The Durham Bulls open their 2014 International League season at 6:05 p.m Thursday against the Gwinnett Braves at the newly renovated Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Led by a starting rotation comprised of prospects and veteran off-season acquisitions around the diamond, manager Charlie Montoyos squad hopes to repeat as International League champions.
For the second consecutive season the Bulls will boast a deep pitching staff, while Montoyo will have to balance six starting pitchers on the opening day roster.
Leading the staff will be LHP Enny Romero, ranked the No. 4 prospect in the Rays system byBaseball America. The youngest player on the Bulls roster who will be just 23 years, 69 days on Opening Day set a career-high with 11 wins a season ago, going 11-7 with a 2.76 ERA for Double-A Montgomery before late season promotions to both Durham and Tampa Bay.
RHP Nathan Karns and RHP Matt Andriese, two newcomers to the organization, will begin the season with the Bulls.
LHP Mike Montgomery, a first round pick of Kansas City in 2008, returns to Durham for his second straight season. Also returning to the Bulls is RHP Merrill Kelly, a mid-season call-up from Montgomery a season ago.
The final starter on Durhams roster is 10-year Major League veteran LHP Erik Bedard. Signed by the Rays mid-February, Bedard was granted his release March 25, but resigned with the team March 28. The Ontario native was 4-12 with a 4.59 ERA in 32 games for Houston a season ago and has not pitched in the Minors since a rehab stint in 2010.
Anchoring the bullpen will be the 2013 Tampa Bay Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year RHP Kirby Yates. After going 20-for-23 in save opportunities last season with the Bulls, the Hawaiian will open as the teams closer once again.
LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, the lone reliever named to Baseball Americas Minor League All-Star Team in 2013, returns to the Bulls after splitting last season between Montgomery and Durham. Newcomer RHP Brad Boxberger should also be a strong option out of the bullpen, as the 25-year-old acquired from San Diego in January has posted a 2.72 ERA over 42 MLB games in the past two seasons.
Rounding out the bullpen will be Durham returnees LHP Jeff Beliveau, RHP Steve Geltz, LHP Adam Liberatore and RHP Juan Sandoval.
Behind the dish the Bulls will rely on newcomers Ali Solis and Eddy Rodriguez both members of the San Diego system in 2011 and 2012.
Around the infield, 2013 IL All-Star Vince Belnome returns, as does former Florida Gator Cole Figueroa. Robby Price, who spent the entire 2013 season in Montgomery, opens the season at the Triple-A level for the first time in his career.
They’ll be joined by Ray Olmedo Mike Fontenot, both of whom have experience with the Bulkls, and by Wilson Betemit who has accrued the most Major League service time of any position player on the roster (8 years, 107 days). He played in just 24 games in 2013 in the Baltimore system because of a torn PCL suffered in Spring Training.
Outfielders include Kevin Kiermaier and Mikie Mahtook each named 2013 Southern League Midseason All-Stars with Montgomery plus Smithfield-Selma High School product Jerry Sands and Justin Christian.
Kiermaier appeared in 39 games for the Bulls last season before making his Major League debut in Game 163 against Texas.
Sands has 128 home runs in 579 career Minor League games. He was claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay in December, following a season in the Pittsburgh system spent at Triple-A Indianapolis. Christian, a three-time MiLB.com Organization All-Star (2010-2012), has appeared in 76 Major League games between New York (AL) and San Francisco.
Tickets for all regular season home games are available at durhambulls.com, by phone at 919.956.BULL, or at the DBAP box office.