Sunday, March 31, 2013

Durham Bulls Roster Set ... Sort Of ...

Stacy Long has the Durham Bulls roster on the web, and here it is:

Chris Archer, Alex Colome, Frank De Los Santos, Steve Geltz, Brandon Gomes, Will Inman, Josh Lueke, J.D. Martin, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, Jim Paduch, Alex Torres, Kirby Yates

Craig Albernaz, Chris Gimenez

Leslie Anderson, Tim Beckham, Vince Belnome, Cole Figueroa, Mike Fontenot, Hak-Ju Lee

Jason Bourgeois, Brandon Guyer, Wil Myers, Rich Thompson

But there's a problem. You will notice several differences from our previous work-ups, but let's just point out the key ones for now and wait for the dust to clear for the rest.

Shelley Duncan is with the Rays because of the Rays' Luke Scott going on the disabled list for a couple of weeks, and, because he and a pitcher named Jamey Wright were added to the 40-man roster, two guys had to be dumped (aka, "designated for assignment"). They would be Robinson Chirinos and Steven Vogt. They will have to clear waivers before they can be assigned to the Bulls. If they do make it through then we'll see more changes. Before Thursday? Don't know. In the meantime, you will see that Craig Albernaz is on the roster.

Expect the roster to be available on the Bulls website within the next few minutes.

Friday, March 29, 2013

IL Overviews and the IronPigs Have What???

The International League's preview is a useful link to have at hand for the first several games this season. They seem to think that Matt Buschmann has a shot at the Bulls starting lineup. I can't disagree with that. I just don't know who might fall out. Maybe Torres in relief. Also, they've got Fontenot at 3B. Maybe.

But then there's this link from the IronPigs that's truly bizarre. I'm not sure we should take it seriously, but, if true, it should give guys something to do between beers in Phillies country.

Update: Apparently hands-free (sort of) video gaming in Pennsylvania is for real. See the Allentown Morning Call for more.

Who’s On the Mound? The Bulls 2013 Roster - 2

I am having trouble figuring out which pitchers are likely to be with the Bulls on opening day, particularly after I check their online roster and see 17 pitchers listed. How many of them are going to get on the bus for Norfolk next Wednesday (or will it be early Thursday morning)? I’m going to chop the list down to 13 just to give everyone of taste of how great the beginning of the year could be. Players on the Tampa Bay Ray 40-man are marked with asterisks. Note that there are eight of them on this list, including five of our potential starters! That has to be a first.

Also, please note that even at AAA the distinction between a “starter” and a “reliever” can be fuzzy. Heck, that can be fuzzy in the majors. As of today, the Rays have yet to choose their fifth starter.

  • Chris Archer* is a first-rate, major league-ready pitcher. Sometime this season he will go up to the Rays and not come back. So check the schedule and make sure you get to the DBAP and see him pitch this spring. He did a fine job for the Bulls last season
  • Jake Odorizzi* is new to the Rays system, but comes out of the Royals system with spectacular credentials. Stats
  • Alex Torres* has been a top prospect in the Rays system for what seems like forever. Last year was awful. He is the only pitcher in this year’s starting lineup that worries me. But I’ve been wrong before. I hope that I am and Mr. Torres has somehow found his groove for 2013.
  • Alex Colome* could easily start the year in Montgomery (with the Rays AA team the Montgomery Biscuits) or the Bulls. He did get a few innings in with the Rays in spring training. Stats.
  • Mike Montgomery* is also over from the Royals and appeared in 17 games with their AAA team last year. Less impressive stats than the rest.
  • Jim Paduch doesn’t quite fit any particular mold. At 30 he may end up in long relief, a spot starter, or a full-time starter if the Rays want to start the season with someone else down in AA instead of AAA. Not a great year in 2012, but he sure ate up a lot of innings.
  • Brandon Gomes* shouldn’t be with the Bulls, but he is and we are happy to have him. You can be sure that Montoyo and Neil Allen will put him to work. He is a terrific pitcher and is probably here only because of some quirk in the business of baseball.
  • Josh Leuke* has decent stats, but we were really disappointed in his performance at the end of last year. He got a bit more playing time in major league spring training than most, so he must be looking pretty good this year.
  • Frank De Los Santos* only pitched an inning major league camp and we have no data on the rest of the spring. Happy to have him back, but wonder if he's healthy.
  • Adam Liberatore. I’m a big fan of Adam Liberatore. He had spectacular numbers with the Bulls last year. Here’s hoping he progresses this year.
  • Will Inman is out of the Milwaukee, Padres, and Boston systems — and he’s only 25 years old! He did a heck of a job for Pawtucket last year, appearing in 35 games and keeping his ERA down at 2.23. Stats.
  • Juan Sandoval is the famous blind-in-one-eye reliever who got a lot of press in spring training. He spent the last two years in the AAA Mexican League. Could be a lot of fun to watch. Stats.
  • Steve Geltz is a very, very recent addition to the Rays system, out of the Angels in trade for Bull Dane De La Rosa. As noted elsewhere, in spite of his good numbers as a Bull, De La Rosa appeared to have lost the confidence of the Rays. Geltz could be fun to watch. Stats.
In sum, even if I’m wrong about one or two of these guys being on the opening day roster (imagine that!) , this is an amazing list. We could be in for some great baseball this year.

