The Carolina Mudcats have seen several of Cleveland’s top prospects pass through Zebulon, N.C. since linking with the Tribe in 2012. Five County Stadium has been a popular place for players that the Indians have invested heavily in. The lineups, along with the coaching staffs, of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers and Double-A Akron RubberDucks are littered with former Carolina talent.
As the already-blossoming relationship between Cleveland and Carolina grows, there is certain to be much more top-tier baseball players on the diamond for the Mudcats. To have a Minor League system that rates among the best it takes not only success from the young players that were deemed worthy of a top selection but also growth from prospects that fall under the radar. The Mudcats have several players who, despite not being selected in the first few rounds of the Major League Draft, could have an impact at Progressive Field in the coming years.
Todd Hankins has already been given spot promotions to Columbus twice in 2014. The infielder that was selected in the 15th round in 2011, dutifully filled in for the Clippers in a pinch before being assigned back to Carolina and it has not had an effect on his performance for the Mudcats. Hankins enters Wednesday’s action batting .263 with five homers and 31 RBIs. The native of Orlando, Fl also has shown an ability to wreak havoc on the base paths with 17 stolen bases in 59 games with Carolina.
While his uncle John Elway famously tormented Cleveland many years ago, Joe Sever could bring joy to Cuyahoga County in the baseball seasons to come. In his second year with the Mudcats after earning promotion to Carolina midway through the 2013 campaign, Sever is manning first base for the Muddies and doing a terrific job since returning to action following injury. The Tribe’s 21st round selection in 2012 out of Pepperdine University is batting a torrid .397 for Carolina and also has an OPS of .909. His return to the lineup has also solidified play at first base, an area of concern for the injury-prone Mudcats during the first half of the season.
Shawn Morimando was a 19th round pick in 2011 for Cleveland and the left-hander eschewed a college scholarship to East Carolina to join the Tribe. Often players selected between the 10th and 20th rounds of the Major League Draft directly out of high school tend to show growth in the second and third years of their pro career and Morimando is no exception. He is currently 7-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 14 starts for Carolina. Like Hankins, Morimando was given a spot promotion during an injury crisis and the Virginia Beach-native did not disappoint, pitching six scoreless innings for Akron to get the victory in his lone Double-A appearance.
Many in the Cleveland organization feel that Advanced-A ball is the separator between the prospects who are not cut out for professional baseball and those who have a legitimate chance to reach the Major Leagues. Grant Sides is looking more like the latter in 2014. After a wretched performance for the Mudcats last season that included an ERA of 6.58 in 27 games, the righty that was drafted in the 12th round of the 2011 Major League Draft out of Samford has a 2.54 earned run average in 22 games this year and has yet to allow a home run. Sides has also lowered his opponent’s batting average from .264 in 2013 to .192 this year and is looking like the pitcher who excelled under the same coaching staff for Lake County last season.
Photo: Carolina Mudcats