After making the International League playoffs for five straight seasons, including a 2009 Governor's Cup and Triple-A National Championship, the Durham Bulls failed to make the postseason in 2012. Prior to last year, Bulls skipper Charlie Montoyo had never endured a season below the .500 mark, much less missing the playoffs. Nevertheless, the 2013 Durham Bulls are promising a return to their old form as they enter the season with high hopes and some new faces atop the franchise.
On December 9, 2012 the Tampa Bay Rays made a Major League splash when they traded RHP James Shields and RHP Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals for the top three prospects in their system: OF Wil Myers (No. 1 in K.C., No. 4 overall), RHP Jake Odorizzi (No. 2 in K.C., No. 45 overall) and LHP Mike Montgomery (No. 3 in K.C.). All three future Major Leaguers will begin the 2013 season in Triple-A with Durham.
Myers took Minor League Baseball by storm last year, as he was named the 2012 Minor League Player of the Year by both Baseball America and USA Today. His 37 home runs between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha were second-most in the minors. Wil became one of 10 minor leaguers in the past 50 years to hit 35 or more home runs above Class-A before turning 22 years of age.
Meanwhile, Myers' teammate throughout the Royals ranks, Odorizzi, was the pitching equivalent to the slugger. Jake was named the 2012 Royals Minor League Pitcher of the Year, alongside being the Pitcher of the Year for his team the previous two seasons as well. One of the most dominant pitchers in Minor League Baseball, his 15-5 record (3rd most wins in MiLB in '12) and 3.03 ERA between two levels speaks volumes of his talent. It is only a matter of time before this right-hander is starting every fifth day at Tropicana Field.
Stemming from a long line of supremely talented pitchers throughout the Rays system, Chris Archer is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Tampa Bay starters such as reigning American League Cy Young winner David Price, southpaw stud Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. Archer was named Tampa Bay's 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, but is looking for more this season. The Raleigh-area native is currently ranked the No. 2 prospect in the Rays system, which obviously is a giant compliment given the players, past and present, that Tampa Bay possesses.
2012 IL Mid-Season and Postseason All-Star 1B/OF Leslie Anderson should return to the fold this season after being invited to Rays spring training. Possibly joining the Cuban first baseman is his infield-mate SS/2B Tim Beckham who will be seeking his most productive campaign in this, his sixth professional season.
Speedster OF Rich Thompson should be back with the Bulls this summer, alongside one of the most unheralded prospects in the Rays system, OF Brandon Guyer, who would help create the fastest outfield in the IL.
2012 Mid-Season All-Star RHP Dane De La Rosa is readying himself for another Triple-A campaign after being placed No. 6 overall in Bulls history with 20 saves in '12. De La Rosa could be joined by RHP Frank De Los Santos, RHP Josh Lueke and former Pawtucket closer, RHP Will Inman.
An incredible story this spring has been the emergence of RHP Juan Sandoval, who is blind in one eye. The Dominican Republic-native was masterful in camp, as he enters the 2013 campaign possibly heading to an already stout Durham bullpen.
Bulls' mainstays C Stephen Vogt and LHP Alex Torres are ready for another season in Durham, while newcomers from Double-A Montgomery like SS Hak-Ju Lee, RHP Alex Colome and RHP Matt Buschmann are prepared for a full season in Triple-A after superb careers at the lower levels.
Three former Major Leaguers could make their presence known with Durham this season. 1B/OF/DH Jack Cust has over 100 career MLB home runs and is seeking a leadership role wherever he may land. Meanwhile, 2009 IL MVP OF/DH Shelley Duncan and the former Cub and Giant 2B/SS/3B Mike Fontenot could add some much-needed depth to any roster.
Montoyo retains his coaching staff from previous years, as Pitching Coach Neil Allen and Hitting Coach Dave Myers look to improve a willing and eager Bulls squad in 2013. Head Athletic Trainer Mike Sandoval retains the duties of keeping your Bulls fresh and on the field as much as possible. Meanwhile, a semi-new addition to the mix this season from Rookie-level Princeton is Strength and Conditioning Coach Dan Rousseau, who worked for the Bulls from '07-'08.
The Charlotte Knights walked away with the IL South crown last season, then advanced to the IL Championship against the eventual champions, Pawtucket Red Sox. However, 2012 is a distant memory with Durham seeking their sixth IL South title in the last seven seasons, alongside another Governor's Cup and National Championship.