Fishing for Mudcats: A 2013 year-in-review
The Mudcats had a terrible record, but boy did they have some talent...
From the Bait Shop:
Following a minor league baseball team is always a long, strange trip. It’s not as clear-cut as the major league team, because it goes so much further than just winning or losing for many.
Some fans follow a minor league team, hoping for a run to the playoffs.
Some fans follow a minor league team because they love watching a roster of youngsters strive to reach their dream.
Some fans look at the minor leagues as simply a prospect factory for the major league team.
Whatever the reason for following the Carolina Mudcats in 2013, it certainly was a strange season.
The Muddies finished the season with the worst record in the Carolina League at 57-83, but still made a bit of a run to the playoffs in the second half thanks to the ability for teams to win both the first half and second half championships.
While the Muddies led the league with a .266 average, as well as a .345 OBP and 1,247 hits, and while their power numbers weren’t terrible, they were last in the league in home runs.
On the pitching side of things, the Mudcats struggled from almost top to bottom. Their ERA was 4.09, which was third from the bottom, gave up the second most runs, and were third from last in strikeouts. With all that said, they still had the Carolina pitcher of the year.
No, the Carolina Mudcats weren’t easy to put a finger on, but Five County Stadium saw some of the best prospects in the system make their way to the field in 2013, which led to an entertaining season.
The trawler is loaded for one more trip onto the water in 2013, so let’s get fishing….
Offensive Player of the Year:
Joe Wendle: 2B: .295/.372/.513, 16 homers, 64 RBI, 10 SB, 44 BB, 79 K
The only thing that made this difficult was the fact that Francisco Lindor didn’t play the entire season here for the Mudcats. Had Lindor finished the year in Zebulon, he would have been, hands-down, the winner of this award based simply on both stats and organizational impact. At the end of the day, however, he played in 24 less games than Wendle, who led the team in nearly every major statistical category.
Wendle led the team in runs scored, doubles, homers, RBI, batting average (for those that qualify), slugging and OPS. Need I really say more? Wendle didn’t enter the season as any sort of major prospect. He did come into the season as the #43 ranked prospect here at IBI, but past that, there wasn’t much scuttlebutt about THIS middle infielder.
You know, there are a few other pretty good ones.
He does have detractors, and for good reason. He’s not a great defender, and he couldn’t hit a lefty to save his life (.320 against righties, vs. .224 vs. lefties, although he actually hit BETTER against lefties in 2012).
So where does that leave us with Joey Wendle? Well, he’s the offensive player of the year, and deserves it.
The best of the rest:
While Joe Wendle’s numbers are overwhelming, the best offensive player on this team during the time that he spent here may just have been the Indians #1 prospect in Francisco Lindor. Lindor surprised all by hitting .306, with a .373 OBP. He equally surprised with 20 stolen bases, showcasing special speed and baserunning ability. He walked 35 times this season, and struck out only 39 times with the Muddies. He was just really, really good.
Oh, and about his defense. Folks who have never seen him will tackle his 18 errors and .952 fielding percentage as a spotlight on how overrated his skills are defensively. In 1988, Omar Vizquel played High A baseball in 1986 and 1987, and what was his fielding percentage for those two seasons at short? Why don’t you try .953 on for size.
Here’s what you need to do. Go and watch Lindor playing defense during pregame warm-ups. He honestly puts on a display that I can only compare to power hitters during pregame. It’s special. When he’s a big leaguer, you are going to be in for a treat.
My knock on Lindor is that he only hits lefties at a .237 clip as a switch hitter. You can’t knock Wendle without knocking Lindor.
Still, a phenomenal year for the team’s top prospect.
There is no bigger surprise on this roster than one Paddy Matera. The Indians signed Matera at the beginning of June to play third base for the Carolina Mudcats. Matera came straight outta independent baseball, where he had a .304/.365/.525 slash. Matera was a 25-year old utility-ish player, but boy did he get some traction with the Mudcats.
But let me preface all of this by saying that we aren’t exactly talking about a major prospect here. There were some that saw the numbers and debated the whys of the organization not moving him.
Well, it’s because he’s 25, and just not a prospect. The Indians pull several of these moves a year, and they often pay off. This one did big time.
