The next important day on the Devil Ray calendar is next Monday when the D-Rays have their home opener at the Trop against the Baltimore Orioles. However, four of the Rays six minor league teams will open their seasons tonight, with the Durham Bulls (@ Norfolk), the Montgomery Biscuits (v. Tennessee), the Visalia Oaks (@ San Jose) and the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays (@ Lansing) starting play. The low-A, Hudson Valley Renegades and the Rookie League Princeton Devil Rays both begin their seasons in late June. Over the next few days, we will be introducing you to each of these teams and highlighting a few of the players that we will be tracking over the course of the season. Today: The Durham Bulls.

Durham Bulls (AAA)
We will always have a soft spot in our heart for this team thanks to one of the great movies of all time,
Bull Durham. Back then, the Bulls were the single A affiliate for the Atlanta Braves. A team with so well known deserves the higher profile of being a AAA team and we couldn’t be happier that they are part of the Devil Rays organization. On top of that, the Bulls possess some of the best uniforms in all of professional sports. You have to love the vests and chest logo with the snorting bull. On the other hand, the mascot, Wool E. Bull, leaves a little to be desired. The horns could use some viagra, but he does seem to have quite the appetite, and what other mascot has swimsuit calendar aspirations? The 2006 Durham Bulls, managed by, John Tamargo, have announced their opening day roster and there are plenty of familiar names. Joe Maddon and Rays management have already let it be known that they will be much more patient with their young players. If this group was in control we would never have seen B. J. Upton on the major league roster at age 19. That being said, we still expect to see several of these players on the big league roster at some point during 2006, even if it is just for a “cup of coffee”.

Key players we will be keeping tabs on throughout the season
Delmon Young (#26), 20 years old, RF. In 2005, Young became the second Devil Ray minor leaguer to be names Baseball America‘s Minor League Player of the Year (Rocco Baldelli, 2002). He was also named the Southern League MVP, despite not playing in that league after July 15. In addition, he was tabbed Baseball America‘s top prospect for 2006. Young has all the tools. He was one of only four players in the minors to hit 25 homers and steal 25 bases, despite being the youngest player in the AAA International League last season. He also possesses a strong arm and has the ability to hit .300+ at the major league level. The one thing he needs to work on is his plate discipline. While the team can live with the strike out totals, he rarely walks. Usually a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio (33:4 in 52 games last season at Durham) is an indication the player will have difficulty adjusting to major league pitching. If Young gets off to a good start with Durham, it will be difficult for the Devil Rays to be patient with him. Not only is Young the type of player that can win games all by himself, he also the type of player that can put fannies in the seats. ETA July 2006

B. J. Upton (#2), 21, SS. Melvin Emanuel Upton, has already received a taste of the big leagues as a 19 year old rookie in 2004, in which he played in 45 games (.258-4-12-4sb). His offense has never been a concern for the team (.303-18-74-44, last season at Durham), but his defense is holding him back and may be a reason why Julio Lugo has yet to be traded. While speculation persists that Upton‘s future may be at 3B, the team will give him every chance to succeed at SS, despite 53 errors last season at Durham. The team, and Upton, seem to have taken the right approach and the right attitude. The team hired Ozzie Smith this off-season to tutor the young shortstop, and Upton has said he would rather work as a shortstop in Durham than play thirdbase in Tampa. ETA September 2006

Elijah Dukes (#35), 21, OF. Dukes, a native of Tampa, is a BIG boy. At 6’2″, 244 pounds, he might be more suited to play linebacker for the Buccaneers. He has displayed a consistent bat and great speed, but little power so far. We have to expect that eventually his power stroke will develop. Otherwise, his minor league numbers have been solid and he has progressed through the system quickly. Dukes did hit 18 homes last season at Montgomery, and had a very solid spring numbers this year. We would probably hear much more about Dukes if not for the logjam that is beginning to develop in the Devil Rays’ outfield. ETA September 2007

Chad Orvella (#12), 25, RP. Orvella, originally drafted as a shortstop, has been nothing short of amazing in the minor leagues. In three seasons, he has a 1.22 ERA in 111.0 innings, with only 63 hits and 17 walks, while striking out 160. Not bad numbers for a righthander built more like a lefthander (5’11, 190). Orvella did spend the second half of 2005 with the big club and showed signs of brilliance, but seemed to have lost the pinpoint control that was displayed in the minors (23 bb in 50.0 inn). There was early speculation that Orvella was the closer in waiting after the trade of Danys Baez, but that plan has been put on hold as Orvella struggled in spring training and will begin the year on the farm. ETA May 2006

Chris Seddon (#13), 22, SP. Seddon, a tall, lanky lefthander (6’3″, 170), made the jump to AAA, Durham midway through the 2005 season. His numbers weren’t spectacular, but we have to believe the organization believes he has major league potential as an end of the rotation starter. On the other hand, Joe Maddon has no lefthanded relievers on the major league roster, and Seddon could get a look as a lefty specialist some point this season. ETA July 2006

Jason Hammel (#17), 23, SP. Hammel was named the 2005 Devil Rays Minor League Pitcher of the Year (11-4, 3.24 ERA, combined AA/AAA), and has been tabbed by Baseball America as the D-Rays third best prospect (D. Young, J. Niemann). About all we know about Hammell, is that his hat doesn’t look like it fits him too well. ETA 2007

Tomorrow: Montgomery Biscuits



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