Next — start working on your lineups ...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Who’s On First? Roster Speculation

The first game for the Bulls is just a week away and after a couple of recent moves things are looking, mostly, pretty clear. For example, recently the Rays released Jack Cust, whom we’d been worried about, and sent a bunch of guys to minor league camp. Then one of those guys, Dane De La Rosa, got traded off. So here’s some speculation regarding position players. Players marked with an asterisk are on the Rays 40-man roster

Chris Gimenez*, Robinson Chirinos*, Steven Vogt*
  • We saw a good bit of Gimenez last year and like him a lot. Some reports imply that he is actually a better catcher than Jose Lobaton, the Rays #2 catcher, and that he’s only in Durham because of how the business of baseball works. We’re happy to have him here. His numbers as a Bull last year are very impressive. Also, don’t be surprised to see him playing other positions.
  • Robinson Chirinos hasn’t worn a Bulls uniform since 2011. His year away from the game on the disabled list has left a bunch of question marks. At 29 he is running out of time.
  • We’ve seen a lot of Steven Vogt and we like him. Catcher, outfielder, first baseman, he’s been snakebit at bat for the Rays, but not for the Bulls.
  • The catcher missing from the roster is Craig Albernaz. This very durable young guy recently got his first hit after a bunch of major league spring training camps. Expect him to be sent to wherever the Rays think young pitchers need some help. Still probably the best arm and release time of any catcher in the Rays system. I hope we get a chance to see him at work here in Durham this year.
  • Overall, the Bulls should be solid behind the plate this year, until problems erupt in St. Petersburg.

Cole Figueroa, Tim Beckham*, Hak-Ju Lee*, Mike Fontenot, Leslie Anderson, Shelley Duncan, Shawn O’Malley.
  • This list implies that the Rays are pretty satisfied with their infield lineup, since only two players are on the 40-man. Not sure I agree with that assessment, but then this isn’t a Rays blog. Nor am I sure that O’Malley with start with the Bulls this season. Hope so, I like watching him play.
  • Cole Figueroa is simply a real pro. A very important part of the 2012 Bulls and, as far as I can tell, the only experienced third baseman on the roster. That worries me that we have only one.
  • We’re familiar with Tim Beckham. Looks like he may be moving over to 2B to give newcomer Hak-Ju Lee some time at shortstop. 
  • Mike Fontenot is a newcomer to the Bulls. Good reputation.
  • We all know Leslie Anderson. He had a great spring with the Rays, but not enough to get him onto the 40-man. Expect to see him spend time at 1B, left field, and DH this year.
  • Shelley Duncan brings some serious power to the Bulls. He stuck with the Rays all spring long, but just couldn’t crack the 40-man. 1B, DH.
  • Shawn O’Malley is a fast, quick-handed infielder. Terrific baserunner. Hope he can stick with the Bulls.

