Friday, March 30, 2012

Johnson and Canzler Sent to IL Teams

Two former Durham Bulls and recent International League MVPs are likely to be playing against the Durham Bulls this year. Dan Johnson, MVP 2010, will be playing for the Charlotte Knights and Russ Canzler will be playing for the Columbus Clippers.

That means that the Bulls could be facing Johnson’s bat as early as April 9. We can only hope that it's the Dan Johnson of 2011 who comes to bat. But I'm very afraid that it will be the Dan Johnson of 2010.

The Bulls don’t play Columbus until August. We can hope that by that time Russ will be playing with the Indians and giving the Rays well-deserved fits. They should have hung on to Russ.

Durham Bulls Basics, 2012, Part 2

The Schedule

The International League schedules 144 games for each of its teams. Half of those games are played at home. So, unless you are truly a Durham Bulls fanatic, you will only have 72 chances to see your Bulls during the regular season. (Note: Trust me. There are some among the readers here who will drive to Charlotte or Norfolk for a game. More power to them.)

In 2012 the first home game (April 5) against the Gwinnett Braves is the first day of the season for the International League. The last home game (September 1) against the Charlotte Knights is two days before the end of the season.

Another very important feature of the schedule is that the Bulls only play 8 games against each team outside the South Division, 4 at home and 4 away. That means that if you are a Boston fan the only chance you’ll get to see Red Sox prospects will be May 15 - 18. That’s it. They won’t be back unless both teams are both in the playoffs in September. The same is true if you’re a Yankees fan (June 5-8), or a Reds fan (May 1 - 4), or a fan of any of the other parent clubs of teams in the North or West divisions of the International League. Said another way, the Bulls only play 40 games at home with the teams from outside the South Division.

On the other hand, if you’re a Braves (Gwinnett) or White Sox (Charlotte) or Orioles (Norfolk) fan, you’re in luck. (Well, it’s a bit difficult to call an Orioles fan as being in any sort of luck, but you get the idea.) Those teams will be here about a dozen times each this year.

As a general rule Bulls home stands last eight days and road trips eight days. But not always. In mid-April the Bulls have a 14-day road trip.

Triple-A ballplayers have a much more relentless schedule than major leaguers. They play more games with fewer days off, at least until September.

The Triple-A All-Star Game pitting the International League All-Stars against the Pacific Coast League All-Stars is set for July 11 and will be played at the ballpark of the Buffalo Bisons. Exactly how the players are selected for the game is something of a mystery. Fans do get a vote; however, usually the IL doesn’t bother to tell us how the voting went.

The International League Championship (The Governors’ Cup) is decided with two rounds of best of five playoffs in September. A one-game “AAA Championship” game is to be played right here, at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on September 18, 2012. You're going to here a lot about that game this year.

The Durham Bulls, as all readers of this blog must know, won the Governors’ Cup and the AAA Championship in 2009 and has won the Southern Division of the International League for the last several years.

The 40-Man Roster

And now, sigh, let's talk about the Tampa Bay Rays.

To clear up some possible confusion, the Tampa Bay Rays play baseball in St. Petersburg, Florida, not Tampa. That may come as a bit of a surprise to those not familiar with Florida geography (or modern marketing strategies).

Every major league team consists of 25 players on the “active” roster. An additional 15 players are added to make up the 40-man roster. In general, once a player makes it to the 25-man active roster he stays there (unless traded or sold). For players who have been around for a while, there are all sorts of byzantine rules regarding how this works. To complicate matters in 2012, the major league teams can expand their roster to 26 on days that they have a double-header. What matters to Bulls fans, however, is that a Bull cannot be called up to play in a Rays game (even to temporarily replace an injured player) unless he is first on the 40-man roster.

Here in Durham, we are not much interested in the active roster. What matters to Bulls fans are those 15 ballplayers who are on the Rays 40-man but not on the active roster. Members of that 15 man group usually make up the heart of the Durham Bulls.

If previous years are typical, we can expect that 11 or 12 of the players on the 40-man will be assigned to Durham and they will probably be split about 6 or 7 pitchers and 4 or 5 position players (a few will be playing at lower than AAA level). Of the pitchers, one or two will be prospective starting pitchers, the other potential relievers.

