Fishing for Mudcats: "...and heading for home..."
By Jim Pete
September 14, 2012
From the Bait Shop:
On Wednesday, we took a look at my #7-#12 prospects with regards to the Carolina Mudcats. In reality, we aren’t talking about the top prospects of the system, and even the team, but the top performers in Carolina throughout the 2012 season. Now, in truth, the top prospects all rise to the top, and that was the case here in Carolina as well. Sure, there were some relative non-prospects that showed up here in the lower six, but the upper six are some of the better prospects in the system.
Again, I’m going to avoid the season in review, as it tends to focus on how well the team played, as opposed to the specific prospects that are what’s really important to every system.
The Top Twelve: #1-#6
#6: SP: Danny Salazar
You can really start making a case with Danny Salazar that there isn’t a more exciting pitching prospect in the entire system. I know that sometimes statements like that can be hyperbole, but with Salazar, that’s just not the case.
Salazar made two cautious starts for the Muddies to start of the year, and got beat up, then shut down for a month. He had given up six runs over 7 2/3 innings. From that point on, Danny Salazar was a different pitcher. It shows you what an injury can do, and what getting healthy can mean.
Salazar would return to the Mudcats on May 17th, and wouldn’t pitch over three innings in any start until July. During his three-inning stints, he would make eight starts in a month-in-a-half, and he was brilliant. He had a 1.61 ERA over 22 1/3 innings, giving up 20 hits and eight walks, while striking out 23.
Over his next five games, Salazar’s ERA was at a still dominant 2.89, as he began pitching between three and four innings. His final start came on July 31st, and he went five innings for the first time, giving up three hits, a walk and an unearned run, while striking out four.
Salazar moved on to the greener pastures of Akron, but not before laying the foundation of a brilliant 2012 season.
#5: 1B: Jesus Aguilar
Aguilar is similar to Salazar in many ways. He’s an extremely exciting prospect heading to a level that really needs prospects. With Salazar being the one starting pitcher in the upper levels that has top-of-the-rotation potential, Aguilar is the one corner infielder/outfielder who provides them with a legitimate power bat from the right side of the plate. While the jury is still out on just how legitimate he really is, he did a lot to allay many opinions on just how good he’s truly going to be.
Aguilar’s near-year in Carolina ball was definitely an interesting one. While he’s clearly a power bat, he had holes in his swing that was worrisome to management, in particular as he moved up through the system. He struggled with certain breaking pitches, and he tended to go after pitches out of the strike zone, especially down and away. The key going forward with Aguilar was/is whether or not he could become selective enough not to take away his aggression.
The Indians had to be pleased overall with Aguilar’s performance, and you could make a case that he was on his way to the best season of any Mudcat when he got called up. He was particularly good through June, as he made it to the Futures game as one of the top prospects in baseball. He hit .286 in April, then really picked things up in May, hitting .348. He wasn’t hitting the ball out of the park, but a lot of that can be attributed to the dimensions of the walls in Carolina, not to mention the pitching. Remember, there are only eight teams in the Carolina league, and pitchers always tend to have the edge on the hitters. To put it in perspective, only five players hit over .300 this season, with .315 being the top average.
The other pleasant surprise is his continued development at first base. No, he’s never going to be confused for Albert Pujols as a first baseman, but he proved to be a lot more athletic than though, and his learning curve began to overcome his deficiencies at the position. He doesn’t project to be a plus fielder, but he has that learn-ability that will make him at least an average defender, if not more. Think Jason Kipnis, to an extent. There seems to be a similar desire to improve his game, which will take him far.
Aguilar would end his tenure in High A baseball in August, riding a bit of a slump, but overall, had a fantastic year, hitting .277, with 12 homers and 58 RBI. He did strike out 91 times in 107 games, but walked 45 times to go along with it. He also hit 25 doubles and two triples, and had a .454 slugging. In other words, he both improved, and had success at another level.
Now, he’s in Akron on the verge of a title, and ready to conquer Double A. He’s not far away folks, and has less questions than before.
#4: Carlos Moncrief
I don’t even feel hesitation in saying that Carlos Moncrief has the most talent of any player on this list, and of any player that suited up for the Carolina Mudcats this year. As a matter of fact, you could make a legitimate case that he’s the most “toolsy” player in the entire system. Of course, you have to temper those comments with a couple of things. First off, he’s a bit older than most of the players at this level, at 23 years old. While that doesn’t put him in “old man” status, it does put him on the edge of being too old. Secondly, Moncrief was drafted as a pitcher, and spent his first two seasons in the organization in that role. While that balances out his age a bit, it also hurts with regards to his learning curve. He has to make up years of time on the fly.
Fortunately, he seems to be progressing at a high rate. The catch is what happens as the pitching starts to thin out with regards to talent. He also hit a bit of a snag this season with a season ending injury when he broke his hamate bone. The last thing the late-bloomer needs is time missed due to injury. While it’s not a massive setback, it does leave a bit of a gap in a very productive season.
Moncrief was extremely consistent overall this season after a first month of struggle. Like many of his partners in crime in Carolina, he really struggled in April, before rebounding as the temperature warmed up. The lowest average he had after his .194 month of April was .256 in July, while .271 was his highest month, in June. As you can see, his numbers were extremely consistent.
What you get with Moncrief is power and speed, combined with one of the best defensive outfield abilities in the entire system. Considering how raw a player he is tells you what kind of player he can be going forward. He has plus speed, and while many have him as a bit over average with that regard, he’s a demon on the basepaths, and is one of those guys that seems to play a lot faster than their times. I spent a lot of time watching him this year, and the bottom line is this: he is one of those rare players that has a knack for the game. He gets great jumps because he can read what’s going on at the plate. He pays attention, and utilizes every athletic gift that he has.
