B.J Upton- He should probably be on the list, but I cannot do it. Great numbers, really difficult person to cheer for on the field.
Kevin Witt- Witt was a first round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays who bounced around for awhile in the Minors. During the 2006 season he ended up in Durham and posted a .291/.360/.577 line with 36 home runs, 29 doubles, and 99 RBIs. The performance was good enough to earn Witt the MVP award in the International League. An International League MVP award is worthy of consideration on my list, but not quite good enough to make it.
Russ Canzler- See Kevin Witt. An International League MVP during the 2011 season almost earned Canzler a place on my list. He posted a .314/.401/.530 line with 18 home runs and 40 doubles. Canzler also played on a playoff team, while Witt was the bright spot on a rather difficult team.
Desmond Jennings- The Rays outfielder spent parts of three seasons with the Durham Bulls on his way up to the Majors. I always liked Desmond. Good defender and good speed. He had some pop in his bat, but I would not say that he had a ton of power. In the International League Desmond got on-base at a good clip of .372. In the Majors he's at .327. Again, fun player to watch in Durham and one of my favorites.
On to my Five Best Durham Bulls of the Past Decade:
5. Jeremy Hellickson
The only pitcher on my list. Good pitching does not seem to stick around Durham too long, but Hellickson was in Durham for almost a year and a half. During his first half season with the Bulls (2009) Hellickson went 6-1 in 9 starts with 70 strikeouts in 57 innings. Hellickson helped the Bulls to the Governor's Cup Championship that season and also helped them make the Triple A National Championship Game, which the Bulls won. Hellickson returned to Durham in 2010 and made 21 starts posting a 12-3 record with 123 strikeouts in 117 innings. He went on to win the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year. Hellickson also pitched for the Bulls during the 2014 season on an extended injury rehab.
4. Leslie Anderson
Anderson was a Cuban defector signed by the Rays who stuck with the Durham Bulls for three and a half years. Anderson played all over the outfield, first base, and DH. I was not quite sure where he was going to play, but he was going to be in the lineup somewhere. Anderson's typical season consisted of about 12 to 13 home runs, 20 to 30 doubles, and lots of good hard line drives. He was not a real patient hitter (.348 career OBP) but the ball had a great sound coming off of his bat. The Bulls won three division titles and a Governors Cup title in 2013. Leslie has moved on to Japan.
3. Chris Richard
Richard played a total of four seasons for the Durham Bulls from 2007-2010. Kind of the fore bearer of Leslie Anderson and the de facto leader of the team for a few seasons, but also put up some good numbers while doing it. Three of his four seasons resulted in more than 20 home runs, more than 75 RBIs, and an OBP greater than .375 He also had two seasons with more than 30 doubles and an OPS over .900. The Bulls won their division title each of the four seasons that Richard played with the team including the National Championship and Governors Cup Championship team in 2009. A good player on a four year run of championship teams is definitely deserving.
2. Dan Johnson
Johnson is another International League MVP winner for the Durham Bulls. He played two and half years for the team starting in 2008 and returning in 2010 and 2011. Johnson had two seasons with more than 25 home runs, an average higher than .300, an OBP over .400, and a slugging percentage over .550. He was a really tough out and a really powerful hitter when pitchers threw him strikes. Like Anderson, the Bulls played him all over the place in the outfield, the corner infield spots, and DH. During Johnson's time in Durham the Bulls won three division titles. He is also the owner of one of the great moments from game 162 during the 2011 season when his late inning heroics helped the Rays get into the playoffs.
1. Justin Ruggiano
Ruggiano was on the Bulls for five years starting in 2007 and lasting through 2011. Slight advantage over some of the competition on this list. He was never an International MVP, but he posted some really good years for the team and spent a lot of time winning while he was in Durham. He's the teams all-time leader in several offensive categories including hits. Ruggiano was good for 15-20 home runs, 20-30 doubles, a pretty good average, and great defense from any of the three outfield spots. The Bulls won their division each of the five season that Ruggiano played in Durham and he was also apart of the 2009 Governors Cup and National Championship team. It pains me that he is now a Cub, but I still wish him well.