Durham Offers the Tampa Bay Rays Plenty of Reinforcements

Brent Honeywell (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Brent Honeywell (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Durham Bulls, the Rays top minor league affiliate not only ran away winning the South Division of the International League but captured their fifth international League Championship and will now look to add a second Triple-A National Championship.

The Tampa Bay Rays top minor league affiliate Durham Bulls had quite a season. They finished in first place in the International League South with an 86-56 record and 15 games ahead of the next team in the league. Of course, good players make good teams and the Bulls had plenty of talent on display.

The minor league veterans often outnumber the prospects at Triple A but that was not the case with the Bulls this year. At any one time during the season, as many as 20 of 25 active players on the Durham roster could be considered prospects. Some have spent the entire season with the Bulls and others have spent part of their time in Durham and part with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Six Durham players who have made major contributions to the big league club include Blake Snell, Jacob Faria, Austin Pruitt, Ryne Stanek, Daniel Robertson and Mallex Smith. A highly regarded prospect, Snell started with the Rays but got off to a terrible start and twice had to return to Durham for tune-ups. While at Durham, he was 5-0 with a 2.66 ERA in 7 starts. Since returning to the Rays, his game seems to be on track. That makes it a plus for the Bulls and the Tampa Rays.

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Faria was a bit of a sleeper but he was a strikeout machine in the minor leagues. He filled in nicely when Matt Andriese was out and posted a 5-4 record with a 3.32 ERA before being sidelined. Pruitt has a lot of the same makeup as Faria and has been asked to start and pitch in long relief. That’s a tough assignment for a rookie but he has handled it well. Stanek is a most interesting player. Pitching in relief, he features a high nineties fastball and a wipe out slider. He has fit nicely into the Rays’ revamped bullpen and if his command improves, he could be an elite closer.

Daniel Robertson and Mallex Smith have made contributions to the Rays coming off the bench. Robertson has filled in at second, shortstop and third and shown outstanding defense skills at each position. After a trip to the DL, he was sent to Durham to work on his hitting. Smith took over in center after Kevin Kiermaier was injured and showed ability to get on base and super speed once he reached base. He needs a little work on his defense and while he was at Durham time was spent working on those skills.

The Bulls roster also has plenty of talent that should help the Rays in the near future. Durham’s starting rotation features #1 prospect Brent Honeywell, Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chinos. Honeywell posted a 12-8 record with a 3.64 ERA, Yarbrough a 13-6 record with a 3.43 ERA and Chinos a 12-5 record with a 2.76 ERA. Yarbrough and Honeywell were one and two in the International League in strikeouts and Chinos posted a 122/22 strikeout to walk ratio. With Alex Cobb a free agent. all three could be in the mix for a place in the 2018 Rays’ starting rotation.

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The Durham bullpen includes Jaime Schultz, Chih-Wei Hu and Jose Alvarado. Schultz was injured for most of the year but he is a strikeout machine and when combined with Stanek could be an impressive pair of setup men in 2018. Hu is a #20 prospect and a converted starter He had a cup of coffee with the Rays this year and could win a 2018 job in middle relief. Alvarado logged 26 innings with the Rays this year before he was sent out for more seasoning. He’s a future situational lefty and was recalled by the Rays at the end of the Bulls regular season.

The Bulls also have some quality position players led by shortstop Willy Adames and outfielder/first baseman Jake Bauers. Adames had a .277/.342/.415 slash line with 10 home runs and 62 runs RBIs. Bauers had similar numbers with a .263/.368/.412 slash line with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs. Both are top five prospects and depending on which players the Rays retain, could be in line for a starting job as early as next season. Finally, utility man Patrick Leonard offers a strong right handed bat and posted a .268/.327/.408 slash line with12 home runs and 70 RBIs. He can play all four corner positions.

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It’s rare to see a Triple A farm team produce fifteen quality prospects in a single season. How many will be a significant part of the Rays’ future remains to be seen but this point, eight of the fifteen have contributed to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017. It bodes well for the future.