Mudcats Notebook: 2014 season in review
The Carolina Mudcats third season as the Advanced-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians came to an end on Monday. Finishing at 33-36 in the second half and 62-74 overall, the Mudcats failed to make the playoffs in the Carolina League.
There were several surprises throughout the season on the field. Some players were better than expected, some were not as good as expected, and others put on performances words almost cannot describe.
Here is my take on the stars of the year for the Mudcats on the field during the 2014 season.
Game of the Year: July 19th – Carolina 17, Myrtle Beach 2
This Saturday night game was special for a number of reasons. Carolina set a season high in runs scored and hits in a game, both numbers that would hold throughout the rest of the season. Every player in the Mudcats lineup that night recorded a hit. Left hander Ryan Merritt picked up his 10th win of the year, but the star of that game was Jerrud Sabourin. On this night, Sabourin hit for the cycle, something that had not been done by a Mudcat since 2002. Sabourin’s cycle was just the 18th in the minors this year at the time. Alex Monsalve almost joined Sabourin’s historic performance, but fell a triple shy of the cycle.
Pitcher of the Year: Ryan Merritt
Merritt was simply masterful all year long. He went 13-3 with a 2.58 ERA in 25 starts. His 13 wins were the most by a Mudcats’ hurler since 2000, and his ERA ranked third in the Carolina League this season. Merritt also led all pitchers at the Advanced-A level with a 0.95 WHIP. Perhaps his most telling statistic was his strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 160.1 innings pitched, Merritt struck out 127 batters, but allowed only 25 free passes on the year. Being able to put his pitches where he wanted them and pitching to contact really helped Merritt turn a corner this year much like Cody Anderson did for the Mudcats in 2013.
Newcomer of the Year: D.J. Brown
Coming into 2014, Brown thought he would be working only out of the bullpen; however, when Dylan Bakerfractured his right ankle prior to his second start of the season, Brown was forced into action as a full-time starter on April 13th. His numbers might not have been very impressive, 3-8 with a 4.51 ERA, but for someone that had no idea they would be starting every fifth day, Brown did an exceptional job.
Defensive Player of the Year: Erik Gonzalez
Before the 2014 season began, Erik Gonzalez was rated as having the strongest infield arm and the best third baseman in the Indians farm system. Even though he spent most of his time at shortstop this season, Gonzalez was able to show what all the hype was about as he consistently made dazzling plays to record outs and save runs. The organization clearly values Gonzalez as a prospect, as he was added to the 40-man roster following the 2013 season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. A promotion to Double-A showed how much he has grown since joining Cleveland at just 17 in 2008.
Comeback Player of the Year: Todd Hankins
The 2013 season started with much promise for Todd Hankins before a broken wrist derailed his year. After missing the majority of the year due to the injury, Hankins rehabbed with Lake County to close 2013 and was promoted back to Carolina to begin 2014. Even though he started the season slowly, Hankins broke out in May, batting .318 in the month. Hankins finished the season at .258 with five home runs and 42 RBIs. He also proved to be a strong utility player, spending time at shortstop, second base, third base and spent most of the second half as the Mudcats every day center fielder where he shined.
Reliever of the Year: Jacob Lee
Prior to 2014, Lee was viewed as a starting pitching prospect, but was converted to a bullpen arm after being limited to just 11 games in 2013. Lee was spectacular out of the bullpen all year, pitching 72.1 innings in 41 appearances with just one spot start. He was also undefeated on the season, going 4-0 with a 2.99 ERA. This season, Lee positioned himself as a legitimate bullpen prospect.
Hitter of the Year: Jeremy Lucas
The Carolina League is notorious for being a pitcher’s league, but Jeremy Lucas showed if you have the ability, you can show off your hitting acumen in any league. Over 101 games, Lucas batted .267, which was third on the team, but led the team in home runs (12), RBI (58) and runs scored (62). Offensively, Lucas showed he has the potential to be a terrific offensive catcher.
Team MVP: Ryan Merritt
Could there really be anyone else? Merritt gave the Mudcats a legitimate chance to win every time he took the mound. At this level of baseball, there are bound to be breakout players, players that show they have Major League potential. While there were obviously other players that showed they can make it in the big leagues, Merritt proved to the Indians franchise he has the stuff to be a top pitcher for years to come.
Zachary is a senior at NC State where he is majoring in communication-media, with minors in journalism and theatre. You can follow him on Twitter @RealZachFrancis.
Going to be a lot of guys in the mix to start at Carolina and Lake County. I expect 7-8 starters at both places with a lot of piggyback situations.
Baker - Lugo - Brown - Clevinger- Milbrath / Kime