Youthful Mudcats Much Improved in Second Half

The Carolina Mudcats defeated the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, 2-1, on Monday to complete the second half eight games behind the Salem Red Sox for a berth in the Carolina League playoffs. The Cats started off the season with an abundance of talent. The accolades received during and after the season for several members of the team reflect well for the player development skills of manager Dave Wallace and the coaching staff.

Francisco Lindor was the focal point for Carolina while he wore the Mudcats uniform and for good reason. The Indians’ first-round draft pick in 2011 First Year Player Draft, the shortstop from Puerto Rico was stellar in Zebulon before earning a promotion to Double-A Akron on July 15. Lindor had a .306 average and belted out 100 hits in only 83 games for the Mudcats. He was named to the Carolina League All-Star team and also appeared in the Future’s Game at Citi Field in Flushing, NY—his second straight appearance in the game for baseball’s top prospects. Despite his call-up barely past the halfway point of the campaign, the top-ranked prospect in the Cleveland Indians Player Development System was still named to the Carolina League honorary end-of-season All-Star team.

Joining Lindor in earning season-ending honors are pitcher Cody Anderson and second baseman Joey Wendle.

Anderson was named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year after finishing his High-Class A campaign with a 9-4 record and a league-leading 2.34 ERA. A 14th round draft pick in 2011, the right-hander is quickly becoming one of the top minor leaguers in the Tribe’s system. Called up to Akron on Aug. 14, he also was a mid-season All-Star for the Mudcats—one of four players to earn the honor.

Wendle flew under the radar in 2013. Overlooked for the All-Star Game in San Jose, Calif. despite being among the league leaders in batting, the second baseman was one of the few players for Carolina that did not earn a promotion despite having a fantastic season. However, the native of Lincoln University, Pa. did not let the cluster of middle infielders playing in levels above him in the Cleveland organization effect his performance in Zebulon. He finished the campaign with a .295 average along with 16 home runs and 64 RBIs.

Much ballyhooed like Lindor in the beginning of the season, centerfielder Tyler Naquin also shined for Carolina before earning a promotion to Double-A along with Anderson on Aug. 14. The 2012 first-round pick was joined Lindor, Anderson and first baseman Jerrod Sabourin on the Carolina League All-Star team and batted .277 in 108 games for  the Mudcats with nine home runs and 42 RBIs while batting leadoff.

Carolina struggled in the first half of the season—on June 29, the Mudcats were 31 games under .500. After losing in Salem that evening on a walk-off home run, Lindor—who would be promoted less than three weeks later—was undeterred by the struggles of the team and made a bold assertion that the squad would eventually come through before the season ended.

“This team is the most mentally tough that I have ever played with,” Lindor said. “We have a bunch of guys that are tough. They don’t back down from any challenges. We’ll get it done. I have got faith and I trust my teammates.”

The Mudcats did respond in July. Carolina went 18-9 during the month, ensuring that meaningful baseball would be played late in the season. Wallace was happy with the play in the second half and believes that playing games in August and September are important—for the future of the players and the organization.

“Every guy (on the team) has what it takes to be in the big leagues,” Wallace said. That is what we are here to work on. The next few weeks of games (in August and September) are going to be great for these guys. The intensity is elevated. That is when the cream of the crop rises. It is about the mental game and the effort, more than the numbers.”

And with the 2013 season being one of a change in culture with an emphasis on organizational growth in Cleveland, perhaps it is only fitting that the development also occurs within.

Photo: Nikolaus of Carolina Mudcats

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