Wil Myers, Brandon Guyer*, Jason Bourgeois, Rich Thompson
  • Wil Myers is the up-and-coming star prospect in the Rays season. A good reason to catch a couple of games early on, because he probably won’t be with the Bulls very long.
  • Brandon Guyer is coming back from injury. He had a terrific 2011 with the Bulls. He is major league quality player.
  • Rich Thompson is one terrific ballplayer who can’t quite seem to stick in the majors. Great to have him back with the Bulls.
  • Jason Bourgeois has a lot of major league time (222 games). Not quite sure how he fits with either the Rays or the Bulls. We’ll have to see.

Basic arithmetic says I’ve got something wrong here since the Bulls usually carry no more than 13 position players and I’ve got 14 on this list.

That won’t stop me from commenting, of course.

This looks really, really good. There’s power, gap hitting, lots of speed, good arms in the outfield, and a terrific-looking “diamond” — catcher, 2B, SS, CF. I’m modestly concerned about 3B, but otherwise the gloves look good.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Durham Bulls Basics 2013 — 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. Although, Charlotte and Norfolk aren't all that far away ...

In 2013 the first home game (April 8) against the Gwinnett Braves is five games into the International League season. The Bulls start their season at Norfolk against the Norfolk Tides on April 4. The last home game (August 27) is against the Charlotte Knights, but the Bulls will have five more away games before the season ends on September 2.

A 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 July 18 - 21. That’s it. They won’t be back unless both teams are in the playoffs in September. The same is true if you’re a Yankees fan (May 31 - June 3), a Reds fan (June 17 - 20), 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 a lot this year (Charlotte - 11, Norfolk - 11,  and Gwinnett - 10 times)

The Bulls have a 9-game home stand in August, but home stands usually run 4 - 8 days. Road trips are often 8 days long, but sometimes they are shorter.

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 17, well past mid-season, and will be played at the ballpark of the Reno Aces out in Nevada. 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 2014 All-Star game is to be played at the DBAP.

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 at the home ballpark of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs on September 17, 2013.

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 five of the last six 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. Those are the guys in the games and in the box scores, traveling in chartered airplanes, and making a decent, sometimes obscene, amounts of money. 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, sold, or designated for assignment). For players who have been around for a while, there are all sorts of byzantine rules regarding how this works. To complicate matters, last year the rules were changed allowing the major league teams to 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 to 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. Players on the 40-man who aren't with the Bulls are oddities a bit difficult to explain and don't really make that much difference to us. Mostly they are playing at AA and lower levels. Of the pitchers, one or two will be prospective starting pitchers, the other potential relievers. Fairly often when WDBB writes about a Bull we will mention whether or not he's on the 40-man.

Why are the players we see here playing for the Bulls? 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 almost all of the players on the 40-man who start the year with the Bulls 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 cannot be called up. Adjustment to the 40-man roster can, and does, happen, but not very often. On the other hand, 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 limited 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, Bulls’ pitching rotations can 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, in the Rays system very few upcoming prospects just “pass through” AAA-level ball. Time with the Bulls is a real and very serious testing ground for pitchers and hitters. That means we will get to see a lot of very talented ballplayers with first rate managing/coaching crew. 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  more background on the 111 years of Durham Bulls history, check out the Bulls’ web page and the Wikipedia page.

For WDBB's and other views on who are the Great Triple-A Durham Bulls see this post and this one and another from earlier this year.

If you missed Part 1, check it out here.

Durham Bulls Basics 2013 - Part 1

The season opens soon and I’m thinking that 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, but this is mostly stuff I did not know when I became a Bulls fan.

If you see a mistake, let me know. 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: 15 in the American League and 15 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? (Except, of course, that there's a AAA Mexican League with 16 teams and recognized by Major League Baseball, but I've never been able to figure that one out. This is the last mention of the Mexican League for another year.)

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), Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago (White Sox), Toronto, and Minnesota. That gives the IL 9 American League and 5 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 to Tampa Bay distance is a good bit more than average. Let's not talk about the distance from New York (Mets) to Las Vegas in the PCL.

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 back in Havana (they had a team in the 50's), 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 go to 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 - Toronto Blue Jays
Lehigh Valley IronPigs - 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

Update: Somehow I missed the deal that Buffalo made with Toronto. The Mets AAA team will be in the PCL (Las Vegas), while the Blue Jays will be able to whistle up a limo to bring a reliever in (assuming he has his passport with him).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Reset — 2013

Opening Day only a little more than two weeks 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 meant to be 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 for sure until a day or so before the first game.

