Or, "The 2008 Bulls Make It to the Big Leagues!"
Until the Bulls finally start their season (4 more days!), I find myself writing much more about the Rays than I prefer. Nevertheless, a feature of this year’s Tampa Bay Rays team jumped out at me as I was writing the Johnson & Johnson piece — these guys played together a lot before they got to the majors.
Eighteen of the 26 players on the active roster (I’m counting J.P. Howell) played together in the top level(s) of the Rays minor league system. All of the eighteen played for the Bulls and fifteen of those played for the Biscuits. In other words, most of the current Rays team spent several years riding together on the same bus and sharing the same locker room before they got to St. Petersburg.
The list: John Jaso, Dan Johnson, Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, Evan Longoria, Elliot Johnson, B.J. Upton, Matt Joyce, John Jaso, Ben Zobrist, David Price, Jeff Niemann, James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, Jake McGee, Andy Sonnanstine, and J.P. Howell. (Dan Johnson, Matt Joyce, and Sean Rodriguez never play in Montgomery.)
The 2008 Durham Bulls cohort is particularly striking. Half of the eighteen were 2008 Durham Bulls: Brignac, Jaso, the two Johnsons, Longoria, Zobrist, Niemann, Davis, and Price.
John Jaso caught every single one of the pitchers as he, and they, came up through the system (except for J.P. Howell and James Shields, and he made up for that last year). And he rode around on the bus with Reid Brignac for four years before sticking with the Rays.
As another example, in his time with the Biscuits and Bulls Elliot Johnson has been on the bus with every one of these guys except J.P. Howell.
Even superstar Evan Longoria played in the minors with Brignac, the Johnsons, Zobrist, Neimann, Sonnanstine, Davis, McGee, and Price.
These guys knocked around together for quite a few years before other folks started carrying their bags for them. For better or worse, they know a lot about each other; they have a sense of what the other guy can do. I’m thinking that in the long run, that’s a good thing. My point is that if baseball really is a team sport (don’t really want to get into that issue here), this could be quite a year for the Rays.