Mudcats Continue Development and Playoff Hopes
Rob McLamb | On 06, Aug 2014
Player development is the priority in the Minor Leagues. With postseason games often the most sparsely attended–due to local football season beginning and children returning to school–an organization can be forgiven if the extra contests are seen more as a burden than a reward.
In the second half of the 2014 campaign, the Carolina Mudcats have as good of an opportunity to reach the postseason as it has had since becoming an affiliate of the Cleveland prior to the 2012 season. At 2.5 games behind co-leaders Myrtle Beach (Texas) and Winston-Salem (Chicago-AL), September baseball at Five County Stadium in Zebulon N.C. Is a real possibility.
The Carolina coaching staff, while maintaining the emphasis on creating an atmosphere that will help its players one day contribute at higher levels of baseball, hope that the excitement that comes from winning in professional ball will be an educational experience that potentially carries over to Progressive Field.
“They are keeping score, so you want to win,” Carolina manager Scooter Tucker said. “It is not first and foremost at this level. We’ve talked about it and if you do the things you are supposed to do night-in, night-out then you give yourself a chance. These guys have done that.”
Coming off a 2013 season where Carolina failed to play to its potential collectively, the Mudcats and Cleveland took solace in the fact that several players, including former first-round picks Francisco Lindor and Tyler Naquin, were able to hone their crafts well enough to receive promotion to Double-A Akron. That is a trend Ticker would like to see continue.
“An opportunity to see a guy like [Erik] Gonzalez go to Double-A, obviously he is a very talented player, but you do feel good about that,” Tucker said. “That’s our job. We are here to prepare them for the next level. Ultimately, we want them to get to the next level and help the Cleveland Indians someday. Sending up guys like [Shawn] Morimando and [Lewis] Head is gratifying without a doubt.”
The Mudcats have not reached the postseason since the 2008 team led by Matt Raleigh lost the Southern League Finals to the Mississippi Braves in five games. The six-season drought may come to an end in Carolina’s third season with the Tribe.
“We have a lot of games left so we will see how it goes,” Tucker said. “They guys tend to listen a little better and are easier to coach when things are going better. Winning solves a lot of issues.”
“All of the top-4 teams in the Indians organization, (Columbus, Akron, Carolina and Lake County) are in the playoff hunt as of today,” Tucker added. “We have taken our lumps over the past few years. We have been the youngest team in every league. We still are young.”
Jerrud Sabourin was an All-Star first baseman with the ill-fated 2013 Carolina team that featured a bevy of top prospects only to finish well out of the playoff chase. A utility player for this season’s team, Sabourin sees the difference that being near the top of the standings has in the clubhouse.
“We have a great group of guys that come out and work hard every day to get better,” Sabourin said. “I think we are doing a good job of taking pride in our work. For whatever reason, the group this year is meshing well. It is a team sport, not individual. We had a good team last year but it’s not the same as this year. You want to improve and ultimately reach the Major Leagues but it makes it so much more fun to win.”
Tucker is hopeful the winning ways will extend into September and feels the Cleveland Minor League system is improving. A playoff experience would be another part of the Mudcats’ development.
“There is no question that this organization has got to be proud and thinking that we are doing something right. I was very fortunate to win Minor League titles in Shreveport and Tucson. It does a world of good for your career. It would be huge for our guys to have that experience.
Photo: Carolina Mudcats