The Durham Bulls were one of the most dominant teams in all of the minor leagues. They went 86-44 and were the only team to win 80 or more games in the AAA East League.
As the highest level club in baseball’s best farm system, we shouldn’t be surprised that they were really good. Add on the number one prospect in the game for at least part of the season, and you’ve got a team that is likely to dominate.
Top 100 prospects that spent time for Durham include Franco, Vidal Brujan, Joshua Lowe, and Shane Baz, but there were many lesser profile prospects that led to the Bulls’ success.
Esteban Quiroz, 2B
Esteban Quiroz is hardly a bright new face — he’s about to turn thirty — but he was a valuable depth piece that the Rays weren’t forced to use. He was acquired from the San Diego Padres as part of the Tommy Pham trade. He will be exposed to the Rule 5 draft when the offseason resumes, so it remains to be seen whether another team has room for him on a major league roster.
Quiroz hit .268/.401/.526 and put up a 149 wRC+. His .936 OPS was only bested by Franco’s .955 OPS by a player with more than 20 plate appearances. In 262 plate appearances he hit 12 homers and 19 doubles leading to a .258 ISO.
Quiroz mostly played second base but isn’t a well-regarded defender. His age doesn’t give him the upside of many of his teammates, but he was an elite performer at the AAA level.
Dalton Kelly, 1B
Dalton Kelly was acquired by the Rays in a 2016 trade with the Seattle Mariners along with Andrew Kittredge for Taylor Motter and Richie Shaffer. Kelly signed with the Oakland Athletics this winter as a minor league free agent.
Kelly hit .244/.350/.512 and put up a 126 wRC+ for the Bulls over 448 plate appearances. He led the team with 27 homers. He mostly played 1B but provided some versatility by playing left field.
Rene Pinto, C
Rene Pinto was a surprise add to the 40 man by the Rays before he would’ve been eligible to become a minor league free agent.
Pinto hit .299/.327/.532 and put up a 125 wRC+ in 211 AAA plate appearances. He combined for 20 homers between the AA and AAA levels in 2021. He rarely walks so his value is going to be highly reliant on his batting average, but he does hit for power that could play behind the plate.
Being a catcher and already on the 40 man he will likely get an opportunity to play in the majors next year when one of the catchers hits the Injured List. He reminds me a lot of former Ray and fellow Venezuelan catcher Wilson Ramos both offensively and defensively — which is high praise.