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Fishing for Mudcats: "We're halfway there already..."

Fishing for Mudcats: "We're halfway there already..."
June 20, 2012
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From the Bait Shop:

Preface: Stats used for this article were from the first half of the Carolina League season.

The Carolina Mudcats weren’t the worst team in the Carolina League in 2012, although they did finish last in the Southern Division. Believe it or not, the Muddies would have finished in second place in the Northern, which speaks more to how bad the Northern division was, than how good the Mudcats were.

The team certainly had parts that could have made them a team to beat, but for whatever reason, the Mudcats just couldn’t find the ingredients to make their team a consistent winner.

The offense has been fairly solid. If that doesn’t sound like a giant boost of confidence, it’s because it isn’t. While there seems to be solid parts all over the field, they just can’t seem to find their way. I guess I’m saying the sum of their parts seems to be much less than it should be. Still, the Mudcats do find themselves in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories.

Their overall average is sitting at .256 right now, which is fourth in the eight team league. In the Carolina League, historically, hitting .256 is a good thing, and that hasn’t changed in 2012. While there are two teams (Winston-Salem and Salem) hitting .280 and .278, the rest are spread out between .231 and .263. Pitching is still king.

The Mudcats are third in the league in runs, doubles, homers and RBI, and they are not far behind the powerhouse offensive clubs in WS and Salem. In all other major categories, they find themselves not going below fourth in all categories. The one area where they struggle though is strikeouts, as they have 558 on the season, compared to only 217 walks. This has to improve, or their solid offensive season goes by the wayside.

Their pitching has been interesting throughout the season, with their starters and relievers trading dominance from week-to-week, but rarely finding a week in which the Muddies put it all together…as they did the last week before the break. They don’t have the studs in the rotation, or the bullpen, that they’ve had in the past, but they still have solid players in both levels.

Their overall ERA is a solid 3.97, but remember, this is the Carolina League we’re talking about, so that actually leaves them in sixth place in the league…a full run behind Myrtle Beach (2.95). Where this team struggles is making hitters miss bats, and just plain hitting the zone. The Muddies are leading the league in walks by 24 with 264 walks, and are second to last in strikeouts, with 457. They haven’t given up many hits, sixth in the league at 546, which is likely the saving grace.

At the end of the day, this team is doing things which seems to go opposite of what the Indians front office wants. The strike out too much, and walk too little on offense, and strike out too little and walk too much pitching wise. You have to wonder how happy they are with what Edwin Rodriguez has done up to this point. To be fair, this team is loaded with guys that have questionable approaches, and some have improved, but not enough to make much of a difference this season.

Where We Stand At The All-Star Break:

Overall Record: 32-38 (2-5 this past week), 4th place in the Souther Division, 12.5 games behind Winston-Salem.

The Offense

Today, we’ll be doing this a bit different. Since it’s the All-Star break, we’ll look at the top five hitters from the first half, culminating with the top hitter of the first half.

#5--Tyler Holt has been mired in a slump, but for much of the first half of the season, he was the cog that stirred the Muddies drink. He’s first in the league in triples, and fourth in walks, and while he’s dropped to a tie for fifteenth in the league for OBP at .352, he was sitting right at .400 until his recent slump. I’m not sure if Holt is in a legitimate slump, or if he’s struggling with the fact that he’s stuck in the Carolina League, but he’s still one of the main cogs of this team going forward. Hopefully, the Indians will find room for him in Akron at some point, but perhaps his current play will curtail that until 2013.

#4—Anthony Gallas was playing as though he were set to be cut from the team. As May started, there was a real question as to whether or not he could continue his progress through the system, or if his over-achieving ways had finally met their match. Then, he simply started to figure things out. His average grew from below the Mendoza line to its current state (.251). He’s hit six homers, and driven in 23 batters…and was recently named the Indians Minor League player of the week. How good has he been? He hit .478, with a double, three homers and seven RBI…and raised his average 30 points.

#3—Ronnie Rodriguez was another guy given up for dead at the start of the season. While much attention was paid to Tony Wolters and his early slump, Rodriguez was right with him, hitting only .203 in the first month of the season. Since then, he’s been a different player. While he strikes out way too much (44), and walks way too little (8), he’s doing everything else you could want from a middle infielder. He now has five homers and 32 RBI, to go along with 14 doubles and three triples. He’s also gotten the average up to .275, and has one of the best gloves on the team.

