Johnson Emerges In Durham

BEST PLAYER: With no options remaining and no room on the big league roster, utilityman Elliot Johnson appeared to be out of the Rays' plans when he was dropped from the 40-man roster at the end of spring training. But after a spectacular season at Triple-A Durham, Johnson may have played his way right back into the picture.
Johnson, 26, was voted MVP of the Durham team that again reached the International League finals, hitting .319/.375/.475 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs, including a .347 average against lefthanders. More impressively, he handled multiple positions defensively, including playing shortstop and outfield on a regular basis.

BEST PITCHER: Righthander Jeremy Hellickson is Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year, so it's obvious he was the Rays best pitcher, given his 12-3, 2.45 mark in 21 starts for the Bulls before his early August promotion to the Rays. Most impressive was the way he understood there wasn't room for him in the majors and remained focused and determined to improve.

Hellickson had to be dominant to edge high Class A Charlotte lefthander Matt Moore, the organization's No. 4 prospect entering the season. Moore, 21, led the minor leagues with 208 strikeouts in the regular season, making him the first to surpass the 200 mark since Twins prospect Francisco Liriano in 2005. Most impressive was how he maintained focus during his rough start, 1-7, 6.08, and rebounded with a strong second half, going 5-4, 1.39.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Righthander Alex Cobb, 22, had another solid season, going 7-5, 2.71 at Double-A Montgomery. He had a career-best 128 strikeouts in 120 innings, then struck out 10 in his Triple-A debut with Durham in the IL playoffs. He's similar to Hellickson in some ways, as a shorter righty with an average fastball and breaking ball and a plus changeup.


• Montgomery righthander Matt Gorgen, who shared the Southern League lead with 22 saves, was sent to the Diamondbacks as the player to be named in the July 31 deal for righty Chad Qualls.

• Lefthander Jake McGee dominated out of the bullpen at Durham to earn a big league callup in September. Including the playoffs, McGee struck out 32 with just four walks in 20 innings, allowing only one run and nine hits.