IL Preview: Durham Bulls
The Durham Bulls will begin their title defense with another star-studded team. Last season, the Bulls posted an International League best 87-57 mark and rolled through the IL playoffs to claim their fourth Governor’s Cup.
However, they would fall to the Omaha Storm Chasers 2-1 in the Triple-A Championship.
Charlie Montoyo returns to the helm to lead the Bulls for the eighth straight season. He will go on without outfielder Wil Myers and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer, but he will have another loaded roster.
Pitching: Last year, it all started and ended with pitching. The Bulls posted a team ERA of 3.33 and had a 16-game winner in J.D. Martin. The IL All-Star has moved on and will be playing his baseball overseas, and with the 50-game suspension of Alex Colome, the IL champs will have four spots to fill in 2014.
Nathan Karns will take over one of the spots. The former Washington Nationals’ farmhand will be a big part of the rotation. Last year, Karns went 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA in 23 starts for Harrisburg. He made his major league debut in September, making three starts for the Nationals. The right-hander is a fire-baller, featuring a mid 90-s fastball, hard sinker-splitter and wipeout curveball. He has some control issues, which will keep him from starting on the Rays to begin the season.
In addition to Karns, the Bulls will have Enny Romero. Romero was spectacular in the Southern League, going 11-7 with a 2.76 ERA in 27 starts for the Montgomery Biscuits. He made one start for Triple-A Durham (8IP, 0R, 2K) and one for Tampa (5IP, 0R) to end the season. He enters the season the No.6 ranked prospect in the Rays organization according to Baseball America.
If you add Merrill Kelly (8 wins), Mike Montgomery (7 wins) and MLB veteran Erik Bedard, the Rays rotation will be loaded once again.
Infield: The group around the horn will be led by Triple-A All Star Vince Belnome. The infielder hit .300 with eight homers and 67 RBIs last season. He recorded a team-high 133 hits.
Hak-Ju Lee will be another player to keep an eye on, as he will start the season recovering from a torn ACL, but will return to the Bulls lineup in 2014. Prior to tearing all three ligaments in his left knee, Lee was hitting .462 (19-for-45) with three doubles, one triple, one homer and seven RBIs for the Durham Bulls. He enters the season as the No.2 ranked prospect in the Tampa Rays organization according to Baseball America.
Outfield: Originally a 31st round pick in the 2010 draft, Kevin Kiermaier has exceeded all expectations in the Tampa organization. Regarded as one of the best outfielders in minor league baseball, Kiermaier has great instincts to the baseball and plus arm that allows him to play all three outfield positions. In 39 games with the Bulls, he hit .263 (36-for-137) with seven doubles, six triples, one homer and 13 RBIs. He enters the season as the No. 10 ranked prospect in the Tampa Rays organization according to Baseball America.
At Durham: April 3-5, July 2-3, August 22-25
At Gwinnett: April 11-13, July 17-20, August 26-27
Projected Depth Chart: