Durham Bulls

Top Rays prospects headed to Durham Bulls

Adames Tampa Bay Rays

Willy Adames batted ninth in the Tampa Bay Rays lineup for their Thursday exhibition game with the Minnesota Twins on Thursday.

Clearly, the 21-year-old shortstop has a future with the American League franchise.

Before that begins in earnest, however, the plan is for Adames to be a fixture for the Durham Bulls when they open their Triple-A International League baseball season under third-year manager Jared Sandberg at Gwinnett on April 6.

Rated as the top prospect in the Rays organization by mlb.com -- and the No. 21 overall prospect in the game -- Adames is expected to join other top Rays prospects like Jose DeLeon, Jake Bauers, and Casey Gillaspie on the Bulls opening day roster.

Adames excelled at Double-A Montgomery last season, batting .274 with 11 home runs and and 57 RBIs in 132 games.

With hits in two at bats on Thursday, including an RBI triple, Adames had a .300 batting average with a home run in 20 spring training at bats with the Rays. Adames was reassigned to Tampa Bay’s minor-league camp last week and Rays manager Kevin Cash said Thursday’s appearance in the lineup didn’t change the team’s plans in that regard.

Like Adames, Bauers turned in a solid season at Double-A Montgomery last summer to pave the way for his promotion to the Bulls this season. Bauers batted .274 with 14 home runs and 78 RBIs in 135 games.

A seventh-round pick by San Diego in 2013, he’s a .280 career minor-league batter. Bauers came to the Rays organization in the December 2014 trade that sent former Bulls and Rays slugger Wil Myers to the Padres.

Bauers, rated as the Rays No. 4 prospect by MLB.com, plays right field and first base.

This spring, the left-hand swinging Bauers made a serious push to make the Rays opening day roster by batting .371 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in 35 at bats with the big league team. He also drew seven walks before the Rays sent him to the minor league camp on March 23.

Durham’s pitching staff will also have heralded young players.

Jose DeLeon, the team’s No. 2 prospect according to mlb.com and the No. 33 player in all of minor league baseball, is scheduled to be in Durham’s starting rotation.

A right-hander, the 24-year-old DeLeon was a 24th-round pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013 and rose quickly through their system to make four starts in the big leagues last September. Tampa Bay traded infielder Logan Forsythe to acquire DeLeon.

Last summer with Triple-A Oklahoma City, he recorded double-digit strikeouts in five of his 16 starts and was named to the Triple-A All-Star team.

Chih-Wei Hu, the Rays No. 8 prospect, made his Triple-A debut with Durham last year. After appearing in just one game, the 23-year-old should get a longer look this season. Hu pitched 142 ⅔ innings with Double-A Montgomery last season, finishing with an impressive 2.59 ERA while making 24 starts.

A couple of catchers very familiar to Bulls fans will start the season handling the young, talented staff.

Luke Maile and Curt Casali were sent down from Tampa Bay to Durham on Wednesday as Rays manager Kevin Cash decided to keep Derek Norris and Jesus Secure as the team’s two catchers.

The 26-year-old Maile played parts of the 2015 and 2016 seasons with Durham. The 28-year-old Casali has been shuttling back and forth between Durham and Tampa Bay each of the last three seasons.

Maile batted .371 this spring with the Rays and hoped he’d done enough to make the club. Speaking to reporters in Florida on Wednesday, he admitted disappointment in the decision to return him to Triple-A.

“I'm going to handle it professionally, just like I always try to do," Maile said. "I feel like I've done a pretty good job of that. Obviously, they thought I didn't give them the best chance to be successful this year. And that's fine. Obviously, it hurts. All I can try and do is go to Triple-A and try to prove them wrong."

Other position players expected back with the Bulls to start this season who played here last year include Gillaspie, Johnny Field, Dayron Varona and Jake Hager. Daniel Robertson and Nick Franklin, both former Bulls players, are still being considered for Tampa Bay’s roster for Sunday’s season-opening game with the New York Yankees.

Pitcher Jaime Schultz, after starting 27 games for Durham last season with a 5-7 record and 3.58 ERA, was told Thursday he’s heading back to the Bulls. Austin Pruitt, who started 28 games for Durham last season, made the Rays roster instead.

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC