DURHAM, NC - The Durham Bulls, in conjunction with the Tampa Bay Rays, have announced their preliminary Opening Day roster. Under the direction of second-year manager Jared Sandberg, the Bulls will open the 2016 season with a roster boasting reigning USA Today and Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year Blake Snell and 2015 Bulls Most Valuable Player and International League All-Star Taylor Motter.
Fans can get a first glimpse of the 2016 squad Tuesday night at the DBAP, when the team holds a free workout open to the public at 6 p.m.
The Bulls will open the season on Thursday, April 7 at the DBAP with a young, prospect-heavy roster. Of the 25 players on the active squad, 16 are 26 years old or younger, while only three players are 30 or older.
Snell, the southpaw who combined to go 15-4 with a 1.41 ERA across three minor league levels in 2015, opens the season with the Bulls after he was added to the Rays' 40-man roster in the offseason. In nine starts with Durham a year ago, the game's No. 12 overall prospect according to Baseball America went 6-2 with a 1.83 ERA. RHP Matt Andriese, who split 2015 between Durham and Tampa Bay, will join Snell in the rotation. In 13 appearances with the Bulls a year ago, he went 3-3 with a 2.35 ERA.
RHP Jaime Schultz will be a part of the Bulls' projected rotation after making 27 starts for Double-A Montgomery a season ago, leading the league with 168 strikeouts in only 135 innings pitched. Also making the jump from Montgomery will be RHP Austin Pruitt, who embarks on just his third full season of professional baseball. The product of the University of Houston went 10-7 for the Biscuits last year, posting a 3.09 ERA. Rounding out the Bulls' projected starting rotation will be LHP Adam Wilk, who signed with the Rays as a minor league free agent over the offseason after spending 2015 with Triple-A Salt Lake.
In Durham's projected bullpen will be RHP Jhan Mariñez, a 2015 IL Midseason All-Star with the Bulls, and 24-year-old RHP Andrew Bellatti, who split 2015 between Durham and Tampa Bay. Also returning to Durham will be RHP Dylan Floro, who converted from a starter to a reliever at the end of last season.
Both RHP Ryan Garton and RHP Mark Sappington will open the campaign in the Bull City after spending all of 2015 with Double-A Montgomery, while RHP Kyle McPherson opens the year with the Bulls in his second season as a Rays' farmhand.
RHP Eddie Gamboa, a 31-year-old knuckleballer, joins the Rays system after spending the first eight seasons of his career in the Baltimore Orioles' organization. Another newcomer, RHP Tyler Sturdevant, will open the season in Durham after spending seven years in the Cleveland Indians' farm system.
Behind the dish the Bulls will open the season with the combination of Luke Maile and Carlos Corporan. Maile, who made his major league debut last September, spent the entire minor league season in Durham in 2015. Corporan was acquired by the Rays on April 2 for cash considerations, and spent parts of each of the last five seasons in the major leagues between the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers.
Motter and Richie Shaffer headline the Bulls' infield, as Motter earned IL All-Stars honors in 2015 when he batted .292-14-72, and led the league in doubles and extra-base hits. Shaffer, primarily a third baseman, was named the Rays' 2015 Minor League Batter of the Year when he combined to hit 26 home runs in 108 games. The Raleigh resident hit 19 home runs in only 69 games with the Bulls a season ago, and made his major league debut in August.
Nick Franklin and Daniel Robertson project to play up the middle for the Bulls. Franklin, acquired in a trade for David Price in 2014, has split the last two seasons between Triple-A and the major leagues. Robertson, just 22, will make his Triple-A debut when he takes the field for Durham after hitting .274 for Montgomery in 2015.
Rounding out the infield will be East Carolina University product Kyle Roller, who hit 31 home runs over the last two seasons with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and Cameron Seitzer, who was a 2015 Southern League Postseason All-Star with Montgomery when he ranked fourth in the Southern League with a .308 average. 23-year-old prospect Patrick Leonard will see time both at first base and the outfield, as he'll make his Triple-A debut coming off a full season at Double-A.
The Bulls' outfield will feature fan-favorite Mikie Mahtook, who appeared in 98 games for the Bulls and 41 games for the Rays in 2015. Dayron Varona opens 2016 with the Bulls in his second season in the Rays organization. The Cuban defector, 28, played in the Cuban National Series from 2007 to 2013. Also patrolling the DBAP outfield will be newcomer Jaff Decker, who appeared in 173 games for Triple-A Indianapolis and 28 big league games for Pittsburgh over the last two seasons.
Joining Sandberg on the bench in his second season will be pitching coach Kyle Snyder, and hitting coach Ozzie Timmons, who begins his first year in Durham. Athletic trainer Mike Sandoval returns for his fifth season with the Bulls, while Bryan King embarks on his third season as strength and conditioning coach.
Infielder Ryan Brett and pitchers Justin Marks, Burch Smith, Jonny Venters and Neil Wagner will all open the season on the team's disabled list while rehabbing at the Rays' minor league complex in Port Charlotte, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.