That means that now is 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 our readers are Durham Bulls fanatics. That way I’ll get a chance to re-visit and maybe come to a better understanding of the Bulls, minor league baseball, AAA, and stuff such as just what the heck wOBA really is and whether or not we should care.

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 my understanding of the above topics in the last four years. But I have been working on it, I really have, really, I have.

Fortunately, one of the nifty things about the web is that if you don’t know something, there’s someone out there who does. And lots of folks have been willing to step up and improve my understanding.

I seem to have developed a few principles as this has gone along. Here they are.  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.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hemstitching: Rosters, Bets, Wives & More

In the weaver’s world the word hemstitching is used for two purposes: to tie up loose ends (literally, because an “end” is a thread in a warp) and for decoration.
  • The Bulls own website provides some solid speculation on the possible members of this year’s roster.
  • I don’t bet on sports, but it was naive of me not to realize that some the sabermetric crowd would try to use their ideas to make money. They have. A new book on the process is here, and Grantland has a story here.
  • It seems like a very long time since we’ve heard from Nicole Johnson, wife of (or to) Elliot Johnson) and a blogger of some astuteness. Recent posts to her blog offers two views of a trade from the perspective of a wife. Here and here.
  • If you want to see the entire International League schedule in one place, take a look at this matrix schedule.
  • It begins to look like the peculiarities of the business of baseball are going to provide the Bulls with a first-rate catcher … but we recall that although Chris Gimenez reported to Durham at the beginning 2012, he went back to St. Pete before the Bulls season even started.
  • Rays Index has updated his playing time table. Several roster clues in there.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Last Thoughts on Spring Training

Fran, Chris, Chik-fil-A Cow, and others on the edge of hypothermia; Yankees/Phillies game, March 13, Tampa, Florida
I’m back home to North Carolina with mixed feelings about our trip to Spring Training. 

Overall, for a Bulls fan, the key lesson was:

 “Be patient … the season will start … eventually.”

We saw three games, but I regret to say that the baseball simply wasn’t that interesting. The games were the Detroit Tigers-New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays-New York Yankees, New York Yankees-Philadelphia Phillies. We knew that at this point of pre-season the regulars were only playing a few innings and that winning/losing wasn’t all that big a deal. However, knowing it intellectually and experiencing in the stands are two different things. For example, after the 5th inning of the Tigers/Mets game about six of the big names came out of the dugout and strolled off to the gate in right field, jerseys pulled out of their pants, laughing and telling jokes. Their day was over. I get that, but couldn’t get used to it. What was missing, from our great distance up in the stands, was intensity.

At an individual player level, for those without an assured spot on the roster, I am sure each pitch and each at bat was very important. For teams other than the Rays/Bulls, I just didn’t know enough (and found it hard to find out) to tell who’s career was on the bubble.

A Bulls fan can’t help but compare the parks to the DBAP. None of them even come close. I realize it probably isn’t a fair comparison, since these stadium are used mostly for Single-A ball the rest of the year. Seems to me fans are being gouged when they pay top dollar for not very good seats. Our tickets were all above $20 and that paid for seats pretty far away from home plate. In design, the Yankees field in Tampa came the closest, but still a distant second place to the DBAP.

On this tour, we got a good bit more than baseball on the field, including the previously mentioned visit to Tropicana Field and some remarkable presentations by an exceptional baseball expert, Coach Bill Mathews of Eckerd College. I’ll probably be using several of his insights into the fundamentals of baseball and baseball scoring as the season goes along.

So, yes, I did get to see many, many players that I would never have seen in person. I learned a bit more about the game. I met some terrific people (even if many of them were Yankees fans). We even met another couple who were from Pittsboro and Durham Bulls fans! 

Did we enjoy it? Yes. Would we do it again? Probably not. For pure, top quality baseball in a pleasant, affordable environment, the short trek to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on a summer night is a much, much better experience.

But the waiting is killing me!

