Mudcats Experienced and Improved in Early Season
Rob McLamb | On 23, Apr 2014
Three weeks into the 2014 campaign, the Carolina Mudcats are a stark contrast to last season’s squad not only on the field but also in the standings. While the talent level at Five County Stadium may seem tame compared to the star-studded team last year, the Muddies have viable prospects that, should the current form continue, could make progressions within the Cleveland system. Much of the success this term is coming from players who had some High-A ball experience in 2013.
“When you have guys that have been [in High-A baseball], it always helps,” Carolina manager Scooter Tucker said. “It brings something to the table. They become leaders to the younger guys. They can relate things they have already heard or known. On the field, the years of experience can translate into better baseball.”
After 18 games in 2014, infielder Erik Gonzalez is hitting exactly .100 points better than he did in his stint in Zebulon with Carolina last season. The signs for success were there in 2013, as the Dominican showed a propensity for driving in runs with the Mudcats after his promotion from Lake County in July, finishing with 27 RBIs in only 153 at-bats. Gonzalez, who has also received playing time at shortstop and second base, earned an MILB Organizational All-Star Award in October and could be the next Mudcats infielder that receives promotion to Akron.
Left hander Shawn Morimando is another holdover from the 2013 team. The native of Virginia Beach, Va. has been solid in his first four outings, going 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA. Morimando has allowed 19 hits in 22 innings pitched while fanning 17 and walking four.
The improved control has been exactly what the coaching staff hoped to see from the former 19th round draft pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. Morimando spent all of last season in Zebulon with the Mudcats and struggled finding the strike zone at times, as he issued 76 base on balls in 135 innings in 2013 en route to a 8-13 campaign.
“There are still some things we feel [Morimando] has got to work on,” Carolina pitching coach Steve Karsay said. “There is no question that Shawn has the ability to move to the next level. He is pretty refined. It is just a matter of us helping him improve and moving him along his way to Double-A.”
Fellow lefty Ryan Merritt has augmented Morimando nicely on the starting rotation. Drafted in the 16th round of the 2011 MLB Draft, Merritt saw action in two games for the Mudcats last season and appears settled in High-A ball. The Texan went 3-0 with a 0.37 ERA in his first four outings, including one complete game and has allowed only one earned run in his first 24.1 innings pitched.
Perhaps the most surprising early season success story from a returning player is the bullpen work of Grant Sides. In what could be considered a make-or-break season for the righty, Sides has pitched scoreless baseball out of the bullpen heading into Tuesday’s action. Last season, the former 12th round pick out of Samford regressed, finishing 2-3 with a whopping 6.58 ERA and walked 32 batters in 39.2 innings with Carolina. The improvement is building a solid bridge between the starters and
“I like our staff,” Karsay said. “I think we have a good mix of some power arms in the bullpen and a couple of left handed starters in the rotation. The expectations are high. Each knows the expectations from me and vice-versa. They all have something they need to work on to get better as they move to the higher levels. We hope by the end of the year, everybody knows their names. That means they have gotten better. That’s our main goal, to have them be better on August 31 than they were in April.”
Photo: Aaron Moody/Smithfield Herald