Spring Training is only days away from concluding, and while the Bulls front office gets ready for another great season, the Bulls roster is slowly staring to take shape. With the Rays latest round of cuts, fans can catch a glimpse of the 2012 Durham Bulls Opening Day roster.
The Rays recently announced that they have optioned RHP Dane De La Rosa, UTL Stephen Vogt and OF Brandon Guyer and have reassigned them to the Bulls. All three players have shown great promise and potential, but due to a log jam at Tampa they will begin their season with the Bulls.
While Dane De La Rosa was not drafted with the same hype as others, he certainly has a great story. Originally drafted by the Yankees in 2002, De La Rosa played two seasons in professional baseball for the organization, but never made it above short-season rookie ball. De La Rosa continued on, and spent parts of the next four seasons playing in independent baseball, from California to Maryland. At one point in 2006, De La Rosa contemplated giving up on the game. He sat out the entire 2006 season, got his real estate license and began working for a real estate company in Temecula, California. After three months in the "real world," he decided it was too slow and went back to baseball.
After years of slugging through independent ball, De La Rosa got another chance with the Rays in 2010. The 6'7" right-hander began his Rays career with the Charlotte Stone Crabs, making two appearances for the club before a promotion to the Biscuits. De La Rosa finished the season with the Biscuits, going a remarkable 9-3 with 4 saves and a 1.97 ERA (73-IP, 16-ER).
Things finally started to go well for the big man from California. Last season he spent the majority of the season with the Bulls, but he finally got his big break. On July 19, he was recalled by the Rays and made his major league debut the following day vs. the New York Yankees, the team that originally drafted him, at Tropicana Field. Though most of his season was spent with the Bulls, he had a great year. He led the Durham bullpen with 52 relief apps and 70.1 IP and went 2-2 with 4 saves and a 2.03 ERA (26.2-IP, 6-ER) in 20 games after the All-Star break. Bulls fans should look forward to watching De La Rosa improve on his second chance.
Returning from last season is fan favorite Brandon Guyer. The 26 year old who was traded from the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal, has been a real asset to the organization. While Guyer continues to wait for a spot in the crowded Rays outfield, he will continue to improve on his game with the Bulls.
Last season, Guyer had a career year, culminating with his major league debut on May 6th. Guyer started a total of 12 games for the Rays including 10 of 24 after his September call-up. Guyer made history on his call-up. In his first plate appearance as a major league hitter, the Pennsylvania native smashed a 2-run home run, becoming the first Ray to homer in their first plate appearance. He was the 108th player in major league history to homer in his first ML at-bat.
Guyer spent most of the season in Durham with the Bulls, where he was named to the International League midseason All-Star Team. He finished the season batting .312 (121-for-388) in 107 games, finishing 5th in the IL batting race and 3rd among Rays minor leaguers. On top of that, Guyer ranked 4th in the IL in OBP (.384), 5th in SLG (.521), 6th in OPS (.905) and tied teammate and 2011 IL MVP Russ Canzler for 2nd in the IL with 78 runs scored. Coming into the 2012 season, Baseball America ranked him as the No. 11 prospect and as having the best outfield arm in the Rays system.
Lastly that brings us to the 2011 Rays Minor League Player of the Year, Stephen Vogt. Vogt split the season between the Montgomery Biscuits and the Bulls, combing to bat .298 (152-for-510) with 17 HR, 35 2B and 105 RBI. The 27 year old had an outstanding year at both levels. His total of 105 RBI between the two clubs led the entire Rays organization and ranked as the 11th highest in the minors. Most notably, the 105 RBI was the 4th-highest total in Rays minor league history. On top of that, Vogt finished 6th among Rays minor leaguers with a .298 average, as well as had career highs in hits (152) and triples (7). He was named Montgomery's MVP and a mid- and postseason All-Star in the Southern League. After his July 27th promotion to the Bulls, he safely hit in 21 of his first 24 games for the squad. Vogt was eventually rewarded for his outstanding play, by being added to the Rays 40-man roster on Nov 18.
Vogt is certainly a huge addition to the Bulls on the field, but he is also a huge asset to the team in the clubhouse and on those long International League bus rides. One of the most notable stories about the utility player is when he was rehabbing with High Single-A Charlotte. In 2009, during a Stone Crabs game, the home plate umpire was struck by a ball and had to be removed from the game. Vogt graciously volunteered to be a base umpire and both managers agreed. Hopefully Bulls fans can look forward to seeing Vogt making the plays, not the calls.
In addition to those four players, the Bulls rotation is beginning to shape up as well. Alex Cobb, Alex Torres, and North Carolina native Chris Archer will head the Bulls rotation.
Alex Torres was the leader of the rotation for the Bulls last season, going 9-7 with a 3.08 ERA in 146.1 IP. He also set a new Triple-A record for the Bulls, striking out 156 batters in a single season. With the surplus of pitching at the major league level, Torres will continue to work on his game and prove why he is ranked as the number 6 prospect in the Rays system.
North Carolina native Chris Archer will start his season with the Bulls. Archer, a graduate of Clayton high school, had a brief cup of coffee with the Bulls last year, starting two games for the club late in the year, but spending most of the year with Montgomery in Double-A. Last season with the Biscuits, he went 8-7 with a 4.42 ERA in 134.1 IP with 118 strikeouts. During his two starts for the Bulls, Archer showed he could easily handle pitching at the next level, going 1-0 and allowing only a single earned run in 13.0 IP with 12 K's. Entering the season, Archer is ranked as the number 3 prospect in the Rays system.
Alex Cobb spent a good part of last season in Tampa, pitching for the Rays. Cobb has phenomenal stuff and the Bulls are lucky to have a pitcher with his talent in their rotation this season. Last season with the Rays Cobb was 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in nine starts for the club. Cobb did spend parts of last season with the Bulls and racked up an incredible 70 strikeouts to only 16 walks in 67.1 innings. However, Cobb was forced to end his season early last year, with an injury that sidelined him from his August 18th surgery till the end of the season. Cobb should look to bounce back quickly and continue on his way to becoming a major league starting pitcher.
Slowly, but surely the 2012 Durham Bulls roster is beginning to take shape. Some players will be meeting the Durham Bulls Athletic Park for the first time, while others will be saying hi to an old friend. Either way, Bulls fans should be excited for a roster that is sure to help the team reach the Governors' Cup Final yet again.