Tropicana Dreamin'

As part of our visit to Spring Training our group got a tour of Tropicana last Thursday. That was the first time we’d ever seen that famous venue and we were very impressed with the facility.

First is the matter of scale. Driving past on the elevated highways (I-275, I-175, I-375) is somewhat deceptive. But once you step on the field, the immensity of the place is astonishing.

Tropicana Field, view from left field
The first photo was taken from just in front of the left field pole. Note the “cherry picker” truck off in the distance.

View from the press box back toward left field
Here’s the view from the press box, a very comfortable place to be during a game, I’d guess.

View from press box toward right field
Note the white bags down in front of the Rays’ dugout.

Those bags are full of dirt. That’s essentially the Tropicana infield. Rays management seems very proud of the fact that they use real dirt, imported from Mississippi, for the infield.

Astroturf, outfield/warning track boundary
This is a closeup of the playing surface. Didn’t go running around on it, so hard to tell how it really feels. You don’t hear many player gripes about the surface, at least I haven’t heard anyone. Visiting players do gripe a bit about the Trop, but mostly about the catwalks and about losing the ball against the dome. On the other hand, if you want to play baseball in the summer in Florida, I don’t see how you have any choice. I’d love to go to a game there some day.

* * * * *

Since every other baseball blogger in the world has offered an opinion about Tropicana Field, let’s provide our own. The Rays only average about 20,000 fans per game. They need/want that to get up to 25,000 or so per game and discussions about a new stadium have been floating since oh, about 1998, when the Devil Rays came to town.

While we were there we approached the Trop from just about every possible direction. We came down 75, split over to 275 and on into downtown Tampa, across the bay and on down 275. We came back from Lakeland using I-4 and connected with 275 in the middle of Tampa. We visited our old home in the Valrico/Brandon area and drove through Tampa on the Selmon Expressway to cross the bay on the Gandy. We saw a game down in Port Charlotte and came back to St. Pete over the Sunshine Skyway. None of these treks was made during rush hour.

Forget the actual mileage involved in getting from the east and the south, or even the fairly tough traffic: The psychological distance is simply overwhelming. Downtown St. Petersburg feels like it is on the other side of the moon. Furthermore, I don’t see how putting a stadium up near where I-275 touches down on the Pinellas side of the bay would change that perception. If I were still living in Brandon I think I’d have to plan to leave home about 5pm for a 7pm game, and I’d be lucky to get home by midnight. (Note: Google suggested a route from Brandon taking I-75 down the east side of Tampa Bay and back north along the Skyline bridge, 58 miles!)

Clever marketing would probably help get to that magic 25k. Nevertheless, I don’t think a new stadium would make much difference. And if they spend hundreds of millions on a new stadium, 25k won’t be enough fans to pay the mortgage.

I am sorry to write this because the Rays are a great baseball team and they deserved a great crowd each game. A new stadium? Would be fun. Don't see how it could make that much of a difference. I did like the Trop. Hope to see a game there some day. Rays need to figure out how to make it work even better.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Raining on the Rays

Port Charlotte, Florida
Yankees 3, Tampa Bay 1

It's Florida, so the weather's changeable. But the tarp came off not too long after we got there and the game started almost on time.

Alex Cobb had a very nice five scoreless innings, but that doesn't matter much to Bulls fans. Dane De La Rosa gave up three runs and five hits in his one inning. That does. 

Otherwise, an interesting day for a Bulls fan. We got to see several potential Bulls such as Wil Myers, Chris Gimenez, and Hak-Ju Lee, and got quick looks at several others such as Jason Bourgeois, Shelly Duncan, Rich Thompson, Brandon Guyer, and Stephen Vogt. We were particularly pleased to see Robinson Chirinos take a couple of innings behind the plate. He's using a goalie-style mask these days. I'm not sure if that was what he was using at the time of his concussion about this time last year. My guess is that he wasn't. 

Near the end of the game Dan Johnson took over at first base for the Yankees. He seemed to be having a pleasant conversation with the Rays' first base coach.

I wish the ballpark experience was as good as the game experience. For some reason the folks at Port Charlotte seem to think that they only have to provide seating for midgets. The inexpensive (by major league standards) seats are about the most cramped I've experienced. On the other hand, it's a very pleasant place to walk around with good views of the game.