Matera had a .282/.415/.419 slugging, with four homers, 35 RBI, 49 runs and 39 walks against only 54 K’s. I don’t know if he’ll be back with the Indians’ organization next year, but he certainly should be offered a role. The key will be whether or not they have the room for him. He’s not a prototypical third baseman, but could find a role there, or as a glue-utility guy.
You aren’t ever going to get a piece from me talking about the offense of any minor league team without talking about Bryson Myles. The day I drafted him, I said he “reminds me of a poor-man’s Kirby Puckett” during my draft coverage. Yes, I realize that Puckett is a hall of famer, and I’m in no way saying that Myles is heading to the hall. What I am saying is that they have a similar type skill set at the level they played at.
Myles is a natural athlete, and while he doesn’t look like a prototypical centerfielder, it’s probably his best position. He won’t play there much because of his injury issues, but his glove and speed certainly translate.
On the year, that again started with injury, Myles had a .285/.357/.427 slash line. That’s decent enough, but what really gets me excited is that as he got helthy, he got better. In July and August, his first two months of 100% healthy, Myles hit .326, with 10 stolen bases, four homers and 34 RBI. He struck out 48 times, with only 17 walks, and will need to improve there, but should with health.
To top it off, Myles hit .314 against lefties, and .275 against righties. That’s a good sign.
If Myles could put together a healthy season in 2014, I truly believe that he could actually make a push for the big league club in September. I doubt the Indians would push him with his past injury issues, but he could be a fun watch.
For those that follow me, know that I’m a big Myles fan, but that I’m also a big Jordan Smith fan as well. Many look at him and immediately see his deficiencies. Believe me, I get it. Smith is 6’4” tall, and only hit five homers playing right field this year. Like I said, I get it.
I can’t help but look at him and see his upside.
Call it Drew Stubbs disease (I love Stubbs, but totally get why the Reds were frustrated by him).
Here’s what’s to like about Smith. He can hit. He has a career .303 average in the minors, and as the season heated up in 2013, so did Smith’s bat. He hit .369 in August, after hitting .349 in June. He did struggle a bit in July with a .267 average, but you can see what he sandwiched that with.
He likely will find himself pushing for a fourth outfielder position if things stand as they do now in the future, but if he could manage to hit for a bit more power, and market himself as a guy that can play all three outfield positions, he could certainly pass Tyler Naquin on the prospect lists.
Why? He is an efficient bat (62 walks vs. 72 K’s), who can steal bases (18) and play multiple outfield positions. He hit .290 vs. righties and .296 vs. lefties. He’s also the same age as the much more heralded Naquin. Of course, I don’t know if this is a positive for Smith, or a negative for Naquin.
Which leads me to Naquin. You know what he’s good at. He has a canon of an arm (had two less assists than Smith…just sayin). He has a plus bat (hit .277 in Carolina, vs. .292 for Smith). He has speed (14 stolen bases vs. 18 for Smith).
Do you see my point here? When you take into account that Naquin walked only 41 times vs. 112 K’s, and hit only .206 vs. lefties, you have to wonder why he got the bump, and Smith didn’t.
Still, there’s clearly upside to Naquin, but comparables are interesting.
I can’t go through this offense without mentioning Tony Wolters, who at the end of the day, may be my favorite person in the entire system. When I think of the word special, Wolters immediately pops into my mind.
He’s just that kind of person and player.
He’s a walking cliché. The kid is the first on the field, and often the last out the door. The kid is phenomenal with the fans, and the kids that come and see him. The kid works harder than everyone else, and will do anything the coaching staff asks….and the kid excels.
Imagine, if you will, that you were a top prospect in a system, and had just skipped a level and succeeded in a jump from the NY-Penn league to the Carolina League, and were then told that you were coming back to Carolina, and making a radical position change.
Imagine if they were moving you to catcher.
How would you handle that?
Wolters didn’t beat an eye. He analyzed the situation and realized that his best way to make it with the Indians in a system full of stud infielders would be to make the switch and become either a catcher or an uber-utility guy.
Back to Arizona went Wolters after his game on April 17th. For a month, he worked on his game, and returned a month later as a catcher.
In May, he hit only .211. I mean, what do you expect? He went from a 2B/SS to handling a pitching staff. He wouldn’t hit under .300 for the rest of the year. In June, July and August, he hit .309 overall. He had nine doubles, two homers and 25 RBI. He walked 32 times, while striking out 35 times. In other words, he was for the situation.
