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Durham is Loaded With Tampa Bay Rays Prospects

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Feb 18, 2017; Port Charlotte, FL, USA;Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Casey Gillaspie (71) posses for a photo during photo day at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2017; Port Charlotte, FL, USA;Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Casey Gillaspie (71) posses for a photo during photo day at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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To have some twenty prospects at Triple-A Durham puts the Tampa Bay Rays in a situation to cover any form of injury or failure by players at the major league level.

When you take a look at most Triple-A rosters they are loaded with minor league lifers looking for one more shot at the major leagues. Sprinkled in among those career minor leaguers are a few of a major league teams’ top and most advanced prospects. These are the players the big league club believes are a step away from holding down a spot on the organizations’ 25 man roster. That isn’t the case with the Tampa Bay Rays 2017 Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls team.

Ten of the players on the Bulls’ 30 man roster (includes five players on the disabled list) are among the Tampa Bay Rays top 30 prospects. Six more have been on the team’s top 30 list at least once in their Rays career. Three more have played in the Rays organization for their entire career.

The top ten include an entire starting rotation consisting of Chih-Wei Hu (#8), Jacob Faria (#9), Taylor Guerrieri (#18) and Ryan Yarbrough (#24). The fifth starter, Jose De Leon (#3), is on the disabled list. The bullpen includes Jaime Schultz (#15) and setup man Ryne Stanek (#16). I don’t know if there is an ace is this group but it’s not hard to see De Leon as a number two starter and Schultz as a closer or high profile setup man.

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Durham’s roster also includes position players such as shortstop Willy Adames (#1), outfielder/first baseman Jake Bauers (#4) and first baseman Casey Gillaspie (#5). All three of them expect to see their fist major league action this season and compete for starting jobs with the Rays in 2018.

Bull’s catcher Curt Casali, infielders Jake Hager, Patrick Leonard, Kean Wong and Ryan Brett and outfielder Johnny Field have all been on the Tampa Bay Rays top thirty list at least once. Hager and Brett may have the highest ceiling but their careers have been hampered by injuries. Wong is interesting as he is the brother of St. Louis Cardinal infielder Kolten Wong and at age 21 has been a solid hitter in each of the four full-season minor leagues in which he has played.

Three more Bulls players are not top prospects but have played in the Tampa Bay Rays system for their entire careers. They include relief pitchers Jeff Ames and Ryan Garton and outfielder Dayron Varona. Ames has had a successful but not spectacular minor league career with the Rays. Garton pitched 37 innings for the Rays last year and posted a 4.35 era. Varona is a Cuban player who joined the Rays late in his baseball career and is seen as a marginal prospect.

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Last, but perhaps not least, are pitchers Chase Whitley and Justin Marks. Neither is a prospect but both are in the Rays’ pitching mix. Whitley has come off Tommy John surgery and pitched well in spring training, and he could be the first call up if a Rays starter goes down. Marks is a left-hander who pitched well in spring training and could get the call if the Rays feel they need another lefty in the bullpen.

The Bulls team may get even better in May as prospects Austin Pruitt, Daniel Robertson and Mallex Smith may join the team following the return of Brad Boxberger, Matt Duffy, and Colby Rasmus. These moves combined with Durham players coming off the disabled list would mean that almost the entire Bulls roster would be made up of prospects.

This is a different situation for the Rays. To have some twenty prospects at AAA puts them in a situation to cover any form of injury or failure by players at the major league level. No longer do they need to clear a roster spot for a couple of months of playing time for a AAA lifer.

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When all is said and done, let’s hope that the major league team is so good that it does not need to use these assets until 2018 but it’s nice to know you have backup a phone call away.

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