Why are they in Durham? Lots of reasons. And that’s one of the pleasures of watching AAA ball. Why is this guy here? When will he be called up? Will he be called up?

The odds of being called up are pretty good. There are enough injuries and trades in a given year that most if not all of the players on the 40-man will at least get a few days with the Rays. Some will go there and stay.

What about the Bulls who aren’t on the 40-man? Unless Tampa Bay takes someone off the 40-man, they can’t be called up. Adjustment to the 40-man can, and does, happen, but not very often. However, the Rays are nothing if not creative in gaming the major league player rules system.

The 40-man roster also has an effect on how the players who are with the Bulls are used. For example, pitchers may be on defined pitch counts and/or working on specific pitches that the Rays have decided the pitcher needs to develop. Relievers may be tested to see if they can do two days in a row, or “tried out” as a closer. We will see infielders playing the outfield (and vice versa).

My point is that sometimes what we see on the field is often decided in St. Petersburg, not in the Bulls' clubhouse. The Rays really aren’t particularly interested in the Bulls’ won-loss record. So, we will inevitably see some unfortunate (for the Bulls) decisions, such as a player being called up, sitting on the Rays’ bench for a couple of weeks, then coming back to Durham with his timing shot and struggling at bat. And with this new 26 man roster for double header rule, I'm guessing that Bulls' pitching rotations could get really screwed up with a pitcher being called up for a spot start and then coming back.

We cannot avoid the fact that the Durham Bulls live and die at the whim of the Tampa Bay Rays front office. What’s fortunate for Bulls fans is that the Rays have invested a ton of effort into building a steady stream of talent to feed into the big team. More than that, very few just “pass through” AAA-level ball. This is a real and very serious testing ground for pitchers and hitters. So we will get to see a lot of very talented ballplayers. Furthermore, we have a first rate managing/coaching crew with the team. Lastly, of course, without the Rays we wouldn’t have AAA ball here at all.

All of which is not going to keep me from complaining about the Rays. Hey, it’s baseball!

For Durham Bulls history, check out the Bulls’ web page and the Wikipedia page. They need some work, but are very good introductions.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Durham Bulls Basics, 2012, Part 1

The season opens soon and I’m thinking that some fans will be looking around the web for information about the Durham Bulls. So here’s WDBB’s contribution. I hope that it doesn’t come off as too basic. This is mostly stuff I did not know when I became a Bulls fan.

I hope that if readers see a mistake they will set me straight. I’ll fix it as soon as I can.

AAA Baseball

The Durham Bulls are the Triple-A franchise of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Triple-A baseball is one step below major league baseball. How do we know that? Because Major League Baseball says it is.

Major League Baseball has 30 teams: 14 in the American League and 16 in the National League. Each major league team has a AAA team in their farm system. Thus, there are 30 AAA minor league baseball teams. (Who said I couldn’t do basic arithmetic?)

The 30 Triple-A teams are divided into two leagues: The International League with 14 teams and the Pacific Coast League with 16 teams. So that sort of makes sense, so far.

What also makes sense is that, mostly, the International League is made up of teams who have their major league affiliates in the eastern and midwestern part of the country, while the Pacific Coast League’s parent clubs are, mostly, in the southwest and west.

But, hey, it’s baseball, so there will inevitably be a few quirks in the system. The Marlins, Brewers, and Cubs affiliates, for example are all in the Pacific Coast League not in the International League.

The Durham Bulls are in the International League.

The International League

The 14 teams in the International League are matched up with major league teams without regard to whether the parent club is in the National League or the American League. The IL has teams affiliated with Boston, New York (Yankees and Mets), Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago (White Sox), and Minnesota. That gives the IL 8 American League and 6 National League affiliates.

Logic would say that since AAA is the next step down from the majors, the teams would like to be in close proximity to each other. Sometimes that’s true. Toledo is linked to Detroit, Pawtucket is the AAA team of Boston, and the Atlanta Braves AAA club is just a long taxi ride away in Lawrenceville, Georgia. On the other hand, Charlotte is pretty far from Chicago and the Durham/Tampa Bay distance is a good bit more than average.

