Down on the Farm with the Durham Bulls

By on April 20, 2016
Jared Sandberg (photo Will Mayhall)

Jared Sandberg (photo Will Mayhall)

The Durham Bulls, the Triple-A Minor League Affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, kicked off their 2016 season on Thursday April 7 against the Charlotte Knights.
Before the opening game, second year coach Jared Sandberg met with the media to talk about the upcoming season. The Rays all-time leader in home runs (113), saw a record 213 player transactions in his first season as the Bulls Manager last year. “We set a record for transactions, mostly because the major league club was not healthy,” said Sandberg. He continued “My goal is to not talk about last year…The big thing in Durham is that winning tradition. We want to get back in the playoffs and win another championship.”
The Bulls finished the 2015 season a disappointing 74-70, missing the playoffs for the second time in four seasons. Expectations are high this year though, as the Bulls are stocked with a young, prospect-heavy roster.
Leading the way for the Bulls is Baseball America’s and USA Today’s 2015 Minor League Player of the Year, Blake Snell. The Shoreline, WA southpaw was 15-4 with a 1.41 ERA last season, as he rocketed his way thru the Rays farm system.
Also returning for the Bulls are first baseman Richie Shaffer and outfielder Mikie Mahtook. Shaffer, the No. 9 prospect in the Rays’ system as designated by Baseball Prospectus, is looking to add onto 2015’s impressive stats. Splitting time between Durham and Tampa Bay, the Charlotte, NC native hit 23 home runs along with 51 RBIs in route to being named the Rays’ 2015 Minor League Player of the Year. Mahtook saw action with the Rays on six different occasions hitting .295 with 9 home runs and 19 RBIs. Mahtook is ranked the No. 6 prospect in the Rays organization.
Charlotte Knights vs Durham Bulls
Blake Snell got the Bulls off on the right foot as he took the mound on opening day. Snell pitched five scoreless innings, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs as the Bulls defeated the Charlotte Knights 7-3. Richie Shaffer led the way for the Bulls going 2 for 3 with three RBIs, as the Bulls used a five-run second inning to defeat their South Division rival.
Shaffer’s bat remained hot in the second game of the four game series. The Rays No. 9 prospect drove in three more runs but that was not enough as the Bulls fell 8-6. The Bulls got back to their winning ways in Game 3 defeating the Knights 3-2, scoring on an 8th inning wild pitch. The Bulls wrapped up the opening series with a 6-4 victory over the Knights, as outfielder Dayron Varona blasted a three-run home run and helped the Bulls take the series 3-1.
Gwinnett Braves vs Durham Bulls
After taking three of their first four games from the Charlotte Knights, the Durham Bulls welcomed South Division rival the Gwinnett Braves to Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The Bulls entered the series leading the International League in hitting at .295.
Games 1 and 2 saw the Bulls and Braves go into extra innings. In Game 1, Bulls catcher Carlos Corporan brought home the winning run in the bottom of the 11th with an RBI single. Game 2 saw Blake Snell hit the mound for his second start of the season. Snell pitched 4 2/3 innings striking out a season high nine batters, while giving up two hits and three walks. The Bulls were unable to protect the 3-0 lead that Snell had left them.
Trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Daniel Robertson led off with a single. Nick Franklin then launched a towering two-run homer, his first of the year and tying the game 5-5. The Bulls would be unable to keep the lead as the very next inning, outfield Dayron Varona would come in to pitch and give up the go ahead run. Franklin led the way for the Braves going 2 for 4 with a double, two run homer and three RBIs. Mikie Mahtook (Rays No. 6 Prospect) was 2 for 2 with a double and three walks.
The Bulls concluded the three games series and seven game opening home stand with a 6-2 loss to the Braves.
The Bulls begin a 10 game road trip against South Division rivals Charlotte, Gwinnett and Norfolk. They return home on April 24 for a six game home stand.
Rocket Sports and Entertainment will be providing updates throughout the year highlighting the Tampa Bay Rays Triple-A Minor League Affiliate and some of the organizations top prospects.
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