better on stolen base attempts this spring, but they want to see him hit for a few months before they recall him. At that time, Wilson will be designated for assignment and likely replace him on the Durham roster after passing through waivers.
Maile may actually have a touch more upside than Casali, although he definitely needs a full year or close to it at Triple-A. The dream is that he can be above-average both offensively and defensively for a catcher and profile as a starter, although we’ll see how that goes. Acosta, meanwhile, is an organizational catcher.
Infielders: Vince Belnome (Starting 1B), Ryan Brett (2B), Hak-Ju Lee (SS), Jake Elmore (3B), Alexi Casilla, Eugenio Velez
Allan Dykstra will eventually return from the major leagues to see a lot of time at first base, and we also have to hope that Richie Shaffer and Cameron Seitzer will eventually deemed worthy of promotions from Double-A Montgomery. Until then, the Rays still have a lot to like, particularly on the middle infield.
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Brett may be the Rays’ second baseman in the near future thanks to his good pure hitting, excellent speed, and surprising pop. His primary goals this year will be to improve his plate discipline and cut down on his defensive mistakes. To be clear, he should eventually be fine in both regards. Lee, meanwhile, could also work his way into a job with the Rays, but his bat faces major questions at this point. We know about his fielding, but it isn’t enough if he doesn’t get back to hitting the way he is capable.
Finally, Elmore, Casilla, and Velez all have big league experience and are solid infield depth if the Rays need an extra bench player. Elmore is the guy who stuck with fans the most after a decent spring, although Casilla could beat him for a call-up if the Rays need someone to play against right-handed pitching.
Outfielders: Joey Butler (LF), Corey Brown (CF), Taylor Motter (RF)
The Bulls’ outfield is also a little thin after the promotion of Mikie Mahtook to the Rays. If and when he returns, he will keep focusing on his plate discipline and harnessing his power. Motter is the most interesting of the other three and is one of the most underrated players in the system. He features solid speed, plate discipline, and power, and he also features versatility. He could eventually earn a bench role with the Rays.
Brown and Butler, meanwhile, both have big league experience and could be called up in an emergency. Brown has a leg up because of his ability to play centerfield, although his lack of plate discipline has prevented him from using his athleticism to earn a regular role.
On the whole, the Tampa Bay Rays organization has certainly seen better Durham Bulls teams, but there is plenty of reason for intrigue on the middle infield and at catcher plus a few arms that are worth watching. While the Rays were ravaged by injuries, this team has been ravaged by promotions, and it will be interesting to see who goes up to the majors and goes back down to Durham over the course of the year.
Next: Citrus Series Preview: Evan Longoria Vs. Giancarlo Stanton