Obviously all the teams in the “International” League are in the US, but up until recently there was a team in Ottawa. That gave us the chance to sing along to “O, Canada” four times a year. You can bet that someday — maybe not in my lifetime, but someday — The IL will have a team in Havana, San Juan, or Mexico City.

With teams from both the National and American Leagues, what about the designated hitter rule? In the International League the only time pitchers bat is when both clubs are National League affiliates. That means that no Durham Bull pitchers will go to the plate this year (except in the very weird circumstance where a pitcher could go to the plate as a pinch-hitter — not likely, but possible).

The International League has three divisions: North, West, and South

Divisions and Affiliations

North Division

Buffalo Bisons - New York Mets
Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs- Philadelphia Phillies
Pawtucket Red Sox - Boston Red Sox
Rochester Red Wings - Minnesota Twins
Syracuse Chiefs - Washington Nationals

West Division

Columbus Clippers - Cleveland Indians
Indianapolis Indians - Pittsburgh Pirates
Louisville Bats - Cincinnati Reds
Toledo Mud Hens - Detroit Tigers

South Division

Charlotte Knights - Chicago White Sox
Gwinnett Braves - Atlanta Braves
Norfolk Tides - Baltimore Orioles
Durham Bulls - Tampa Bay Rays

The league offices are in Dublin, Ohio.

Next: See Part 2

Monday, March 26, 2012

Stacy Long Goes to Spring Training

Stacy Long is a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser and blogs about the Montgomery Biscuits, the Tampa Bay Rays AA team. He is, as far as I can tell, the only print reporter who goes to Port Charlotte to see what’s going on in minor league camp. I’d been wondering if he was going to be able to make it down there this year, and he has. He is a terrific writer with a good sense of humor. If you are wondering who might be in line to show up later this summer as a Durham Bull, you can do no better than keeping an eye on Biscuit Crumbs. Link also at my sidebar.

Over on his blog yesterday he reported that catcher Craig Albernaz, just about my all-time favorite Durham Bulls catcher, has just been sent down to minor league camp.  Four other ballplayers, pitchers Jhonny Nunez and Romulo Sanchez, infielder Matt Mangini and outfielder Brad Coon were also sent down. All of those, with the possible exception of Albernaz are very likely to be in a Bulls uniform at the start of the season. Although Craig has spent a good bit of time in Durham over the years, by far most of his time has been in Montgomery. The Rays seem to like him there where he can help bring young pitchers along.
Long quotes Joe Maddon as saying: “He’s [Albernaz] been a big part of our success just by what he does on a daily basis. He’s a lot of fun to be around. He doesn’t complain about the workload. This guy has coach written all over him.”
In an even more recent post, Long quotes Rays GM Anthony Friedman as saying Matt Bush won’t be playing for the Rays, hence not for the Bulls, this year. “I think it’s safe to say that he’s not going to play for us on the field.”

In his story in the Advertiser, Long reports on the competition between former Biscuits (and former Bulls) Jeff Neimann and Wade Davis for a starting pitching slot.

Great stuff. Good reporter.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reset — 2012!

Opening Day only 11 days off!

Each year about this time I try to clear my head and refocus on what I want this blog to be. So here we go:

Welcome to a blog about the best team in minor league baseball

The Durham Bulls!

Watching Durham Bulls Baseball is a place to have a conversation about our favorite team.

Major League Spring Training is winding down and we've been making guesses about Bulls roster, but we really aren't going to know until a day or so before the first game.

That means that it's a good time to hit the “reset” on this blog. By “reset” I mean that I’ll sort of start over from where we were about this time last year and not assume any of our readers have been here before. That way I’ll get a chance to re-visit and maybe come to a better understanding of the Bulls, minor league ball, AAA, and stuff such as just what the heck the International League really is.

Just for background, this blog started out in early 2009. At the time I really didn’t know all that much about the Bulls, the Rays, or minor league baseball. On the other hand, I figured that I was pretty much like most of the folks in the stands at any given Bulls game. As was abundantly clear at the time, I also didn’t know much about blogging.

