Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jared Sandberg Back, As the Boss

Photo by Christine Nguyen, Durham Herald-Sun
By now most readers of this blog know that the Bulls have a new manager, Jared Sandberg. Sandberg may be young, just 36, but he’s been playing or coaching in professional baseball since he was 18 years old, and for parts of 5 of those years he was one of the stalwarts of the Durham Bulls.

A few years back we dove into Bulls history and came up with a “greatest hitters” list of 17 Bulls. Jared Sandberg’s on that list as #6 by one sort and #12 on another sort. So, we fans are getting a guy who’s played a lot of baseball in the International League and understands some of the special dynamics of Triple A baseball.

Sandberg’s major league stats are here and minor league stats are here. But the press releases are pointing out his success at several levels in the Rays system, and that’s probably what should be important to us.

For more info, here are several links:
What now? As we’ll get to later, probably next month, the Durham Bulls manager and most (all?) of his coaching staff participate in spring training as part of the big league training camp. Consequently, we are unlikely to hear much more about or from the Bulls new manager until the team shows up in Durham in early April, if then. For that matter, we will not know the composition of the Bulls roster until the Rays break from spring training.

That said, we were impressed with his comments and what he had to say. He seems comfortable with the press and he has obviously given a lot of thought to his new job.

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Do we have anyone out there who remembers Sandberg as a player?

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About 18 minutes into the Bulls YouTube video, Sandberg mentions that he has chatted with both Steven Vogt and Craig Albernaz since his selection. That’s interesting.

Also, Craig Albernaz is back in the Rays system as a coach for the Princeton Rays. Could not be happier for him. Nice to know that he’s back. Bet he’ll have fun down at spring training this year, this time not in catcher’s gear.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Pitch Clock Coming to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park?

Photo - MiLB.com
Up amongst the big guys who watch major league baseball they keep kvetching about how baseball is a slow game, and getting even slower. Now, with laser-like attention to detail, major league baseball is taking a look at—wait for it—time between pitches. 

Are they going to look at, for example, replay? Or pitcher changes? Or batters spending a couple of hours re-Velcroing their batting gloves?

Nope. What they apparently plan to do is put pitch clocks in every AA and AAA stadium. Why in the minor leagues? Because they can. See, if they tried something like this in the major leagues they’d have to get the players union to agree. In the minors they don’t. Sort of like the batting helmets that minor leaguers have to wear. But there's a bit of skepticism out there.

This year’s Arizona Fall League ran clocks (and other time-saving rules) and we have the comments of one AAA manager regarding them. In this link we have a video of a clock in action, so looks like the software/hardware set up is doable. 

But will it speed up the game? Well, out in the Arizona Fall League when the clock was in use it saved a whopping 10 minutes(!) per game. That’s roughly the amount of time in my life I’ve spent watching Jonny Gomes twitch at the plate — and that’s just during a couple of games at the DBAP back in 2008 when he was here on a rehab assignment. Think about what it would mean for all of baseball if Gomes actually had to stay in the box these last few years? Think about it. Gomes has had 3747 major league plate appearances. Assume that he takes at least 30 seconds per plate appearance twitching around (low guess in my opinion), that's 31 hours — hours! — lost to baseball from just one player. 

Nevertheless, the clocks are coming to the DBAP. Inevitably we will get a ball four based on the clock count. That’ll be a day for puzzlement among the fans not listening to the radio. (Heads up Patrick Kinas! Gonna have some ‘splaining to do.)

I’ve annoyed more than a few folks seated near me by shouting “play ball” at pitchers and batters who waste time, but I honestly don’t remember but a couple of Bulls who were guilty of excessive twitchiness. The aforementioned Gomes, of course. And then Josh Lueke was something of a human rain delay. I don’t remember David Price being particularly slow to the plate, but apparently he leads the majors in time-between-pitches for starters nowadays. And I seem to remember Chris Archer having outings when he’d spend a good bit of time between pitches. However, pitching coach Neil Allen was apparently of the belief that pitchers should set a quick pace and, while here, that’s seems to be what most Durham pitchers have done. Of course, I wouldn't be yelling about Durham players anyhow. 

Another rule that may be implemented is that a batter will have to keep one foot inside the batter’s box. Now, how in the world is that going to be enforced? Seems to me that the first round of hitters do everything to obscure/erase the batters box lines, so that by the 2nd inning or so it’s pretty hard to tell where the box is.

Want to speed up the game? Here’s a new rule. Only 3 pitchers per game. Now that would speed up the game. Of course, advertisers would go nuts. They love pitching changes.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Hemstitching: Taxes, Turf, and Vaticination


Yesterday, Jan 15, all you honest folks who have to file quarterly estimates to the IRS dutifully made out your checks and sent your envelopes on their way. The only good thing that can be said about that moment is that the next time you have to perform the task will be opening day for the 2015 Durham Bulls season! And that is very, very good news.

