Editors Note: Derek Levandowski is one of our new writers at Rays Digest and will serve as one of our Durham beat writers for the 2012 season. Be sure to check out Derek's weekly Bulls' notebook as well as numerous stories and features on the Durham ball club throughout the season. You can follow Derek on Twitter at @DereksCurveball.
America's favorite minor league baseball team is ready to hit the field again, and the Durham Bulls have some exciting things in store for 2012. In years past, the Rays organization has been the real model for ‘Moneyball,' turning out prospect after prospect, and managing to reach the postseason in three of the last four years – each year with a Major League payroll that has been one of the lowest in the league.
After losing Carl Crawford to the Boston Red Sox last offseason, the Rays replaced his production with rookie Desmond Jennings, who hit just .259 but showed good power, slugging 10 homeruns in 287 at-bats during his rookie campaign. The Rays also brought up young Matt Moore, an 8th round draft pick who some have compared to Cliff Lee. All Moore did was go 12-3 between AA and AAA, before posting an impressive enough September in Tampa Bay to earn him a Game 1 Division Series start against the defending American League Champion Texas Rangers. Moore dominated, instantly promoting himself to a top-of-the-rotation favorite for Tampa Bay in 2012.
The Rays system is not done yet, however, as former number-one-overall pick Tim Beckham is quickly moving up the ranks and will be making his full-season debut at AAA in 2012. Beckham has been called a five-tool player, and thus far in his young career he has shown the type of ability that warranted his $6 million signing bonus. In 2011, as a 21 year old, he split time between AA and AAA, batting .271 with 12 home runs and 70 RBI. Beckham also showed solid base-stealing ability, swiping 17 bags. The Rays organization still believes he may be a year away, as they would like to see him improve on his high strikeout rate (120 Ks in 587 at-bats in 2011).
Other notable additions to the Bulls this season include the 2011 NL West Champion Arizona Diamondback's opening day first basemen from 2011, Juan Miranda. Miranda, a former Yankee prospect, is a Cuban-born slugger who has demolished AAA pitching in the past, but has never been able to translate those numbers to the big leagues. His last full season in AAA was 2009 at Scranton Wilkes- Barre, when he batted .290 with 19 homeruns in 122 games. He could earn a call-up should oft-injured Carlos Pena fail to stay healthy.
Raleigh-Durham-area fans will also be catching a glimpse of local product Christopher Archer, who was acquired from the Cubs prior to the 2011 season. The 6'3, 24-year old starting pitcher had a small taste of AAA last season, going 2-0 with an impressive 0.69 ERA in two starts with the Bulls in 2011. The right-hander was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, roughly 30 minutes from where he will be putting on the Bulls uniform this season.
Alex Cobb will be returning to AAA this season, after splitting time with the Bulls and the Rays last season. Cobb dominated AAA last season, going 5-1 with a 1.87 ERA, and a very respectable 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in 52 innings with the big club. He will be one of the first call-ups should one of the Rays starters struggle or go down with an injury.
All in all, it's been an exciting four-year run for the Rays, and with the talent on the farm, that trend looks to continue. The bad news for the Rays, however, is that the Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays have all also made improvements to both their Major League rosters, and their minor league affiliates, meaning the Rays organization has its work cut out for it if they intend to make another World Series run in 2012.
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