Some would say that not much has changed in the last three years. Nevertheless, I've been working on it and I know that the best way to learn something was to try to describe or explain it to someone else. Plus one of the nifty things about the web is that if you don’t know something, there’s someone out there who does.

When it comes to the specifics of the Durham Bulls, I am a real newcomer to following the team. After all, I’ve only been going to games regularly for a few years, which makes me by far the junior person (along with my wife) among the regulars at the DBAP.

Looking back I seem to be following a couple of principles. I don’t think I’ll change them much with this reset.

  • Keep the focus on the Bulls and their competitors in the International League as much as possible. That’s another way of saying this is a blog about the Durham Bulls, not the Tampa Bay Rays.
  • Don’t worry too much about being wrong ... and don’t get upset when someone tells you that you are.
  • The business of minor league baseball can be more than a little arcane. Explain if you must, but don’t let it get in the way of the game.
  • Have fun.

Profiles on Potential Durham Bulls

Two of the non-roster invitees are having a good time at spring training and they are getting some deserved attention on the web: outfielder Jeff Salazar and infielder (and sometime outfielder) Will Rhymes.

Thirty year old Salazar gets some attention over on DRaysBay. He is likely not a stranger to the DBAP since he's had playing time with Indianapolis, Norfolk, and Toledo over the last couple of years.

Will Rhymes (profiled here) has even more time in the International League, exclusively with the Mud Hens. He has surely spent some time at the DBAP as well. He also looks as if he would be an asset to the Bulls.

However, the injury list down at the Rays training camp grows longer each day (Brignac, Upton, Fuld, Jennings, Chirinos) so both players have a chance to stay past opening day. However, someone will have to be dumped from the 40-man to make room.

Rays Prospects is reporting that pitchers Cesar Ramos and Josh Lueke have been optioned to the Bulls, which means that the pitching roster is filling out very nicely.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hemstitching: Clubhouse, Chirinos, and more ...

Clubhouse Renovations
## 15 Days! ##

  • After my comments the other day, seems only fair to note that renovations/spiffing up of the DBAP are in full swing.
  • Cork Gaines over at Rays Index has updated his playing time chart.
  • For those of you who watch the full range of players in the Rays system, keep an eye on this post over at Rays Prospects. Looks like quite a few players are about to be released.
  • Someone inside the Bulls organization has done a nice writeup on some possible roster additions.
  • Robinson Chirinos is only slowly coming back from his concussion. But I'd like to comment on how I think it's a good thing that baseball (or at least the Rays) is taking head trauma seriously. Bulls fans will recall that at the very beginning of last season pitcher Chris Bootcheck managed to bang his head on a low pipe and it was a couple of weeks before he came back. I think that's a good thing. Wish that football and hockey were on board.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Five More Bulls?

*** 17 Days! ***

Five more players were sent to the Rays minor league camp and, from a Bulls fan perspective, it was all good news. I’ll be happy to see Tim Beckham, Stephen Vogt, Dane De La Rosa, Brandon Guyer, and Matt Bush in Bulls uniforms.

  • We saw a good bit of shortstop Tim Beckham at the end of last year and we’re happy to see him back this year. Taking a look at Rays’ manager Maddon’s comments, it looks like they will be expecting Beckham to spend some time at 2B this year.
  • We saw Stephen Vogt in 31 games last year, but only 6 as a catcher. It sounds like the Rays want want to see Vogt spend more time behind the plate. That means that our lineups could be wrong.
  • The Bulls will unquestionably benefit from having Dane De La Rosa in the bullpen. He was in 52 games for the Bulls last year and did a terrific job.
  • We also really like the idea of Brandon Guyer being back in town. He played in 107 games for the Bulls last year. Great to have him in a Bulls uniform.
  • We’ve never seen RH reliever Matt Bush pitch. This is his third year in the Rays system and, if he sticks with the Bulls, it will be his first in AAA. He's got a bit of a back-story that we'll get around to telling one of these days.
Note that all except Beckham are on the Rays 40-man roster.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Six More to Minor League Camp, and more ...

