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Durham Bulls: A Look Back at the 2021 Midseason Team Offense Leaders

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Due to the late start of the 2021 Professional Development League season, the scheduled of the teams in Minor League Baseball are different than they had been in the past.

Traditionally, the Minor League season began in early April, had 140 games, and was divided into a 70 game first and second half. The dividing point between those two half seasons was the league’s a three day break for their All-Star Game. The start of the 2021 season of each of the full-season leagues of the PDF was delayed to the first week of May and reduced to 120 games.

Moreover, this year there are no all-star games or half seasons for the individual leagues. Instead, there was a single game to recognize outstanding players from all leagues called the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game that was held on Sunday July 11th at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado—the home ballpark of the Colorado Rockies. On that day, the teams of all of the PDF leagues also played games.

Also in the past, it was common for players that are having an excellent first half season to be promoted to the next level in the club’s Minor League organization. This is more true of the players that are on the rosters of the lower levels—Low-A class, High-A class, and Double-A class. Relative to the Tampa Bay Rays, those teams are the Charleston RiverDogs (Low-A East League), Bowling Green Hot Rods (High-A East League), and Montgomery Biscuits (Double-A South League).

For that reason, a number of the players that are end of season offense leaders are typically different than those that led the team/league at the middle of the season. In this Durham Bull’s post, I will look at the team’s midseason offense leaders.

As pointed out in earlier posts, the four offense statistic categories, batting average (AVE), on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage (SLG), and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), require a team/league leader to have accumulated 3.1 plate appearances per team/league game. For that reason, those are the most likely stats for which the end of season team leader might change.

The Triple-A East League played its 60th game on Sunday July 11th. That day the Durham Bull’s played the Norfolk Tide (Baltimore Orioles) in an away game. At the end of the first half of the season, the Bull’s record was 40W:18L. Therefore, they played 58 of those 60 Triple-A League games. That is because they had two rained out games that were not made up. For that reason, the minimum plate appearance qualification number for a Bull’s team leader in AVE, OBP, SLG, and OPS for the first half of the season was 180, while to qualify as a league leader in those stats a player needed a PA of 186 or more.

Midseason Offense Leaders of the Durham Bulls

First, I will identify the Durham Bulls players that ranked number 1 or tied for #1 on the team at the midseason point of the 2021 season. Then, in the next sections I will highlight the players that were the key offense leaders.

In an earlier post, I identified three of the Tampa Bay Ray’s top 10 prospects as the leaders of Durham Bull’s offense shortstop Wander Franco (#1 prospect), second baseman Vidal Brujan (#2), and center fielder Josh Lowe (#10). The table above is an updated list of Durham’s offense leaders as of the end of the first half of the Triple-A League’s season. The information provided in the table includes the name of the player that ranked #1 in the statistic, the value of his team leading stat, the position he played most frequently during the first half of the season, whether he throws right or left handed, bats from the right or left side of the plate or switch hits, and which year the 2021 season is of his Minor League career. Note that those three players each still rank #1 in more than one of the twelve standard offense statistic categories listed on the Durham Bull’s official website.

Other change took place as well. In that earlier post, I noted that Wander Franco was called up by the Tampa Bay Rays on July 22nd. He was still playing in the majors at the end of the first half of the Minor League season. At that earlier moment in time, he led the team in seven of the twelve standard offense stats. However, when Franco departed, he had 177 plate appearances, which no longer qualify him as the team leader in AVE, OBP, SLG, and OPS. Note from the table that at this point he still holds down the team lead in just two stats: triples (6) and runs batted in (35). Also, very recently another player, first baseman Dalton Kelly, has emerged as a member of the Bull’s offense leaders group. The table shows that he now leads the team in home run (10), base on balls (29), on-base percentage (.382) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.897).

Bulls Center fielder and Number 3 Hitter Josh Lowe

First, we need to highlight center fielder Josh Lowe. The table identifies that Lowe has been a key leader of the Durham Bulls offense. The photo shows Lowe at the plate taking a swing at a pitch earlier in a game earlier this season at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Lowe was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays out of high school in the 2016 First Year Player Draft. In fact, he was their first round pick and the thirteenth overall player selected in that draft. After signing, he was initially assigned to the Rays rookie class team in the Gulf Coast League—the GCL Rays. However, at about the midpoint of that season, he was elevated to the Princeton Rays (Appalachian League, Rk). In the years that followed, he worked his way up one class at a time, A, A+, AA, through the levels of the Rays Minor League organization.

As shown in the table, 2021 was the fifth season of Josh Lowe’s professional baseball career. Lowe was a member of the Durham Bulls 2021 opening day roster. In game 1 of the Triple-A East League season, he was the Bulls starting center fielder and number five hitter. During the first half of the season, he had typically started in center field; hit #3 in Durham’s batting order; and served the role of a power hitter in the Bulls lineup.

This table identifies the numbers that Josh Lowe had complied during the first half of the 2021 season and their rank on the Durham Bulls team and relative to all players in the Triple-A East League. The combined tables show that he ranked #1 on the team in four of those standard offense statistic categories: hits (56), doubles (15), batting average (.290), and slugging percentage (.518).

