Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Five: Durham Bulls Outfielders

The title of this post says five, but I am actually going to make it six this week, plus another ten players beyond that.  Confusing I know.  These are really fun posts to research, but choosing the best minor league players from a franchise is rather difficult when they do not hang around for too long.  I was thinking the outfielders would be some combination of Desmond Jennings, Justin Ruggiano, and a few guys from the 50s and 60s.

It was a really really tough call on this position.  Also, note that the older Bulls rosters just simply lumped the players into the category of outfield, there was no breakdown on left, right, or center.  To some degree you might be able to take an educated guess based on where they ended up playing in the Majors, but that's not always the case.  So, all outfielders are in one post, and I broke them into multi-year players and great single seasons.  There are six outfielders who posted multiple good seasons for the Bulls and another ten with great single seasons.

Multi-Year Performers

Willie Duke (1947-1948)

Duke was a local kid from Raleigh and a minor league legend.  His minor league career started in 1934, last 10 years until he left for World War II, and then continued again in 1946 lasting until 1950.  His 1947, 48, 49, and 50 seasons were all spent in the Carolina League.  During his first season as a Bull in 1947 Duke hit .385 with a .588 slugging percentage, 13 homers, 4 triples, and 42 doubles.   He returned to the Bulls in 1948 and hit .355 with a .604 slugging percentage, 36 doubles, 7 triples, and 12 home runs.  Definitely one of the better two year runs in the history of the team.  

Malcolm Stevens (1947-1948)

Stevens played fro the Durham Bulls for two season starting in 1947.  His professional career actually started with the White Sox in the Texas League in 1938 as a 16 year old, but was interrupted by World War II in 1942.  After returning from the War Stevens bounced around the minors and was actually released off of the Dodgers Double A team before finding a home with the Bulls, who were the Tigers C League (equivalent of A Ball) team in 1947.  He had a solid 40 game run for the Bulls that first year and posted a nice .285 batting average.  During the 1948 season Stevens hit .317 with a .528 slugging percentage, 22 home runs, and 31 doubles.  

Jim McManus (1955-1956)

The Tigers farmhand first appeared for the 1955 Durham Bulls at the age of 18.  In his second season of professional baseball the left handed hitting outfielder batted .294 with a .481 slugging percentage, 15 home runs, 9 triples, and 34 doubles.  He returned for 105 games in 1956 and hit 16 home runs, 5 triples, 27 doubles, with a .208 batting average and .520 slugging percentage before the Tigers promoted him up to Augusta in the South Atlantic League.  After eating Double A McManus seemed to miss a lot of games, no records of injuries or disabled list visits, but his career fizzled.  McManus reached the Majors for a 5 game appearance with the A's in 1960 where he hit .308/.357/.538 with a home run.  After leaving the A's McManus played two seasons in Japan.  

Matt Diaz (2003-2004)

Diaz was drafted by the Devil Rays out of Florida State in 1999.  He first appeared for the Durham Bulls in 2003 when he only played in 67 games for the Bulls, but hit .328/.382/.518 with 8 home runs, 3 triples, 18 doubles, and 45 RBIs.  Diaz returned to the Bulls the following season in 2004 and played in 134 games hitting .332/..377/.571 with 21 home runs, 5 triples, 47 doubles, and 93 RBIs.  Diaz's numbers were amongst the best in the International League that season, but he lost out on the MVP Award to Jhonny Peralta who's OPS was almost 70 points lower.  Of course, Diaz made it to the Majors spending 11 years with mainly the Braves. 

Justin Ruggiano (2007-2011)

Ruggiano holds a lot of the counting number records for the team simply because of the amount of time that he spent in Durham.  Two of the seasons, 2011 and 2008, were really partial years.  Still Ruggiano has more than 400 games in a Bulls uniform.  His partial seasons were both very good years with an OPS of .911 in 2008, which earned him a trip up to Tampa, and an OPS of .896 in 2011 which eventually helped him get into the Majors with the Marlins after a brief stop over with the Astros Triple A team.  His best whole season with the Bulls came in 2007 with a .309/.386/.502 line with 20 home runs, 29 doubles, and 73 RBIs.  He is currently on the Mariners 25 man roster after spending the past two years with the Chicago Cubs.  

Desmond Jennings (2009-2012)

That should probably say 2011, since 2012 was a rehab appearance, but Jennings was in Durham for about two and half years before the Rays called him up in 2011.  In 233 minor league games for the Bulls Jennings has hit .282/.372/.428 with 18 home runs, 92 RBIs, and 69 steals.  Jennings first half season with the Bulls was spectacular at .325/.419/.491, but even after falling off slightly in 2010 and 2011 was a consistent .275 hitter with an on base percentage above .350, a little bit of pop, and some speed to boot.  I know that Jennings has not lived up to his ranking as a Top 10 MLB prospect, but he is still a solid player.  

Single Season Performers 

Tom Wright (1946)

Another young prospect who returned home from the War in 1946 to star for the Durham Bulls.  Wright had one of the better seasons in team history that year collecting 200 hits in just 135 games while also picking up 36 doubles, 11 triples, and 14 home runs.  Wright also won the Carolina League Batting Crown that season with a .380 batting average.  He did end up making it up to the Major Leagues in the early 1950s, but returned to the Minors by the mid 1950s after washing out as a fourth outfielder for the Red Sox, White Sox, and Senators.  

George Wilson (1946)

George Wilson was another local baseball player who starred for the Durham Bulls in the mid to late 1940s after returning home from World War II.  Similar to Malcolm Stevens, Tom Wright, and Willie Duke, Wilson's career began as a Red Sox farmhand in the early 1940s.  After returning from the war he starred for the 1946 Durham Bulls hitting .327 with a .561 slugging percentage, 16 home runs, 12 triples, and 34 doubles.  Wilson made a few appearances in the Majors for the Giants, Yankees, and White Sox, but also had two pretty good years playing in Japan in the early sixties at the end of his career.  