## 21 Days ##

  • Six more players have left the Rays’ spring training camp and hiked over to minor league camp. That’s a trek of a couple hundred yards down there in Port Charlotte. Five of the six are pitchers and there’s one infielder. Of the six, it’s my current guess that only two will end up on the Bulls roster, pitchers Matt Torra and Bryan Augenstein, but I could be wrong about Augenstein. The rest, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and pitchers Alex Colome, Wilking Rodriguez, and Albert Suarez, will probably end up in Montgomery or with the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
  • A bunch of Rays are doing one of those shave-your-head-for-charity things today. You will see quite a few familiar names on the list. I note that Craig Albernaz is among them. I’d imagine that he’ll spend maybe 30 seconds in the barber’s chair.
  • Doing a bit of catchup, here are some interesting profiles on Stephen Vogt, Jose Leuke and Fernando Rodney, and Chris Archer.
  • The catcher we all picked to start with the Bulls, Robinson Chirinos, is out with a concussion.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Probable Durham Bulls

## 24 Days ##

As reported in Rays Index, Pitchers Alex Cobb, Alex Torres, Chris Archer, and Ricky Orta; catchers Nevin Ashley and Mark Thomas; and 1B Juan Miranda have been sent to minor league camp. My guess is that all except Mark Thomas will be on the Bulls roster come April 5.

Cork Gaines has also updated his spring playing time chart and speculates that while Chirinos and Vogt should be headed for the Bulls, Brandon Guyer has a shot at staying with the Rays.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Dirk Hayhurst's "Out of My League"

To get to what's likely to interest the readers of this blog first, nothing of Hayhurst's time with the Durham Bulls is in this book. Not that it was very likely. In the very first public meeting last year he reported that he'd finished a second book (following "Bullpen Gospels") and it was  due to be published "soon". I guess "soon" meant trying to take advantage of the interest in baseball at the beginning of a season, any season.

The baseball side of this book is essentially Hayhurst's 2008 season with the Portland Beavers (AAA), his first experiences that year in the big leagues with the San Diego Padres, and his being claimed by the Blue Jays when the Padres tried to pass him through waivers at the end of the season.

But the real thrust of the book is something of a coming of age story — family strife, falling in love, planning a wedding, etc. That it takes place when the main character is 27 years old just gives the reader the insight that these guys really are in a very delayed adolescence. That's OK, but every now and then you wish that Hayhurst and his buddies would be just a little more grown up.

For Bulls fans there's a treat, though. This is the first close look at AAA ball that I've encountered. I think we've all guessed that it's different from the lower levels, but Hayhurst fills in a lot of details. He also does a terrific job of telling us what it's like to be called up.

Love story, insightful and funny baseball book, disturbing family conflict, the anguish and glory of making it to the Show — fun read.

If I were a betting man, I'd guess that we can look forward to an agonizing tale of shoulder surgery, publishing success, and a visit to Durham. Then maybe a fourth book about baseball in Italy (possibly a baseball equivalent to Grisham's "Playing for Pizza"). I look forward to it/them.

Update: If you'd like to see a real book review (and it's a good one) then check out this from the New York Times. [Thanks, DRR]
Update: Hayhurst is back from Italy. See comments for quotes from his twitter feed and from Italy.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


This could be fun. 

The other day regular reader Chris D put up a possible opening day lineup. I thought it might be fun for other readers to put in their thoughts. So jump in. Just put in a lineup in the comments and I'll update this post. Note that I'm leaving out the pitchers. If you change your mind, just leave it in the update.

Chris D:
C - Robinson Chirinos
1B - Juan Miranda?
2B - Tim Beckham
SS - Hak-Ju Lee
3B - Will Rhymes
OF - Brandon Guyer, Stephen Vogt, Jeff Salazar
DH - Matt Mangini
Chris W:
C - Robinson Chirinos
1B - Leslie Anderson
2B- Will Rymes
SS - Tim Beckham
3B -Matt Mangini
OF - Brandon Guyer, Stephen Vogt, Jeff Salazar
DH - Juan Miranda