#2—Jeremie Tice will be first on many lists, as his all-star appearance is well deserved, but he’s not my top hitter of the first half. So what has Tice done this season? Well, he’s currently first in the league in homers (tied, but has played 14 less games than the guy he’s tied with) with 12, and fourth in the league in RBI. Tice was hitting over .300 for much of the season, but a slump of late has dropped the average to .278 on the season. Tice has struggled with health, including this season, or I’d likely have Tice a lot higher. He is older than most players in High A, and will likely find himself in Akron before long. He is that good, and if he can translate all of that into left field, he could be that more effective.

#1—Jesus Aguilar is clearly the best offensive player on the team, in my humble opinion. The guy is leading the team in average, runs, doubles and OBP, and is second third or fourth in most other major offensive categories. He’s only hit six homers so far this season, but many attribute that to a major shift in approach for the big man at first base.  He’s had major stretches during the season in which he’s looked every bit the impact bat from the right side of the plate that the Indians sorely lack, and while he may or may not have the upside that people want, he most certainly has the eye of both Tribe management, and Tribe nation as a potential first baseman in a couple of years. He’s certainly on the right path.

The Pitching

Here’s a look at the top five pitchers of 2012:

#5—I’m almost shocked that I’m saying this, so if you are, I get it. # 5 is going to be one Kyle Blair, who may just be working his way back to a top prospect status. Blair doesn’t have big stats, and his ERA is sitting at 4.37. But here’s the thing…past two bad appearances in mid-May, Blair has been borderline dominating. Past those two games in which he gave up 12 runs in 5 1/3 innings, and Blair hasn’t given up more than two runs in a game. In 29 2/3 innings (not counting the two bad starts), he’s given up only 18 hits, seven runs, five earned runs, 12 walks, while striking out 17. Not too shabby for a guy who’s ERA was over ten on May 23.

#4—Danny Salazar is attached at the hip to Kyle Blair, and the two have been an outstanding tandem.  Like Blair, Salazar has been near untouchable other than a couple of bad appearances. In three of his eight appearances, Salazar didn’t give up a run, and in two more, he only gave up one. Overall, his ERA is sitting at 3.75, but the other numbers are even more exceptional. He’s pitched 24 innings in his eight starts, giving up only 24 hits and ten walks, while striking out 23 batters. He has a big arm, and is being coddled a bit as he returns from surgery that cost him much of 2010 and 2011. When he’s back at 100%, you could be looking at a top ten prospect.

#3—Francisco Jimenez isn’t a name you’ll likely ever see on a prospect list.  But Jimenez does fit into that category that you’ll find a guy like Eric Berger in. He’s a glue pitcher, that can start or relieve, depending on where you need him. This season, Jimenez has started ten games, and relieved in five, and done well in both roles. His overall ERA isn’t staggering at 3.96, but he’s literally carried this team on his shoulders. He’s moved on to Akron, and while I’m not sure if it’s permanent, or only a move while the Muddies are on hiatus, he certainly deserves it.

#2—Jose Flores is another guy that I can’t believe I’m mentioning here. His delivery is suspect, but he’s been able to replicate it on a daily basis. Because of this, he’s been one of the best pitchers on the team, and is third in the league in saves, with 10. Flores comes in with a 2.28 ERA, and has been virtually untouchable when he’s on. He’ll occasionally revert back to his 2011 form in which he seemingly gets roughed up on every pitch, but he always seems to bounce back with domination. He’s pitched in 27 2/3 innings so far this year, and walked only eight batters, while striking out a solid 31. He has some nice velocity, so there could be some room for him to grow moving forward.

#1—Shawn Armstrong is the most talented reliever on the Mudcats staff, and while he isn’t Cody Allen by any stretch, there’s definitely a strong belief that he is an elite arm in the system.  He’s not been perfect, but pretty close. He’s gone 34 total innings for the Mudcats since April, and given up only 22 hits and six runs this season, with 15 walks, and 41 strikeouts. Like I said, when he’s on, he’s about as untouchable as it gets. Now, it is worth mentioning that he gave up four of his six runs in the past seven ball games, so perhaps his first full season in the system is affecting him, so it will be interesting to see what he does moving forward. He did pitch in the Carolina League all-star game, going 2/3 of an inning, and in typical Armstrong manner, struck out both batters.

First Half Awards:

 Hitter of the First Half: Jesus Aguilar

Pitcher of the First Half: Shawn Armstrong

Player of the First Half: Jesus Aguilar

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 jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

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