The Durham Bulls, in conjunction with the Tampa Bay Rays, have announced their 2015 Opening Day roster. The squad, under the direction of first-year manager Jared Sandberg, aims to win its third consecutive International League South Division title and eighth division title in the past nine seasons.
The Bulls will take the field Opening Day - April 9 at South Division foe Gwinnett - with a more experienced roster than in years past. The 2015 team features 13 players who have played at least six full seasons of professional baseball and are at least 27-years-old. The 2014 Opening Day squad had just nine players with at least six full seasons of experience, while only eight players were 27 or older.
To begin the season Durham's starting rotation will combine youth with experience. RHP Dylan Floro, 24, enters the season set to log his first innings in the Bull City. The 2012 draft pick is coming off a 2014 season that saw him go 11-13 with a 3.48 ERA for Double-A Montgomery, after he was the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013. LHP Jim Patterson, 26, returns to Durham after appearing in five games for the Bulls a season ago, while making 31 relief appearances for Montgomery.
Joining Floro and Patterson in the starting five will be RHP Matt Buschmann, who returns to Durham after a one-year absence. After going 8-2 with a 2.97 ERA during the 2013 Governors' Cup championship season, he went 9-7 with a 4.52 ERA for Triple-A Sacramento a year ago. LHP Scott Diamond, acquired during the last week of Spring Training, has spent parts of each of the last five seasons in the International League between three teams. Rounding out the rotation will be LHP Everett Teaford, who appeared in 45 games for the Kansas City Royals from 2011-2013. 24-year-old LHP Enny Romero, who went 5-11 for Durham a season ago, will begin 2015 on the disabled list.
Returnee LHP C.J. Riefenhauser will anchor the bullpen after posting a 1.40 ERA for Durham a season ago. Joining him will be 30-year-old RHP Brandon Gomes, who has accrued a 2.81 ERA in 96 games for Durham since 2011. RHP Jake Thompson returns to Durham as well after making 24 appearances for the Bulls last season, finishing 4-1 with a 3.15 ERA.
LHP Jordan Norberto, who missed all of 2014 because of injury, will open the season as a reliever, and he'll be joined by RHP Andrew Bellatti and RHP Bryce Stowell, each of whom completed strong seasons for Montgomery in 2014.
Rounding out the bullpen will be two newcomers in RHP Jose Dominguez and RHP Jim Miller. Dominguez, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade this past offseason, made the Dodgers' Opening Day roster in 2014, while Miller has appeared in 42 Major League games since 2011.
Behind the plate, the Bulls will rely on prospects Curt Casali and Luke Maile to handle the pitching staff. Casali returns to Durham a year after making both his Triple-A and MLB debuts, appearing in 46 games for the Bulls and 30 games for the Rays. Maile, just 24, was a 2014 Southern League Midseason All-Star with Montgomery last year, and appeared in five games for Durham during the 2014 postseason.
In the infield the Bulls will feature youth up the middle, with a veteran presence on the corners. The No. 9 second base prospect in Minor League Baseball according to MLB.com, Ryan Brett prepares to make his Triple-A debut after earning Southern League Midseason and Postseason All-Star honors in 2014 after hitting .303 with 27 stolen bases for Montgomery. After two years slowed by injuries, Hak-Ju Lee will open the season healthy after starting 92 games at shortstop for the Bulls in 2014.
Fan-favorite Vince Belnome returns, a year after hitting 10 home runs and ranking third in the International League with 72 walks. Newcomer Allan Dykstra, the winner of the 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby held at the DBAP, will see time at first base and designated hitter in his first season in the Rays system. Also new to the organization are Jake Elmore and Eugenio Velez, who have logged 87 and 259 Major League appearances, respectively.
The Bulls' 2014 Team MVP and International League Midseason All-Star Mikie Mahtook returns to Durham after setting career-highs in home runs (12), doubles (33) and walks (46) in his first season at the Triple-A level. Fellow homegrown talent Taylor Motter makes his first jump to Triple-A baseball, a season after being named a Southern League Midseason and Postseason All-Star when he hit .274 with 16 home runs for Montgomery.
Rounding out the roster are the veteran additions of Corey Brown and Joey Butler, each new to the Tampa Bay system this season. Brown has spent each of the past four seasons in the International League, while accruing 39 big League appearances in that time as well. Butler was a 2012 and 2013 Pacific Coast League All-Star with Triple-A Round Rock, before splitting last season between Triple-A Memphis, St. Louis, and the Orix Buffaloes in Japan.
RHP Burch Smith will open the season on the disabled list, as will relievers RHP Neil Wagner and LHP Jonny Venters.
On Sandberg's coaching staff, hitting coach Dave Myers returns for his seventh season with the Bulls, while Kyle Snyder begins his first season as the team's pitching coach. Mike Sandoval is back for his fourth season as the team's athletic trainer, while Bryan King embarks on his second year as the team's strength and conditioning coach.
The Durham Bulls open the 2015 International League campaign on the road on April 9 before returning to the DBAP for the ballpark's 20th Anniversary season opener on Wednesday, April 15. Full season, Mini Plan, group and single game tickets for the 2015 season are available now. Tickets for the 2015 ACC Baseball Championship and USA Baseball games at the DBAP are also on sale now. For more information, visit durhambulls.com, the DBAP ticket office or call 919.956.BULL.