At a game during the Bulls’ first homestand, I was talking to Ken Tanner, who at one point was the Bulls’ radio broadcaster and now seems to have something like emeritus status. Tanner pointed out to me a new feature the Bulls have added to the nightly press pack: a rundown of recent transactions involving all of the teams in the International League. As we scanned that night’s sheet, Tanner mentioned that the teams with the most transactions tended to be affiliated with the worst major-league franchises (e.g. Indianapolis/Pittsburgh). The Bulls had made, to that point, just one roster change: Michel Hernandez to Tampa, which was the result of injury rather than front-office equivocation or impatience. The Rays seem to have a very clear sense of what they’re doing with their personnel these days, and if there’s one obstacle common to nearly every Bull, it’s that there doesn’t seem to be much room for most of them at the Trop: good-to-great young players are currently holding down nearly every position.
So there’s every reason to think that the Rays have a master plan behind two recent moves to and from Durham.
Backup catcher Alex Jamieson was demoted to the short-season Class-A Hudson Valley Renegades and replaced with Craig Albernaz from Double-A Montgomery. Albernaz, in his fourth professional season out of Eckerd College, is in Durham for his defense. “Dude throws bb’s,” wrote one commenter on the Rays Prospects web site. Although his 2008 stat line doesn’t include any time with the Bulls, I’m fairly certain he was called up late last season, right around playoff time, to replace Hernandez when the latter was sent to Tampa, although he may have gotten no playing time. Albernaz isn’t known for his bat, but he tallied a hit and an RBI last night in his first at-bat as a Bull, contributing to a 6-2 Durham win at Gwinnett. (The Bulls, by the way, are 4-2 on their road trip so far, 10-3 overall. The hitting has been spotty, but the pitching staff sports an improbable 1.92 E.R.A.)
The Bulls have also swapped a pair of left-handed pitchers. Jason Cromer was sent down to Montgomery, and James Houser, who was already on the Bulls 25-man roster, was activated after a season-opening stint on the disabled list. Apparently Cromer was merely placeholding for Houser, who is rated the Rays’ 11th best pitching prospect by Rays Prospects: It didn’t matter to Tampa that Cromer threw ten scoreless innings in two starts for the Bulls, allowing six hits and striking out seven with three walks. But Cromer is 28 years old, and Houser, 24, still rates as a prospect. So far, however, injuries have plagued him, and he was also suspended for PED use in 2007. He’s probably getting close to the point where he needs to start showing consistent effectiveness, especially in an organization teeming with good young pitching up and down the farm system.
Bulls fans should also be on the lookout for the impending arrival of Jason Isringhausen. Isringhausen is a former major league closer with 293 career saves who is trying to come back from a serious injury. The Rays signed him just before spring training. He recently started a rehab assignment at Montgomery and is expected to make a stop in Durham before hitting Tampa.