The Durham Bulls, in conjunction with the Tampa Bay Rays, today announce their preliminary Opening Day roster. Under the direction of third-year manager Jared Sandberg, the Bulls will open the 2017 season with a plethora of highly-touted players, including three players ranked among the Top 100 prospects in all of baseball.
Of the prospect-laden roster, SS Willy Adames leads the charge. Ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Tampa Bay system, and No. 19 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB.com, the 21-year-old will make his Triple-A debut this season following a 2016 campaign that saw him earn Southern League Midseason and Postseason All-Star honors with Double-A Montgomery. Joining Adames in the Durham lineup will be 1B/OF Jake Bauers, who is ranked the No. 4 prospect in Tampa Bay's system, and No. 73 overall prospect. Last season the 21-year-old lead the Southern League with 135 games played, while also ranking third in the league in runs (79) and fourth in doubles (28) for Montgomery. During Spring Training, the youngster led the Rays with 13 RBI, and tied for the team lead with four home runs.
On the mound the Bulls will boast a deep rotation filled with prospects, as RHP Jacob Faria returns after splitting the 2016 campaign between Montgomery and Durham. RHP Chase Whitley, who spent 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery, will open the year on the starting staff after appearing in 33 Major League games for the New York Yankees and Rays from 2014 through 2016.
Rounding out the rotation will be a trio of prospects who will each make the jump from the Double-A ranks. RHP Chih-Wei Hu led the Southern League with a 2.59 ERA last season with Montgomery, and earned league Midseason and Postseason All-Star honors. RHP Taylor Guerrieri, the 24th overall pick in the 2011 draft by Tampa Bay, tied for the Southern League lead with 12 wins last season when he went 12-6, and ranked third on the circuit in innings pitched (146.0). LHP Ryan Yarbrough will make his Rays organization debut after joining the system in a trade with Seattle this past offseason. In 2016 the southpaw was named Southern League Pitcher of the Year after finishing the campaign with a 12-4 mark and 2.95 ERA.
Making a move to the bullpen this season is RHP Jaime Schultz, who led the International League with 163 strikeouts for the Bulls last season after he made 27 starts. The product of High Point University posted impressive Spring Training numbers, when he struck out 22 batters in 14 2/3 innings. Joining Schultz in the bullpen will be returners RHP Ryne Stanek, RHP Neil Wagner, RHP Ryan Garton, LHP Justin Marks and LHP Adam Kolarek. Stanek, a 2013 first round draft pick, will again show off a fastball that climbs into the high 90's, while Garton and Marks return after pitching for both the Bulls and Rays a season ago.
Newcomers RHP Andrew Kittredge and RHP Diego Moreno will each contribute in relief for Durham, with Kittredgejoining the organization in a trade with Seattle, while Moreno was signed as a free agent in December.
Behind the plate for the Bulls will be the veteran combination of Curt Casali, Michael McKenry and Mike Marjama. Casali has split each of the past three seasons between Durham and Tampa Bay, combining for 98 Triple-A contests and 152 big league contests in that span. McKenry, signed as free agent in December, has appeared in 311 Major League games over his 11-year career, and has played at the big league level in each of the past seven seasons. Marjama joins Durham after a 2016 season that saw him hit .288 in Double-A Montgomery.
Joining Adames in the infield will be Casey Gillaspie, the Rays' 2016 Minor League Player of the Year and No. 100 prospect in baseball. The switch-hitting 24-year-old split 2016 between Montgomery and Durham, combining to hit .284 with 18 home runs. Also returning to Durham will be Jake Hager and Patrick Leonard, who each played for both Montgomery and Durham a season ago. Kean Wong will make the jump to the Triple-A ranks this season after earning Southern League Midseason All-Star honors in 2016 with Montgomery.
Joining Bauers in the outfield mix will be Johnny Field, Dayron Varona and Shane Peterson. Field returns to the Bull City after joining Durham from Montgomery in late-May last season, while Varona spent all of 2016 with the Bulls and led the team in doubles (32) and RBI (59). Peterson is in his first season in the Rays system after appearing in just 15 games at the Triple-A level last year because of injury. Across a nine-year career, the California native has posted a .287 lifetime Minor League average, while appearing in 93 Major League games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015.
INF/OF Ryan Brett, RHP Jose De Leon, RHP Burch Smith and LHP Johnny Venters will open the season on the disabled list.
For the third season in a row UNC product Kyle Snyder will serve as the team's pitching coach, and Ozzie Timmons returns to Durham for his second consecutive year as hitting coach. Craig Albernaz, who played for Durham from 2009 to 2013, embarks on his first year on the Bulls' coaching staff after serving as a coach with Short-Season Hudson Valley in 2016. Mike Sandoval returns for his sixth season as the team's athletic trainer, and Bryan King is back for his fourth season as the squad's strength and conditioning coach.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.