The defending Triple-A National Champions return to action Thursday night when the Durham Bulls host the Charlotte Knights in the season opener.
Manager Jared Sandberg returns for his fourth season and has a familiar team, with 13 players who suited up for the Bulls last season on the 2018 opening-day roster, including three top-100 prospects. Sandberg said it was huge to bring a championship back to Durham and start the season with that kind of momentum, as well as with a target on their backs.
“The fans and the front office here, they expect winning,” Sandberg said. “For us to bring a championship back to Durham last year, it was an incredible feeling. With that core group that was here last year, they know what to expect, they know how to win.”
The 22-year-old was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in December. In 34 Major League games with the San Francisco Giants, Arroyo had 24 hits in 125 at-bats to go along with three home runs.
Arroyo will take over the third base spot for the Bulls. Arroyo went 7-for-22 in the Grapefruit League this spring. He is the No. 6 prospect in the Rays organization and No. 81 prospect overall by MLB.com.
Best returning player
There is a chance that Adames, 22, won’t be in Durham for long this season. In 10 Spring Training games with Tampa Bay, Adames batted .364 with two home runs, two doubles and six RBIs.
Last season in Durham, his first with the Bulls, Adames finished with 140 hits, 10 homers and 62 RBIs. Adames is the top prospect in the Rays system. Adames is ranked the No. 2 prospect in the Tampa Bay system and the No. 22 overall prospect in baseball by MLB.com.
“I just think the overall experience from what he gained last year as one of the youngest players in the league, his struggles early on and then being able to overcome those struggles,” Sandberg said. “For him to learn that when he puts that pressure on himself, it’s not going to be good. I know he has some good goals this year, and he’s put himself in the right frame of mind right now.”
Best games on the schedule
April 5: the season opener vs. Charlotte
April 11: vs. Gwinnett, the very first of the popular "Bark in the Park" nights, when fans can bring their dogs to the game
May 7: the first home series with rival Norfolk Tides
June 15: vs. Gwinnett, the 30th-year celebration of "Bull Durham" film
July 13: vs. Charlotte; "Stranger Things" Night in honor of Netflix TV show created by Durham's Duffer Brothers
Players to watch:
Jake Bauers (No. 5 prospect) - Bauers, who plays in the outfield, is ranked No. 64 overall prospect by MLB.com and hit 13 home runs last season to go along with 13 RBIs. Bauers was named the Governor’s Cup MVP during the playoff run last summer.
Anthony Banda (No. 16) - Recently acquired by the Rays from the Arizona Diamondbacks during Spring Training. The southpaw made 35 starts for Triple-A Reno last season. Also appeared in eight games (four starts) for the Diamondbacks in 2017. Sandberg said Banda will make his debut Friday night against the Knights.
Justin Williams (No. 10) - Williams joined the Bulls’ roster for the playoffs last season and hit .301 with 14 home runs in 96 games for Double-A Montgomery before signing with Durham.
Jaime Schultz (No. 21) - Schultz missed most of last season with a groin strain. In 2016, he recorded 163 strikeouts, a Bulls’ single-season Triple-A record.
Kean Wong - The Triple-A National Championship Game MVP returns to Durham for a second straight season. Last year, Wong batted .265 with 5 home runs and 44 RBIs.