Or, How about them Rays?
The contract between the Durham Bulls and the Tampa Bay Rays has just been extended for another four years. Last night that led to some chatter on the air regarding the terrific seven out of eight year South Division championship run.
Color commentator Scott Pose ascribed that success to the Rays system finding and flowing prospects through the Bulls. As much as I like Mr. Pose, and he’s forgotten more about baseball than I will ever know, I’d like to disagree. Having prospects playing for the Bulls has little to do with winning championships. In fact, in probably hurts.
However, the Rays have have been very, very smart on their off-season hires, that obscure category of player that shows up at spring training with the label, “minor league contract, non-roster invitee.” Just take a look at this year’s list (the players marked with the † are the ones in that category). Or just look at the players who are on the Bulls roster right now. The “prospects” are Hak-Ju Lee, Tim Beckham, and Mikie Mahtook among the position players, Mike Montgomery and Nathan Karns among the pitchers. Only one of those (Mahtook) made any significant contribution to the Bulls championship run. Essentially all of the rest on the current roster, even those on the 40-man like Vince Belnome and Cole Figueroa, were never in any “prospect” class. But they have been huge factors in the Bulls winning this year's championship. And players like them were who won championships in the past years.
Notice those on that list with † by their names who really helped this year: pitchers Matt Andriese, Steve Geltz, and Merrill Kelly; position players Jayson Nix, Ray Olmedo, Justin Christian, Wilson Betemit, Jeremy Moore; not to mention a couple that I couldn’t figure out at the time, catchers Eddy Rodriguez and Ali Solis. Ballplayers like that win championships, and we are grateful for the astuteness of Rays scouts for finding and signing them.
And then we have to appreciate what it takes to keep a team like this together. Charlie Montoyo’s crew of Dave Myers and Neil Allen are self-evidently doing a great job.
Prospects, in my observation, don’t usually help the Bulls all that much, especially pitching prospects. Often as not the pitchers are out on the mound working on a particular aspect of their own "development," winning a game sometimes appears secondary. For position players, the Bulls sometimes see them for a while, but sometimes they don’t hang around very long (Even Longoria, Wil Myers) or can’t get into synch while with the Bulls (B.J. Upton, Delmon Young). Those that are truly developing can help a lot (Mikie Mahtook this year, for example), but sometimes they are at the low end of the scale (Hak-Ju Lee this year). Not that it isn’t fun to see the kids play ball, because you sometimes got to see flashes of real brilliance, but they don't win championships. Guys like Chris Richard, Dan Johnson, Joe Dillon, Ray Olmedo, Mike Fontenot, Justin Christian, Leslie Anderson, Shelley Duncan and a host of other unfamiliar names are the guys the Rays found, signed, and sent to Durham, and who won us all those championships.
That’s why WDBB is happy to see the Bulls re-sign their deal with the Rays. If they keep finding guys like this year's crowd, we can hope to go on seeing good baseball and winning championships.