The Carolina Mudcats, once over 30 games under .500 for the season and now without its most dynamic player, are continuing to surge up the standings after the promotion of Francisco Lindor to Double-A Akron. The Cats take to the road for a seven games starting Thursday only three games behind first half winners Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League Southern Division.
With the split-season format, Carolina’s wretched first half can be voided out with a strong showing over the season’s final two months. Mudcats manager Dave Wallace, while stressing the bigger picture theme of player development, would also like to see his team reach the Carolina League playoffs by winning the second half title. Wallace accomplished that same feat last season when he guided Lake County in 2012 and the Cleveland organization has made it known that winning baseball starts from within.
Carolina will take on the Winston Salem Dash coming off an impressive home sweep of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, culminated by a stirring come-from-behind, 8-7, victory buoyed by home runs from Tyler Naquin and Paddy Matera.
Naquin will be one of the keys to Carolina’s success in the second half. The centerfielder, the 2012 first round draft pick from Texas A&M, was often overlooked when paired with the dazzling Lindor. Naquin smooth swing and terrific speed along with a strong and accurate arm all justify the Tribe’s investment in him.
Carolina’s improvement over the past month has actually come in spite of a poor second half from Naquin. The ex-Aggie has batted .225 in 27 games after the All-Star break. The Mudcats will be hard-pressed to earn a spot in the playoffs if that trend continues. With Lindor plying his trade in Akron, Naquin will receive more attention—both from Carolina League opposition and observers in Zebulon.
Fellow Carolina League All-Star Cody Anderson needs to continue his fine play. The righthander has allowed only 14 earned runs over 48 innings pitched in his last 10 games. It will be interesting to see how long Anderson remains with the Mudcats before his inevitable promotion to Akron. At this point the only issue is arm strength, as the native of Quincy, Calif. is still learning to go deep into games after not pitching much in community college before being drafted by the Tribe in the 14th round in the 2011 Major League Draft.
Justin Toole replaced Lindor at shortstop and in 10 games with the Mudcats has batted .293 with six RBIs. While no one expects Toole to duplicate Cleveland’s top pick of 2011, the new Carolina shortstop did bat .310 with the Aeros in the Eastern League before his transfer. Single-A pitching is something Toole has seen before and it is not unreasonable to expect him to provide stability in the lineup and on the field as the Mudcats make a playoff push in the month of August.
Photo by Nikolaus © 2013 Carolina Mudcats