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Lukevics wins Bender Award for player development
As the Rays' director of Minor League operations for the past seven seasons, Mitch Lukevics has overseen a farm system that has served as a backbone for the organization's recent run of success.

Minor League Baseball honored Lukevics for his accomplishments on Monday, when it named him the recipient of the fifth annual Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award, presented to someone with distinguished service who has been instrumental in player development. The award's namesake spent 64 years in baseball as a player, manager and executive, including 22 overseeing the Reds' farm system.

"Chief Bender set the standard on how to develop young players, and was admired and respected by all of us in the industry," Lukevics said in a statement. "To receive an award bearing his name is truly an honor. This wouldn't be possible if not for the support I receive from the Rays organization and the tremendous people that I am fortunate to work with."

Lukevics has filled a variety of roles in his 38 years in professional baseball. He joined the Rays in 1995, three years before they debuted as the expansion Devil Rays, and worked as a pitching coach and assistant to player development and scouting before he took on his current position.

Tampa Bay hadn't won more than 70 games in a season until 2008, when it won 97 and reached the World Series. The club has tallied at least 90 victories in four of the last five years, and has made the playoffs three times. Bolstering that run have been several homegrown stars, including third baseman Evan Longoria and pitcher David Price.

"Mitch Lukevics has played an integral role in developing players [who] have contributed to the recent successes of the Tampa Bay Rays," Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner said in a statement. "His relationships with Rays' affiliates, knowledge of the rules and concern for his players and staff remind me so much of Chief and the legacy this award honors. Mitch's efforts have been invaluable for the Rays, who compete in one of the toughest divisions in baseball -- the American League East."

Prior to joining the Rays, Lukevics was a second-round pick by the White Sox in the 1975 First-Year Player Draft, and spent six Minor League seasons with the organization before becoming a coach. He moved to Chicago's front office following the '85 season, then served as the Yankees' director of Minor League operations from '89-95.

Andrew Simon is a contributor to

Tampa Bay Rays, Evan Longoria, David Price