If you’ve been checking in on the webcam, you may have noticed what appears to be a tarp has been covering the field for the last couple of months. Back in November, Scott Strickland explained that to us all, but I never got around to putting up the link. Turns out, as regulars know, maintaining the turf at the DBAP is a pretty tricky proposition. More than that, probably our greatest disappointment with the big renovation last year was that for all the time, effort, and sheer hard work over the winter of 2013-14, the playing field never really looked all that good.

Turns out there was a reason and Scott explains all. Plus he gets to say this about what they’re up to: “If it’s good enough for Pinehurst Number 2, the Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox, it’s good enough for the Durham Bulls.”

A terrific read and I thank Scott for keeping us informed.

Meanwhile, someone inside the building has really been paying attention to all the moves that the Tampa Bay Rays have been making and has put up a very interesting analysis of what it might mean to the 2015 Bulls. Much more courage than I have. I’m just going to put up the link and then try to remember to come back to it in early April …  and see how they did.

Nice work, though. So thanks to whomever did it (Author! Author!)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Rays Trade Former Bull for Former Bull

This post adds nothing of importance to the discussion of the Zobrist-Jaso trade, just the observations of a Durham Bulls fan. Great to see guys having success and getting headlines after leaving Durham.

Ben Zobrist really didn’t spend all that much time with the Bulls: 18 games in 2006 and a longer stretch of 61 games in 2007 (and there was a 20-game assignment in 2008, but by then he was an established Ray). He’s off to the Oakland Athletics. Stats.

John Jaso came up through the Rays’ system. His big year with the Bulls was 2009 when he appeared in 104 games, all as a catcher. He’s on his way back to the Rays. Stats.

As a bit of nostalgia, here’s a piece I wrote in the spring of 2011 about Bulls who were with the Rays. Zobrist and Jaso get a mention.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What's Happened to the 2014 Durham Bulls?

If you follow the Tampa Bay Rays, then you know it’s chaos down in St. Petersburg. Some writers are going so far as to say that the Rays have already written off 2015 as they build to 2016.

Consequently, we Bulls fans, still mourning the loss of our manager and pitching coach, have no idea what to expect next year. What we can do, however, just to keep a hand in, is take a look at the guys we had last year and see what we know about them.

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t been keeping track all that closely, but here’s what I’ve heard about the guys that saw significant amounts of playing time last year. Players who are on the Rays 40-man roster can be expected to show up in Durham if they don’t stick with the Rays out of spring training (or get traded/sold/released/discarded/dumped/cashiered before then.

Notice how many pitchers are still around and how few position players. That emphasizes our comments over the last couple of years that the Rays aren't growing position players (and we don't get to see them).

If a reader has any further information, jump in.

For information on what these guys did for the Bulls in 2014 check out this link for the hitters and this one for the pitchers.
Hitters
  • Mikie Mahtook - on 40-man roster
  • Justin Christian - ???? Free Agent
  • Vince Belnome - Taken off 40-man and apparently has accepted minor league contract.
  • Wilson Betemit - Assume he is now a free agent. Has not had a particularly good winter down in the Dominican. Free Agent
  • Mike Fontenot - Free agent (can't believe I left him off original list!)
  • Ray Olmedo - Also likely a Free Agent. Playing a lot of ball this winter down in Venezuela (104 games so far).
  • Hak-Ju Lee - on 40-man roster. However, the Rays have been making a lot of infield-related moves that imply they don’t they he’s ready to move up. I think Bulls fans would agree.
  • Ali Solis - No longer on 40-man. Playing winter ball in Mexico. [11 Jan: Signed by LA Dodgers]
  • Cole Figueroa - Off to the Yankees system. With great regret from our perspective. Bet we see him back in Durham in a Rail Riders uniform.
  • Robby Price - Released. [Update: Has taken a coaching job at Virginia Tech]
  • Jeremy Moore - No news that I’ve seen. Free Agent
  • Jerry Sands - Now a free agent
  • Curt Casali - on 40-man
  • Nick Franklin - on 40-man
  • Tim Beckham - on 40-man
  • Mayo Acosta - Free Agent. Signed by Rays (probable invitation to Spring Training)
Pitchers
  • Matt Andriese - on 40-man
  • Nathan Karns - on 40-man
  • Mike Montgomery - on 40-man
  • Enny Romero - on 40-man
  • Merrill Kelly - to pitch in Korea next year
  • Alex Colome - on 40-man
  • Doug Mathis - ???? Free Agent
  • Adam Liberatore - Traded to LA Dodgers
  • C.J. Riefenhauser - on 40-man
  • Steve Geltz - on 40-man
  • Josh Lueke - free agent
  • Brandon Gomes - minor league contract with Rays
  • Jeff Beliveau - on 40-man
  • Jake Thompson - Pretty sure he is still under contract to Rays
  • Kirby Yates - on 40-man
[Updates in italics]
[7 Jan: More updates]
[9 Jan: Solis update]
[18 Jan: Acosta added to list.]