Doug Milhoan (of Rays Prospects):
This is harder than I thought, lots of catchers and CFs, no DHs.
C - Robinson Chirinos (because Lobaton is out of options)
1B - Juan Miranda
2B - Will Rhymes
SS - Tim Beckham
3B - Matt Mangini
OF - Stephen Vogt, Brandon Guyer, Brad Coon
DH - Nevin Ahsley (I don't know)
C - Robinson Chirinos
1B - Stephen Vogt
2B - Will Rhymes
SS - Tim Beckham
3B - Matt Mangini
OF - Brandon Guyer, Brad Coon, Jeff Salazar
DH - Juan Miranda
General thoughts:
- I have seen a few comments on Rays blogs about Stephen Vogt being a "jack of all trades" who would be valuable off their bench as someone who could play a lot of different spots. Therefore, I would expect to see him getting starts all over the place.
- I hope that we can settle into a pretty standard duo of Lee and Beckham in the middle of the infield, but I don't quite see Lee in the mix right at the start of the season.
- I see this team as one with a lot of potential, but I worry about the lack of Bulls veterans in the clubhouse. The way the Rays treat the minors, there is almost always a few vet holdovers from the previous season or two. I think that this team may be lacking that.

Anyone else?  Jim? Sue? Fritz?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Watching Spring Training, and a bit more ...

Russ Canzler, former Durham Bull
Dan Johnson, former Durham Bull
*** 29 days **
  • I am eventually going to get over the fact that neither of these guys are going to be playing for the Bulls this year (or maybe not), but I can't help pointing out that former Durham Bull and International League MVP Russ Canzler introduced himself to the Cleveland Indians by hitting a grand slam. To make me feel even worse, former Durham Bull and International League MVP Dan Johnson introduced himself to the Chicago White Sox by hitting a home run, as noted on a Charlotte Knights blog (the sound in the background is the grinding of my teeth). 
  • Looking to the future, here are some players who, if they don't make it to the Rays roster (and at best only one or two will), we could see with the Bulls. Over at ESPN Florida Tommy Rancel writes about Infielders Will Rhymes, Matt Mangini, and Juan Miranda, catcher Chris Gimenez, and pitcher Jhonny Nunez. At DRaysBay, JC Mitchell writes about infielder Mangini, outfielder Jeff Salazar, and pitchers Brian Augenstein and Ricky Orta.
  • If you want a very interesting way to keep track of these guys, you can do no better than to keep an eye on Rays Index. Over there Cork Gaines has a table that's tracking innings played by everyone in camp. Fascinating, and a good way to do some guessing about the Bulls roster.
  • How's your cynicism index these days? Here's one for you. As all those obsessed with the International League know, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees aren't going to be playing in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2012 (not that they ever did, but let's not go there). Their playing field is undergoing a year-long refurbishment. That presented an interesting marketing dilemma that was recently solved ... change your name! For 2012 only, they will be known as the "Empire State Yankees"! Why? 'Cause they'll be playing in the Empire State. Read all about it at a Rochester Red Wings Press Release. Now, just why is this being announced by the Red Wings? 
  • Dirk Hayhurst's new book (Out of My League, haven't read it yet) is out. Over at his blog Mrs. Hayhurst has some interesting comments about baseball and life.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Spring At Last

** 30 Days!! **

  • The Bulls had their fanfest recently. I was out of town, but Triangle Business Journal was there and got some cute pictures, including the one above.
  • Auditions for singing the National Anthem are coming up on March 10th. That gives me a chance to once again congratulate the Bulls front office for coming up with the idea to invite local choral groups to sing. That was an inspired thought and has been greatly appreciated by we regulars.
  • Stacy Long of the Montgomery Advertiser has sifted through the Rays media guide and come up with a list of all the Rays minor leaguers. Last year Stacy got down to minor league spring training and did some reporting. Here's hoping he does so again sometime this month.
  • Rays Prospects' Jim Donten also seems to be spending some time in Port Charlotte, so it should be worth your time to keep an eye on Rays Prospects.
  • The last time we had a hot shortstop prospect pass through Durham the results were, shall we say, mixed. Nevertheless, Tim Beckham is getting some attention down south on a couple of sites. Here are stories from and Rays Colored Glasses. He seemed to be getting comfortable with AAA last year. I'm guessing we'll see a lot of him this year.