FILE: Manager Charlie Montoyo fist bumps players on his 2012 Durham Bulls team.
by WRALSportsFan.com’s Aaron Schoonmaker
Remember as a kid, going to watch batting practice just as the gates opened and being in awe of how far the pros could hit a baseball? You didn’t realize why, but the sound created at contact was stimulating. After 27 years in professional baseball, Durham Bulls head coach Charlie Montoyo is reminded of that courtesy top prospect Wil Myers.
“If you watch BP, you will see right away how the ball sounds different off his bat,” Montoyo said. “I’m looking forward to seeing that bat every day. Usually, when guys play in the big leagues for a while, the ball comes out of their bat like that. (Josh) Hamilton and (Carl) Crawford, all those guys that I had, the ball sounds like that off the bat.”
Myers is the top prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization and a Top-5 prospect in all of baseball according to most accredited scouting lists. The 22-year-old Thomasville, NC native stands 6-foot-3, 190-pounds and can hit the ball a ton.
How highly regarded is he? He was the key piece in the deal with Kansas City for MLB arms James Shields and Wade Davis. How good is he? The former catcher moved to the outfield, finished second in the minors in home runs last year with 37 and joined Josh Beckett and Andruw Jones as the only players to be named Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America, USA Today and TOPPS all in the same season.
He is the definition of a five-tool player and doesn’t expect to stick around Durham long.
“He’s going to get to play and we are going to give him the workouts to play the game,” Montoyo said. “The rest is up to him.”
A former, third-round pick out of Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point,
Myers said he forgot that Durham was part of the Tampa Bay organization until a week after the trade from the Royals. Even though he had aspirations of playing in Florida in April, getting an assignment close to home is not the worst.
“I spent the last two nights at my house which is cool to be around my family,” Myers said. “I’ve never been here for a Durham Bulls game but I’ve been here for a lot of ACC tournament games. I’m excited to be here in Durham and playing in front of the home crowd.”
Myers isn’t the only local product that is surrounded by hype and expecting to be in Joe Maddon’s dugout soon. Last year, Clayton native Chris Archer burst onto the scene and even tasted the coffee in the show. He will make the opening day start for the Bulls at Norfolk on Thursday – his first such call in seven seasons at the professional level.
“If I’m not going to be in the big leagues, the one place I want to be is in Durham, 35 minutes from my friends and family,” Archer said.
Archer said he is feeling more confident than ever this season having spent time in the majors and his task at the Triple-A level will be to refine his “arsenal”. Montoyo added that since the call-up, Archer has been a different guy – in a good way.
“He’s turning into a (Jeremy) Hellickson and a (Alex) Cobb and those guys because there is no room up there,” Montoyo said. “He’s such a hard worker, that it’s so fun to see a guy like that succeed.”
Side fact: Stitched in script on the thumb of Archer’s glove is “King Archer”.
More new faces
Riding in the side car with Myers from Kansas City were pitchers Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi. Each will be in the starting rotation this year and each have been tossed around in the “top-prospect” conversation.
Montgomery entered last year as the No. 1 prospect in the Royals organization before struggling all year long. Orodizzi, a former first-round pick, has worked his way into an MLB Top-45 prospect ranking and has been named the Pitcher of the Year at his respective organizations for three consecutive years.
“One thing, when you got a pitching prospect, they have a pitch count,” Montoyo said. “It’s not like they are going to be throwing seven innings and eight innings, so it’s up to your bullpen. I’m just looking forward to seeing all five guys (Archer, Montgomery, Odorizzi, Alex Torres and Alex Colome) throw.”
Off the mound, defensive stand-out and the most recently anointed shortstop of the future, Hak-Ju Lee is grabbing he headlines. The South Korea-born 22-year-old has forced the last shortstop of the future, Tim Beckham, to second base.
“He’s got great hands, he’s got great tools,” Montoyo said. “But tools can only take you so long. Now he’s got to put up the numbers and show the big league people he can play in the big leagues. Before he can do that, he’s got to show he can do it at this level.”
The veteran presence
Among players across Triple-A trying to play their way back to the show, the Bulls will feature Mike Fontenot and Jason Bourgeois.
Fontenot, who Montoyo compared to Adam Kennedy, has spent six seasons in the big leagues with three teams and has a .265 lifetime average. Bourgeois has had MLB service every year since 2009 and has worn 19 different uniforms across professional levels since 2000.
“I like them both,” Montoyo said. “So long as people are good people, and they are easy to work with, it doesn’t matter if they are young or old. As long as you make it to this level you have a chance to make it to the big leagues so I work with all the people the same.”
The Leslie Anderson debate
Anderson is a 31-year-old Cuban defector. He was a career .306 hitter in the Cuban professional leagues and represented the country in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009. Bottom line: Anderson is really good at baseball.
For better context of how much he is liked by people that know him, here is a full, unabridged quote from Montoyo:
“My hope this year is that I get to tell that guy that he is going to the big leagues. Last year I had a meeting with him and I told him that you need to hit .300 so people can see you. There is nothing wrong with hitting .270, .280, but you are the kind of guy that needs to hit .300 so people can say ‘oh, look at Leslie Anderson.’ And he did. He had an outstanding year and he had a good spring training, so hopefully he gets a call. I’m thinking of ways to tell him right now. That’s how exciting it is.”
Montoyo, a Puerto Rican, said that conversation will happen in Spanish because, “I don’t want to talk to him in English with an accent unless I have to.”
From Chris Archer (and keep in mind this is a pitcher talking about a hitter):
“Wil is a special breed. He can swing the bat. Whether he’s facing high schoolers or he’s facing big leaguers, he’s pretty much going to have the same result.”
|The Durham Bulls open their home season on Monday, April 8th. See the Bulls schedule & get tickets at www.durhambulls.com.
Thanks to WRALSportsFan.com & WRAL-TV’s Aaron Schoonmaker for this capcom story & graphic.