When looking at things in the context of wins and losses, particularly given the success of several of the other teams in the Cleveland minor league system, it would be easy to dismiss the 2014 edition of the Carolina Mudcats as unproductive. A 62-74 overall record for the campaign will not look good in the media guide next season. Of the top-four teams in the Tribe’s organization, only the Mudcats failed to advance to the playoffs.
While winning is important, Minor League baseball is predicated on other things. It is important to discern whether the Carolina Mudcats as an organization provide an environment conducive to learning and have a coaching staff that sends players upward in the organizational ladder.
In Akron, with baseball’s version of Duck Dynasty headed for postseason baseball, followers of the Mudcats could be forgiven if they have a sense of déjà vu watching the Eastern League playoffs. With a squad made up almost entirely of former Carolina players, and an entire coaching staff that was promoted from Zebulon after last season, the RubberDucks represent Carolina 2.0. It is a team that, when together at Five County Stadium in 2013, struggled but has made obvious improvements both individually and collectively this year. They left the Carolina League better than they were when they got there.
In terms of highlights, the promotion of several players would therefore have to top the list. Shawn Morimando, Will Roberts, Grant Sides and Louis Head are some of the hurlers who not only earned a ticket to Double-A ball during the season but also had to shrug off somewhat mediocre 2013 campaigns to continue their development. Outfielder Anthony Gallas returned from long-term injury to also make the trip to Canal Park and inch closer to his hometown team. Ryan Merritt was not promoted, but shined all season as the Mudcats’ best pitcher and the best in the Carolina League. Merritt started for the Carolina League in the Carolina-California All-Star Game in late June.
Individually, Jarrud Sabourin provided one of highlights of the season when the 2013 Carolina League All-Star batted for the cycle at Myrtle Beach on July 19. No Mudcat player had accomplished the feat in over 12 years. After struggling in his brief time with Akron at the beginning of the season, Sabourin batted .295 in 89 games with the Mudcats and made a strong case for belonging at a higher level in 2015—whether with Cleveland or with another club.
Sabourin perhaps is caught up in a numbers crunch when it comes to promotion. It will be interesting to see what Cleveland does with the Carolina coaching staff. After the mass promotion of manager Dave Wallace, hitting coach Rouglas Odor and pitching coach Jeff Harris to Akron, the Tribe replaced the three with the coaching trio from Lake County. Manager Scooter Tucker, hitting coach Tony Mansolino and pitching coach Steve Karsay could be set for a return to Zebulon in 2015 unless those above them in the system are reassigned or end up plying their trade elsewhere.
Overall from the fan’s perspective, there probably was a greater sense of joy watching Carolina in 2014 than in any of the team’s three seasons with Cleveland and at least more than the previous year’s squad. The 2013 team, loaded with top draft picks and heralded prospects, struggled spectacularly with one of the worst records in all of baseball and only began to gel and win once several players—including former first rounder Francisco Lindor—had been promoted to Akron. This past season, the Mudcats played with moxie and improved its winning percentage significantly. Once the players who trek to and through Zebulon en route to a Major League career reach Cleveland, those are the exact traits that will needed to keep them there.