Carl Linhart (1949)

There have only been three Major League players born in the Czech Republic with Linhart being the last of the three.  Since the other two did not play for the Durham Bulls, Linhart also owns the distinction of being the only Czech born Durham Bulls player ever.  His only season for the Bulls was in 1949 in his first full season with the Tigers organization.  Linhart batted .311 with a .537 slugging percentage, 23 home runs., 9 triples, and 28 doubles.  Linhart ended up playing in 3 games for the 1952 Tigers taking 2 at bats, but never recording a hit.  

Gates Brown (1961)

Gates Brown had a pretty interesting career.  He was mainly a reserve player for the Tigers through the 1960s and 1970s spending his entire 13 year career with the team.  His career line of .257/.330/.420 is rather ordinary, but he had a few season where he simply caught fire.  One of those hot streaks came in 1968 when Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline was limited to just 101 games.  Brown filled in and only hit .370/.442/.685.  Not a bad fill in.  Gates Brown did this several other times for the Tigers, but many Tigers fans and players from the era credit his hot streak with helping the team get to the 1968 World Series where they upset the heavily favored Cardinals.  Before arriving in Detroit, Brown had a hot season like that for the Durham Bulls.  Brown played for the 1961 team and hit .324/.408/.519 with 15 home runs, 33 doubles, 72 RBIs, and 33 stolen bases.  

Sam Parrilla (1969)

Parrilla appeared in just 95 games for the 1969 Raleigh-Durham Phillies, but had a pretty spectacular partial season.  While I could have put some other players with good half seasons for the Bulls, like Brett Butler or Will Myers, they cannot touch the numbers of Parrilla.  In just 321 at-bats the Phillies prospect hit .383/.469/.723 with 28 home runs, 21 doubles, and 85 RBIs.  Parrilla won the batting title  and finished in the top three in both home runs and RBIs, meaning he would have easily won the Triple Crown had he played the whole season.  Parrilla somehow lost the Carolina League MVP to Pirates prospect Lou Quinn, who played for Salem, despite hitting more home runs, driving in more runs, and hitting almost 70 points higher in about 20 less games.  

Albert Hall (1980) 

Albert Hall had a brief Major League career with the Atlanta Braves, but was a pretty accomplished stolen base artist in the Minors.  His finest season took place with the 1980 Durham Bulls.  In 125 games with the Bulls that summer the speedy outfielder swiped 100 bases while hitting .283/.389/.369.  I cannot find another Durham Bulls player with 100 steals in a season, so this appears to be the single season record for the franchise.  

Brad Komminsk (1981)

Komminsk was drafted by the Bulls as the fourth overall pick in the 1979 Amateur Draft out of Lima, Ohio.  The Bulls were his third stop in the Minors after stints in the Appalachian League and South Atlantic League.  Komminsk never made it as a Major League player, but did have two really good years in the minors for the Braves.  One in 1981 for the Durham Bulls and another in 1983 for the Richmond Braves.  I lived in Richmond at the time and probably saw Komminsk play for the Braves.  I just do not remember it.  In 132 games that summer Komminsk hit .332/.458/.606 with 33 home runs, 27 doubles, and 104 RBIs.  Komminsk was awarded the 1981 Carolina League MVP for his efforts in Durham.  

Ozzie Timmons (2000)

Ozzie Timmons was a highly touted Cubs prospect in the mid 90s, but never quite made it with the Cubs.  After falling out with the Cubs, Timmons spent several years playing for different International League teams including an appearance with the Bulls in 2000.  In his lone season in Durham Ozzie hit .300/.393/.540 with 29 home runs, 32 doubles, and 104 RBIs.  He lost out on the International League MVP to future Bulls player Chad Mottola, but did earn a successful trip up to Tampa to close out his season. 

Midre Cummings (2004)

Midre had an 11 year run in the Majors as a reserve outfielder, but also had a great year season at the end of his career playing for the Bulls.  In 2004, Cummings appeared for the Bulls as a 32 year old outfielder who had been out of the Majors since 2001.  In 119 games that summer with the Bulls the outfielder hit .285/.408/.558 with 27 home runs, 26 doubles, and 87 RBIs.  The one-time top prospect for the Pirates earned a call up to the Majors with the Devil Rays at the end of the season where he hit .278/.361/.463 with 2 home runs and 4 doubles in 22 games.  Cummings had a really good year, but was not even the best outfielder on his team that season.  See Matt Diaz.  

Russ Canzler (2011)

Russ Canzler is always somewhere around the International League.  He started in the league in 2011 with the Bulls and was still playing last year with the Scranton Railriders (Yankees AAA).  In fact, I believe he drew the only walk in the Mike Montgomery no-hitter denying the Bulls pitcher a perfect game.  In his only season as a Durham Bull Canzler managed to put together a season worthy of the International League MVP award hitting .314/.401/.530 with 18 home runs, 40 doubles, and 83 RBIs.  In his 5 International League since his MVP award Russ has still maintained a solid level of play usually posting double digit home runs, a good on-base percentage, and plenty of doubles.  A good guy and a fan favorite around the league.  He ended last season with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (Phillies) and the Pennsylvania native resigned with the team for the 2015 season in November.  

1 comment:

  1. Justin Ruggiano was one of my favorite players on the Bulls! In fact, when he was in Durham, he wore special pink New Balance cleats on Mother's Day. The Bulls auctioned them off and I was the winning bidder. I have those nicely displayed!!!