A closer look at the table also shows that Lowe ranked #1, #2, or #3 on the Durham Bulls team in each of those twelve standard statistic categories. Note that he ranked number 2 on the team in five other stats, triples (1-tied with 4 other players), home runs (9-tied with two others), stolen bases (12), on-base percentage (.362), and on-base plus slugging percentage (.880). Finally, he also ranked #3 or was tied for #3 in runs scored, runs batted in, and base on balls.

Finally, the table also shows that Josh Lowe ranked in the top 10 among all qualifying players in the Triple-A East League in five of those twelve stat categories: H (#6-tied with one other player), 2B (#4-tied with 1 other), SB (#6-tied with 5 others), AVE (#9), and SLG (#9).

Bulls Second Baseman and Leadoff Hitter Vidal Brujan

Next up is second baseman and Tampa Bay Rays #2 prospect Vidal Brujan.

Brujan is an International player from the Dominican Republic that was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays as a free agent in October 2014 at the age of 16. In 2015 he began his pro career playing with Tampa’s rookie class team in the Dominican Summer League—the DSL Rays. The next season, he came stateside and was assigned to the GCL Rays (Gulf Coast League, rookie class). However, very late in the season he was promoted to the Rays short-season A class team in the New York-Penn League, the Hudson Renegades. In the years that followed, he moved up quickly through the A, A+, and AA classes

Vidal Brujan was promoted to the Durham Bulls for the start of the 2021 season and on opening day of the Triple-A East League season was their starting right fielder and hit in the leadoff slot of the batting order. Even though he is listed as a second baseman and had played that position or shortstop at the lower levels, he has been more of a utility player with the Bulls. In fact, with Durham this year he has taken the field in six different positions: in the infield second base, shortstop, and third base and each of the outfield position—left, center and right.

On the other hand, at the plate he has consistently served the role of a top of the order hitter. In fact, the midseason team offense leader table shows that at that point in time he ranked #1 on the team in two stats typically associated with a tablesetter—runs scored (37) and stolen bases (15). The photo above 5 shows Vidal Brujan taking a cut at a pitch in a recent Bulls game.

This table shows Vidal Brujan offense stats at the mid-point of the first half of the Triple-A East League season and their rank on the Bull’s team and in the league. Until recently, Brujan ranked #1 on the Durham Bull’s team in more of those statistic categories. But he got called up to the majors from July 7th — July 21st, and thus missed a portion of the Bull’s last couple weeks, and during that short period was bypassed in two counting stat categories—base on balls and home runs. As shown in the table, he still ranks or is tied for #2 on the team in 3B, HR, BB, and #3/tied for #3 in H, 2B, AVE, OBP, SLG, and OPS.

Before departing, Vidal Brujan actually ranked #1 in the league in stolen bases. But, as shown in the table, he had dropped down to #3 on the date of the midseason. The table shows that at that point in time he also ranked #4(tied with 1 other player) in runs scored.

As mentioned earlier, Vidal Brujan made his Major League debut in the Tampa Bay Rays uniform on July 7th, which caused him to be dropped from the Futures Game. In game 1 of a double header versus the Cleveland Indians at Tropicana Field in Tampa, FL he was their starting second baseman and number five hitter. Then, in game 2 he again hit fifth, but started in right field. In fact, he hit an RBI single in his first at bat in the majors; then stole second base; and later in that inning crossed the plate to score his first run for the Rays.

Bulls First Baseman/Left Fielder Dalton Kelly

As mentioned earlier, first baseman Dalton Kelly joined the Durham Bull’s team offense leaders group recently, In fact, during the last series of the first half of the Triple-A East League season. Kelly played college baseball at the University of California, Santa Barbara prior to entering the 2015 First Year Player Draft. That year, he was selected and signed by the Seattle Mariners. However, after player two seasons in their Minor League organization, he was traded during the 2016 offseason to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Twenty twenty-one is the second season that Dalton Kelly has played for the Durham Bulls. On opening day this year, he was their designed hitter and #6 batter. As the season progressed, he most frequently played first, but also started in left field.

With the eminent departure of Vidal Brujan, Kelly moved up from the five slot to the leadoff position in the Bulls lineup on July 4th. He got hot with the bat and increased his batting average from .259 to .279 and on-base plus slugging percentage from .852 to .897 over the Bull’s last six games. As mentioned earlier, with Wander Franco no longer having enough PAs to qualifying as a team leader and the departure of Brujan, Kelly quickly rose up to lead the teams in the HR (10), BB (29), OBP (.382), and SLG (.897) offense statistic categories.

The table here is Kelly’s offense stats for the Bull’s first half season. Note that at the midseason he also ranked #2 on the team in runs (33), double (14), triples (1-tied with4 others). runs batted in (34), batting average (.272), and slugging percentage (.515) and #3 in stolen bases (8). Finally, he appears poised to take over from Franco as the team’s leader in RBI and possibly R if Vidal Brujan does not return to the Durham Bull’s roster shortly.

Relative to the league, the table shows that Dalton Kelly ranks in the top 10 in three of the four stats in which he lead the team: BB(#10-tied with one other player), OBP(#8), and OPS(#10). But, note that he also ranks in the top 10 in the league in two others—doubles(#6-tied with 1 other) and runs batted in(#10-tied with 3 others).

Walter Triebel is the author of “Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League: A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks and Cities” published by McFarland. It is available for purchase on their website as well as Amazon. Walter previously spent 15 years as an adjunct faculty member at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and has led an extensive career as a textbook and reference book author. You can follow him on twitter here.