Fishing for Mudcats: "Rounding Third..."
From the Bait Shop:
Every year, I end the season with a “Season in Review” posting…but that just doesn’t seem all that appropriate. While I like looking up and down the organization at who did well, who made the playoffs, and who won titles…at the end of the day, that doesn’t mean squat in the minors. What counts are the prospects that the parent club invested so much in.
This year, that’s what I’m going to focus on.
Granted, the Muddies didn’t do a thing this year. The nearly finished in last place, and had a horrid overall record. Still, they nearly won a championship last season, and does anyone really care? Of course, you mention the four homers that Jesus Aguilar hit, and that’s really what was memorable.
This season, I’m going to take a look at the Muddies in three separate segments. I’m going to look at the top ten players here in 2012. Today I’m going to look at 6-10, while tomorrow we’ll look at the top five. Finally, as Corner of Carnegie and Ontario moves to its winter home on Thursdays, I’ll post my final piece in its place on Saturday afternoon, where I’ll look at the Muddies hitter of the year, pitcher of the year, and player of the year.
I’ll also take a look at the future of the Mudcats, as Lake County’s star-studded team makes their move to High A baseball.
Should be an exciting look ahead.
With that said, this isn’t a prospect countdown, although you’ll see some guys on this list that will certainly be at or near the top of the Tony’s rankings come the start of 2013.
The Top Twelve: 6-12
#12: RP: Rob Nixon
So, Rob Nixon isn’t going to jump out as some top prospect. He was selected in the 46th round of the 2011 draft by the Indians, and was a senior coming out of college. While he was dominant at Adelphi, we aren’t talking about a kid that was on anyone’s radar. He started 15 games in Mahoning Valley in 2011, and wasn’t spectacular in any sense. He didn’t strike out many, and while he didn’t walk any, there just didn’t seem to be much to ponder. They moved him to the pen, and up to Lake County, and there still wasn’t anything to scream about in 2012. He was solid for the Captains, but hardly their best pitcher. Still, as a 23-year-old, the Indians decided to move him up, with a respectable 1-1 record, and a 3.12 ERA in 21 games. He then got absolutely smoked in his first six ballgames. How bad was it? Well, he went 1-0, but over that stretch, he gave up 18 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings pitched…walking seven, and striking out seven.
So, why is this kid listed here? It’s what he did afterwards that gets him in my top twelve on such a small sample size.
Over Nixon’s next eight ballgames, he went 18 2/3 innings, giving up only 13 hits and three walks, while striking out 19. He was dominant, and while there are some more relievers to be mentioned with a bigger sample size that had numbers better than Nixon overall, none were as dominant. I’m not sure if they caught lightning in a bottle, or if he’s just one of those nice 2012 stories, but he definitely is one to watch in 2013. I have to believe he gets a short look in Carolina, with the ability to bounce to Akron quickly if he deserves it.
#11: Jeremie Tice
When Tice left for the greener pastures of Akron, he was leading the Carolina League in home runs with 12. The best part about it was that he had 13 less games than the guy he was tied with, and as many as 19 games behind the guys behind him by a home run. In other words, Tice was hitting the ball well. Of course, that’s the good news. The bad news is that Tice missed an abundance of time because of injury. With that said, you can look past that because we finally saw a return on the offense that was expected from him. He also was utilized as an outfielder to make him more valuable going forward.
At the end of the day, Tice is about to turn 26 years old, and continues to be injury prone. While I like his ability, he’s just not there year with regards to continuity and stamina. With that said, he would have led the team in homers had he stayed the entire season. He hit .282, with 33 runs, 30 extra base hits and 12 homers in a half season.
#10: Mike Rayl
Mike Rayl was a 15th rounder in 2009, and he’s pretty much what you would expect from a 15th rounder. He’s a finesse guy, who can log some innings, and that’s just what he did this year. He started 27 games for the Mudcats, going 10-9 with a 4.28 ERA over 149 1/3 innings. He doesn’t strike out many, and he doesn’t walk all that much, but what he does is come out and pitch, and generally fairly well.
He has moments where he really makes you wonder what would happen if he could find consistency. He made three starts in a row from the end of July through August in which he went 3-0 over 18 innings, giving up 13 hits and an earned run, while walking seven and striking out 10. Again, it was about as undominating a dominating performance you could make.
I like Rayl, and think that he could make his way up through the system. No, he’s not a guy you ever point to and say a top of the rotation sorta guy, but he sure could fill in as an innings filler in a year or two. If he finds that consistency though, he could get a definitive look in a couple of years, but we’ll just have to see.
#9: Tyler Holt
If you ever watch Tyler Holt play baseball, practice baseball, or anything in between, he’s always moving forward. Holt is the type of player that will do whatever it takes to get on base…then do whatever it takes to get to second, third…then home. He’s 100% scrap-iron, and he’s just a fun player to watch. On top of all that, he plays with a fire that can really carry a club when they are struggling…and take them over the top when they aren’t. He’s overtly aggressive, which can equally help and hurt him.
Holt just tore up the league in April, hitting .333, with 16 runs in 20 games. He had three doubles and triples, while stealing five bases. He also played fairly well in May, hitting .273. He just seemed to have figured things out.
Then came June, and the lead-off hitter batted only .198. There’s been some speculation that it had to do with the fact that Holt likely should have started in Akron, and just couldn’t find the spot in the upper levels to get his chance. Regardless, in early July, Holt was called up, and has played well at Double A.
His style of play will be missed in Carolina.
#8: Grant Sides
I like Sides, and he has a lot to offer this club going forward, and his first month in the Carolina League was absolutely awesome. Sides made ten appearances, and in those ten appearances, he had four saves in 12 1/3 innings, giving up only seven hits and seven walks, while striking out 13. He gave up only one run, and looked like another elite arm. That’s his plus side.
After that, Sides wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t nearly as dominating, and he definitely walked far too many batters. There lies the rub for sides going forward. He has good heat, and can dominate, but just can’t find the zone as consistently as the Indians would want. Once he gathers that consistency, and you have to believe that he’ll do it here in Carolina, he’ll re-join those few elite arms in the system…not that he isn’t one of them at this point.
What he did though to improve upon his season in Mahoning Valley in 2011 is a good indicator that if he can continue his progress, he could turn into something special. The next level will be the curious season. Can he continue his progress, or has he hit his plateau?
#7: Shawn Armstrong
Shawn Armstrong was the best reliever in Carolina this year, at least of the relievers that spent over a month with the Muddies. Armstrong just dominated in his first couple of months in the Carolina League. In 14 appearances, Armstrong went 0-1 with a 0.69 ERA over 26 innings. He gave up only nine hits and two earned runs, while walking 14 and striking out 35. As he entered June, things would get a bit more difficult. He would make 12 more appearances for the Muddies over 17 2/3 innings, giving up an elevated 22 hits, 9 walks and 17 K’s. The numbers weren’t bad, but gone was the dominant pitcher that showed up during his first two months.
Still, Armstrong, like Sides, is in that elite range with regards to Indians future relievers. Like Sides, he can struggle with control, but like Sides, he can just blow the ball by hitters.
Armstrong isn’t as good as Allen, but he’s not far behind. In my opinion, Armstrong has the type of stuff that COULD make him AS good. He has to maintain that control, and continue to acquire consistency. He’s currently pitching well with Akron…straight into the playoffs, and isn’t far away from Columbus. At 21, he is a comer, so keep an eye on him going forward.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the top six players in the Muddies Organization!
2012 Mudcats Awards:
Here Comes 2012:
April 5, 2013
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.