He hit .276 vs. righties, and he hit .279 vs. lefties. He played catcher, second, short and DH, and he threw out 28% of all runners. No, that’s not great, but it was his first year as a catcher since early in his high school career, and he learned it on the fly.
Wolters will play big league baseball, trust me. What a phenomenal kid.
In the Mud:
There’s not really a guy I want to point to at the end of the year as being “in the mud.”Jerrud Sabourin, who is a phenomenal guy in his own right, came back to earth a bit after starting the year off hot. He’s never been a top prospect in the organization, but I look at him as an Adam Abraham-type player. He makes an impact every day by playing the game the right way, and he CAN hit the ball. He may spend another season here in Carolina, or he could move through the system like Abraham did…we shall see.
Bo Greenwell just can’t get out of Carolina, and I fear his time will be winding down as a member of the organization. I love watching him play, but when you are 24 and spent part of your fourth season in High A, you kinda know where this is going. There are so many other outfielders with his skill set that are younger and healthier. He does have a high baseball IQ though, and you may see him on the coaching side of things before too long.
Logan Vick is another kid that I’ve liked from the day they drafted him. He fits in the Jordan Smith/Tyler Naquin mold, and when you watch him play, you can’t help but root for him. We’ll be seeing a lot of him in 2014 here in Carolina, and he could be sneaky. He doesn’t have massive pedigree, but he could be another one of those kids that’s on the perch, and could provide some value to the Indians as filler in a trade deal.
The player that I love the most but fear may be heading in a direction that is too far from return is Luigi Rodriguez. When I think of Rodriguez, I can’t help but think of Carlos Moncrief (which breeds some hope for Rodriguez going forward, as Moncrief developed late). He’s so toolsy.
But, he hasn’t played a ballgame since June 26th.
Of course, he doesn’t turn 21 until November.
What could be in store for Rodriguez, who will likely play the entire 2014 season in Carolina? He can hit for average (career .283 hitter). He can hit for power (had 11 homers as a 19-year old in Lake County). He can steal bases (had 24 in 2012). He can score runs (75 in 117 games in 2012).
Injuries now, although I suspect the Indians were being careful with him.
He also strikes out at an alarming rate, although there were some signs of improvement in 2013. If he comes around, an outfield of Rodriguez, #Washtime and any one of Vick/Myles/Smith will be special.
Was that ‘in the mud?’
Pitcher of the Year:
Cody Anderson: SP: 9-4, 2.34 ERA, 123 1/3 IP, 34 R/32 ER, 112 K, 31 BB, 8.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
The Carolina Mudcats staff just wasn’t very good this year. The fact that Cody Anderson was on the staff likely kept the team from losing at a record proportion. He’s just that good.
What’s to like about Anderson?
Let’s start with the K-Rate, which was his biggest question heading into the season. Anderson struck out 5.4 per 9 at Mahoning in 2011 in a small sample size. He followed that up with a 6.6 per 9 in his first full season sample in 2012. No, that’s nothing to brag about. Then came 2013 in Carolina, and he upped the K-rate to 8.1.
He led the league with a 2.34 ERA, and was just a dominating presence. There’s no doubt, in my mind, that Anderson is a 10-15 product in the system, if not higher, and has an incredible upside as he continues to work on his secondary pitches.
There’s no rocket science to any of all of this. He’s not working on new pitches. He’s working on making his current repertoire even better.
He’s locating his fastball better than ever. He’s doing the same with his curve and his change. He’s pounding the lower part of the zone and forcing more ground balls. He’s striking people out.
He’s a smart player, who realizes that every day is a battle as a starter, and he’s also an exceptional athlete. He was a former top prospect in football, but turned to baseball after concussions ended that dream.
Yeah, sounds like a prospect to me.
The best of the rest/In the Mud:
The only other best of the rest that I want to mention that played a substantial amount of time (ish) here in Carolina is Joseph Colon. I’ve always been a Colon fan, but he really struggled with injury in 2013, missing almost two months, from May 8th through June 28th. After that, he was the clear #2 pitcher on the team, surpassing the soft tossing lefty, Shawn Morimando. In August, he took over the ace role after Anderson left.
