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Hitting The Bull: How Are 'Minor League Ball' Top Ranked Rays Prospects Doing In Durham?

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Nathan Karns
Nathan Karns
Leon Halip

The 2013 International League Champion Durham Bulls have started on a clear high note.

They lead the entire International League 15-6, with the second-best road record of 9-2 (Indianapolis leads) , the most saves (11), hits (198), total bases (398), and walks (92). While the Tampa Bay Rays don’t have a lot of possible impact players in the upper levels, there are guys making an impact for Durham, and several of them made the ‘Minor League Ball: Top 20 Rays’ list.

Here’s how some of them are faring with the Bulls.

Hak Ju Lee SS #2 – Lee suffered a knee injury during a collision with another player in 2012, then had to undergo surgery. His recovery has been a slow process, but he’s made his 2014 Bulls debut. On April 23rd he worked a walk and scored a run. He’s included here to say, ‘He’s back!’, but there’s nothing to tell just yet; the bottom line, though, is that Lee is one of the Rays top prospects and his progress will be monitored with great anticipation.

Enny Romero LHP #4 - An Organizational All Star in 2013, Romero has made four starts for Durham and in 20 innings of work, he’s allowed 10 earned runs, on 20 hits, and 22 strikeouts. The strikeouts (including 8 in his 2nd start) are impressive, but not a surprise. He ended last season with 112 K’s through 148 innings. He’s giving the team innings and keeping mistakes to a minimum (walks haven’t been a big issue with 10 allowed so far), making his ranking in the top five here still right on target early in the season. In the Bulls third game of the season, Romero dominated the first with just ten pitches, and threw nine strikes. He was consistent throughout five innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits, and striking out eight.

Nate Karns RHP #5 - Traded to the Rays from the Nationals in February of this year, Karns has had up and down results so far. In a game he started on April 8th, he came out of the gate with a mix of good and bad. He got the first batter to ground out, but followed that with a single to right. He struck out the third batter he faced, but gave up another single in almost the same exact spot. The difference was in location. When he kept the ball down, he worked quickly and efficiently, but elevated the ball in the zone which led to the two hits, then later in the 2nd, a leadoff home run. He continued an uneven performance 4.2 innings and was later tagged for the loss.

Karns made his major league debut with the Nationals in 2013 (3 GS, 12 IP, 10 ER on 17 hits) after spending most of the season in Double-A Harrisburg, where he logged 132 innings, went 10-6 and finished with a 3.26 ERA. Karns has proven he can be relied on to give a team innings and made a successful jump to Double-A, one of the most difficult jumps for most players. In the early going at the highest level of the minors, he’s shown flashes of excellence and the ability to come back after tough moments. What he showed in that April 8th start was intriguing. He needs more experience and better command. But it’s all there for him to tap into.

Alex Colome RHP #10 – Colome is serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for PED’s.

Kevin Kermaier OF #11 – Kermaier made his 2014 major league debut (he got called up for a game in 2013) seeing action for one game, working two walks. A late round pick (31st in 2010 by the Rays), he’s shown steady improvements through the levels. His defense in center is highly valued, as is his speed. Even when he struggled at the plate, he still managed to stay high on the radar for his skills in the outfield. He’s done an excellent job at the plate so far. In seventeen games, Kermaier’s hitting .303 with 22 hits, 8 RBI, and 17 runs scored. He’s the kind of player that can fall of the radar, but always battles back onto it by doing a lot of little things right. He’s looked polished and patient with the bat for Durham.

Matt Andriese RHP #15 – Also part of a winter trade this year (from the Padres), Andriese had a strong 2013, pitching 134 innings, finishing with a 3.79 ERA and 105 strikeouts, and was named a Texas League All Star. On April 19th he turned in a seven-inning, 1 run, 4-hit outing lowering his ERA to 1.29. He struck out 7, after striking out 8 in his second start of the season. Hitters are averaging just .197 off of him. In his first full season at the Triple-A level, he’s shown he can handle more experienced hitters.

The Rays have a surplus of quality pitchers on the 40-man that could easily be September call-ups. Whatever they’re lacking in terms of big impact, they still have guys that can contribute should the Rays be contenders as expected. Early results from some of those players are promising.