Monday, December 22, 2014

Good Luck, Charlie


When I started this blog back in 2009 Charlie Montoyo was the manager of the Durham Bulls. Just about every home game inning I have ever seen began with him running down the third base line to take his position in the coach’s box. The photo above was taken on May 9, 2011, at one of the two “Back to the DAP” games played in the old Durham Athletic Park.

Now he will be starting his dash down to third base in a Tampa Bay Rays uniform at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida and, unless we’re watching on TV, we aren’t likely to see him make that run again. I’ll miss him.

I’m not alone. I commend to you the several posts which show you a bit of his character and accomplishments. The first is the announcement by the Bulls; the second is a collection of very thoughtful pieces from those who interacted with Charlie on a regular basis, folks like Neil Solondz, Patrick Kinas, Mike Birling, Scott Strickland, Scott Carter, and Colin Sanders. A great read. And lastly, Steve Wiseman over at the Herald-Sun got some nice quotes from Charlie about his promotion.
[Update: Sam Stephenson of Bull City Summer has a Montoyo salsa playlist and an image of a tribute ad from Herald-Sun]

And it’s not just Charlie that I’m going to miss. I remember getting an interesting comment to a blog entry a couple of years ago from someone claiming to be Charlie’s wife. Turns out the commenter was Charlie’s wife, Samantha. From time to time she has added her two cents to our postings and we’ve had a couple of fun exchanges over on twitter in recent years. I’ll miss them both.

But here’s the important point I want to make: From a fan’s perspective, from someone who can only evaluate him from what I’ve seen on the field, Mr. Montoyo is one terrific leader and manager of ballplayers. I have to say that I was expecting and hoping for his promotion to the Rays, even though it might mean a bit more uncertainty than we Bulls fans are used to at the beginning of the season.

Good luck and, most of all, have fun in your new job. Thank you for all the great years you gave Bulls fans.

Monday, December 8, 2014

What About Charlie?


Turmoil at the top of the Rays system. What might that mean for our favorite Durham Bull, Charlie Montoyo?

Prompted somewhat by the comments by Cork Gaines over at Rays Index and with all the usual caveats, here are my thoughts. Jump in with yours.

The Rays have worked very hard to build a decent minor league system, although more of their success has come through trades rather than home grown talent. How satisfied are they with what they’ve got rather than what they’d like to have?

What they’ve got, in Durham, is a pretty famous fellow. He’s won a bunch of championships, has been featured in the only two books in recent memory about Triple-A baseball (John Feinstein’s Where Nobody Knows Your Name, and Sam Stephenson’s Bull City Summer), and has fed a lot of ballplayers upward to the Rays.

For several years the Rays bench coach, Dave Martinez, went off to end-of-season interviews for manager jobs and Charlie was always at the top of my list for his replacement. But Martinez never got a job. This year Manager Joe Maddon left and the Rays began looking for a replacement. Charlie was on the initial list, but didn’t make to the end. Former Bull Kevin Cash got the job.

Then Martinez left and later joined Maddon with the Cubs. The Rays bench coach slot is wide open.

How important is perception? My own take is that I never noticed any particular closeness between Maddon and Montoyo; however, Montoyo obviously had daily conversations with someone in St. Petersburg. My perception is that Charlie was not part of Maddon’s “crew” and thus is not on a chopping block.

But, and this is a big but, how important is he to the “system” by staying at AAA? From a systemic point of view our judgement is that Charlie Montoyo is the most important on-the-field guy in the entire Rays system. Looked like the folks in St. Pete were telling him what they needed, and he figured out how to provide it to them. Over in our section of the stands I’ve always taken the position that Charlier was doing more good for the Rays in Durham than he would as a bench coach (whatever that is) in St. Pete.

And yet ...

As far as I can tell the Rays new manager Kevin Cash never played for Charlie, but he did have three tours with International League teams while Montoyo was managing the Bulls: Pawtucket in 2007, Scranton/Wilkes Barre in 2009, and back with Pawtucket in 2010. Cash had a chance to see the changes/philosophy that Montoyo brought to the Bulls after the disaster of 2006. Cash might want to work with Charlie.

Unfortunately for the Bulls fans, I have to say that Cash/Montoyo could be one heck of a team. And, since baseball is, after all, about “moving up” maybe it’s Charlie’s time. He has certainly earned it. After sending so many guys to the "bigs" maybe it is his time.

So, WDBB wants to see him in a Rays uniform on the bench in Tropicana Field …

But we sure would be happy to see him back in Durham in 2015, too.