Looks like Stacy Long of the Montgomery Advertiser is down in Port Charlotte as well. Time to start keeping an eye on his Biscuit Crumbs blog.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Into the Sun

So here I am in St. Petersburg and eventually we are going to get to see a Rays game, but before that we were off to Lakeland to see the Tigers play the Mets. My hope was that I'd be able to identify potential Mud Hens or Bisons, but there simply wasn't enough information available to make a guess. 

Instead I got to watch Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and company get destroyed by the Mets 11-0. Verlander was really off. He gave up a couple of home runs, balked in a run, hit a couple of guys. I think he let in something like 5 runs before he left.

It was fun to at least see Fielder on the field. I remain amazed that someone who looks so unlike a baseball player does so well at the game. Well, not sure he was taking today seriously. He was walked in his first AB then and then was caught stealing. That's right, caught stealing! 

Prince Fielder At Bat, March 11, 2013

Rays v. Yankees on Tuesday. Hope the rain keeps away.
  • An important bit of information buried in the Phillies-Rays box score of a couple of days ago, Craig Albernaz got into the game.
  • A bunch of players have been sent down to minor league camp. Will have to take a closer look later.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

On the Road

Probably everyone has their least favorite highway. Mine is I-95 from North Carolina to Florida. North Carolina and South Carolina are simply not doing their job maintaining that road. Sad to say, only Georgia is seriously keeping the highway in decent shape. But at least today the traffic moved along briskly and after a late start we made good time to the Jacksonville area.

But the really big deal is that we are on our way to Spring Training! If the weather holds we should be able to get in at least three games, including a Rays/Yankees game later this week. Not sure that there will be much in the way of Bulls-related content. Guess that depends on how lucky I get. Most of the 2013 Bulls are still with the Rays, so I think it will be unlikely that I will be able to do anything more that watch from the stands.

Nevertheless, I'm finally off I-95 and headed for St. Petersburg. Should be fun ... if I can just figure out how to get this from my laptop to the web.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Hemstitching:Prospects, Home Field Advantages, & More

Season Opens in 28 Days — First Home Game in 32 Days
  • Let’s start with the over-the-top New York Yankees payroll (always fun). Rays Index points out that the salaries of three Yankees now on the injured list (That would be Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Alex Rodriguez) add up to more than all of the Tampa Bay Rays roster ($65.5 mil vs. $61.3 mil). A commenter notes that the starting first baseman for the 2013 Yankees could be … Dan Johnson!
  • Thanks to Adam Sobsey’s twitter feed we learned that the numbers have been crunched for minor league ballparks. DBAP looks to be pretty much middle of the pack.
  • MLB Trade Rumors has relooked the Garza trade of a couple of years ago. A lot of players from that trade have shown up in Bulls’ uniforms and more likely to show up this year. 
  • DRaysBay is looking at prospects, and most of these guys could start out in Durham in 2013.
  • Pitcher Jim Paduch is among the first to be sent down to minor league camp. “Down” probably isn’t  quite the right word. In Port Charlotte means cleaning out one locker, walking about 100 yards and filing up a new locker.
  • Rays Index has updated his playing time chart. I’ve broken out players I’m watching in a separate table.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Watch List, Fan Fest, Auditions, and More

37 Days
  • We are really pleased to see Rays Index bring back his Spring Training Playing Time table. His assertion is that players who are seeing playing time early in the game are those that are most likely to be on the big league roster at the end of Spring. Makes sense. For example, the table shows Lee and Escobar with just about the same amount of playing time at shortstop. But almost all of Escobar’s are early in the game and Lee’s are late in the game. As the numbers get up there we’ll be cross checking the table against our own players to watch list. Interesting to see Kevin Kiermaier get some playing time.
  • Meanwhile the Fan Fest continues today. 
  • March 16 will see auditions for National Anthem performances. That gives me a chance to once again compliment whomever came up with the inspired idea to invite local choral groups to perform. Almost all of them have been terrific and some have been exceptional.
  • MLB Trade Rumors has an interesting analysis of the Rays winter trades and signings. Several players mentioned will surely show up in Durham.