His ending numbers have some gaps. He hit only .249, and he struck out 126 times on the year, with only 46 walks. There were times when he showcased a bit more selectivity, but he struggled to maintain that. If he could mirror his month of June though, he would be a top five prospect overall in this system. In June, Moncrief had a slash line of .271/.378/.543, and stole five bases, without getting caught. He struck out 22 times, but walked 12 times to counterbalance his K-per-game approach.
He made massive strides this year, but next year is critical. Will his talent and ethic carry the day, or will his late start prove to be too much to overcome. Either way, it should be fun to watch.
#3: Tony Wolters
I’ve always been an extreme advocate in how important it is for prospects to go through periods of struggle. Clearly, I’m not talking about a season long, career-ending slump, but the type of struggle that Wolters experienced to start his 2012 season in High A.
You all know the story. Wolters, who has always been considered both a plus defender with plus fundamentals, skipped Low A Lake County this season. Through the month of April, Wolters was only hitting .130, and many outside the organization were calling for a demotion to get things right.
Through it all though, Wolters ethic never wavered, and it paid of ten-fold, as the plus defender began to make massive strides from May on. Let me put it this way: many thought Wolters would not only drop out of the IPI top ten, but perhaps fall out of the discussion as a top prospect. He doesn’t have a plus tool per se, and if his skills aren’t producing that consistent level he showed at Mahoning Valley last year, he loses his luster as a prospect. Of course, his year ended much higher than it started.
You could make a legit case that Wolters had a better season than his break-out 2011 campaign. He hit .281 from May 1st on, with 59 runs, 28 doubles, eight triples, eight homers and 51 RBI. The power was a surprise for sure, and had he started off the season a bit better than .130, he would have launched himself even higher than his #5 slot in 2011. Now, with several more toolsy prospects getting their first taste of Tribe baseball below him, he may still drop a bit when Tony ranks the players this season, but not far.
Wolters really has the mentality to be a major league player. He has a high baseball IQ, and the type of work ethic that makes good players great. It’s hard to tell where his ceiling is, as he seems to be the type of player that responds to whatever level is in front of him. Of course, Akron and Columbus bring a completely different set of challenges to Wolters, but after this year’s epic reboot, I have a feeling he’ll be up for the challenge.
#2: Ronny Rodriguez
Rodriguez started out his 2012 season in a similar fashion to many of the other players mentioned above not named Jesus Aguilar. He struggled out of the gate, hitting only .203 for the month of April, and while he had the tools to be a star, it appeared as though the Carolina League pitching was going to get the better of him. Thank goodness they actually play the games.
On May 3rd, Rodriguez was hitting .188, with one homer, and looked completely lost at the plate. From that point on though, he was a different player.
From that point on, Rodriguez led the Mudcats in hitting with a .282 average. In 102 games, he scored 60 runs, with 17 doubles and 18 homers, while driving in 56. He doesn’t strike out much, but at the same time, like Gio Urshela, he doesn’t walk much, as he only had a .317 OBP during that stretch, which is his one major knock going forward.
Rodriguez had the power surge this season that the Indians were hoping for. He hit seven homers in the month of August, and hit 19 all season, leading the Mudcats. That’s an impressive feat, considering there were several other players who seemed to have better power that came through Carolina. Granted, most were called up, but 19 homers for the diminutive shortstop is no small feat.
There is no doubt that Rodriguez is the top prospect overall with the Mudcats this year, but in my humble opinion, didn’t have the best season. That honor goes to a guy that perhaps was the biggest mover of any player in the system
#1: Giovanny Urshela
You have to remember, while we are talking about prospects here, this isn’t really a “top prospects” type of piece. This is a “what have you done lately” sort, where I’m looking at who did what for the Mudcats in 2012. Urshela, in my humble opinion, was their best player.
If you’ve followed IPI at all over the past couple of years, you know the take on Urshela: he’s a plus defender with a major league ready type of glove, but lacked the offense thusfar in his career to translate to a top prospect. He struggled with regards to bat speed, and that seemed to put a kibosh on his career heading forward. He had to make strides this season, or get swallowed up by a solid group of prospects below him.
Urshela’s bat was just starting to heat up at the end of April in 2012, when an injury stymied his season. He didn’t play in a game from April 29th until May 23rd, and when he returned, he struggled mightily at the plate. He hit .216 for the remainder of May, and it looked like Urshela was headed for a lost season.
Fast-forward to the end of the season, and Urshela actually led the Mudcats with a .278 average. So much for the lost season.
His average bottomed out at .227 on June 9th, and from that point on, he began to transform offensively. His slashline over his last 76 ballgames was an impressive .302/.324/.526, with 37 runs, 24 doubles, a triple and 13 homers. The Indians had been waiting for his power to develop, and he was in the top five in both doubles and homers over that stretch. In other words, his bat started to catch up with his glove. You have to wonder what kind of season he would have had had he not been injured in April. Heading into that injury, Urshela was 9-for-21. His impressive season could have been even better.
Of course, it was pretty good either way.
On Saturday, in a special Corner of Carnegie/Fishing for Mudcats piece, I’ll take a look at the Mudcats hitter and pitchers of the year, and take a look at their 2012 player of the year as well.
2012 Mudcats Awards:
Hitter of the Week Awards:
Pitcher of the Week Awards:
Player of the Week Awards:
Here Comes 2012:
April 5, 2013
Jim is currently the co-site editor, the ATF/Carolina Mudcats/Indians/General Site Columnist, and the co-host of IPI's weekly online radio show, Smoke Signals. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IPI, or contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.