Like Anderson, his K-Rate is something to watch, but he’s fairly solid, if he can work on his secondary stuff. Anderson is far his superior though.
Some have hit me for being too critical of Shawn Morimando, but I’ve never been a big believer in his stuff. He’s a lefty, so that will translate, but his stuff is just easy to figure out. Still, his ERA hovered in the low 3.00’s all year, before stamina likely got to him in August. Still, his ERA finished at 3.68 on the year. It’s solid stuff, but if he’s a back-end of the rotation guy in the bigs every, I’d be surprised. I value a guy like T.J. House way over him because he can strike guys out when he has to.
Morimando can’t, and he walks far too many batters.
At the end of the day, there really weren’t many special players in this rotation or the bullpen. I like Elvis Araujo, but he was hurt. I like Enosil Tejeda, but he was here and gone. Jeff Johnson pitched well and moved on, but I don’t see him as an upside reliever compared to some of the other players in the system. It just wasn’t a promising season for arms in Carolina, which is concerning when you think of the big league Indians going forward.
There are going to be holes if they can’t start swinging deals. It does make you wonder if players on the current roster aren’t traded down the road if others in the upper minors develop. Could the Indians deal a Michael Bourn, sign Drew Stubbs to a cheaper deal, develop a younger guy, and use him for good starting pitching?
It’s definitely possible.
Next Year’s Fishing Expedition:
LeVon Washington should find his way to Carolina next season, and I don’t expect it to be a long visit if he’s healthy. You can say what you want about #washtime, but the talent is undeniable. I’m hoping he can shove it down the pundits throats next year and roll through the system. If his small 2013 sample is any indication, he’s health away from being a star. That’s a big if though.
The rest of the outfield will be filled in with a combination of Logan Vick, Bryson Myles, Luigi Rodriguez, some organizational fill, and potentially a late season Anthony Santander sighting. The outfield should be an exciting place for the Mudcats in 2013
Eric Haase is also a guy I’d like to see continue develop, and the soon-to-be 21-year old catcher should see his stock continue to rise. He led Lake County with 14 homers, but also struck out 117 times.
Will Dorssys Paulino come to Carolina, or will the then-19-year-old get another needed year of seasoning?
The two pitching prospects I’m most looking forward to seeing are Luis Lugo and Dylan Baker. I suppose Felix Sterling will make an appearance as well, and while his 5.13 ERA is scary, he did pitch extremely well in June and July, coming in with an ERA close to 2.00. He’s got a plus arm, but boy, where it’s going to go is such a mystery.
The View Astern:
I was talking to a Red Sox scout in June while watching Francisco Lindor fielding ground balls, and he had nothing but positives to say about him. I asked him how he compares to Xander Bogaerts, and he was very balanced in what he said. “Bogaerts has far superior power, but Lindor easily balances that out thanks to his speed and defense.”
He talked a lot about Bogaerts IQ, and correctly predicted his rise to the big leagues this year, but tempered that with opportunity. “There isn’t anyone blocking him, and if there is, they’ll be gone soon.” I don’t think he was alluding to Iglesius, as he said that he was going to be a utility guy for the Red Sox for a long time, but you get my point. He was clear that the Indians picture is murkier.
“Lindor isn’t going anywhere as long as Asdrubal Cabrera is on this team.” He had a favorable opinion of Cabrera back then. I wonder about now though.
What’s my point? Lindor took a ground ball on his way into the dugout. He was about 30 feet from home plate, and he was barely paying attention when a ball was drilled on the ground right at him. Without breaking stride, Lindor put his glove behind him, fielded cleanly and scooped the ball to Paddy Matera. It was breathtaking how easy he made the play, and how effortless it was.
“I’ve honestly never seen anything like that.”
He’s the best player I’ve seen here in the Carolina league since 2001. He’s that good. If he’s not with the Indians by July, something has gone dramatically wrong.
I don’t know where my future lies in 2013 with regards to the Mudcats, but it sure has been tremendous covering them. If I’ve seen my last game at Five County Stadium, it’s been a total blast. Of course, next year, I may be covering games back in the home state of Ohio. If that’s the case, the goodbye will be VERY fond. Thanks for reading over the past three years, and I’ll see you all on the flip side…somewhere.
Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.