Mudcats Notebook: Hankins is showing versatility, performance
The Carolina Mudcats started off the week by getting swept in a double header by the Wilmington Blue Rocks, which accurately summed up the week for the team. Carolina only managed two wins on the week, going 2-6.
After the double header sweep, the Mudcats picked up a victory in the finale of their series against the Blue Rocks and won the opening contest of a four-game series against the first place Myrtle Beach Pelicans. However, that would be the only win in the series for Carolina as they dropped the final three in the series. With a loss in the opener of a three game set against Wilmington, the Mudcats have now tied a season high with a four game skid.
This week, the Mudcats finish their series against the Blue Rocks before they travel to Myrtle Beach for a four game set. The team finishes the week back in Zebulon for the first contest of the season against the Winston Salem Dash.
Player Spotlight: Todd Hankins
Some of the most under-appreciated men on the diamond are the players that can play anywhere: utility players. Every team has them. From Tony Phillips, to Mark DeRosa, to Ben Zobrist, these guys can play anywhere on the diamond. For the Carolina Mudcats, that man is Todd Hankins.
Hankins says he feels comfortable playing almost anywhere on the field and sees it as one of the best parts of his game.
“I’ve kind of gotten used to not knowing exactly where I’m going to play every day,” Hankins said. “It’s my third year playing multiple positions. I feel pretty comfortable playing all of the outfield positions as well as second, third, and possibly even shortstop. It’s one of the good qualities about my game. Having the ability to play infield one day and outfield the next is a good feeling, knowing the team can put you anywhere to help them win.”
Hankins had a difficult start to the season, batting around .200 for a majority of the first month and a half. However, he has recently started to pick up his play, upping his batting average to .243. While still not great, that is still quite the improvement.
Just staying with his approach and grinding out at-bats has allowed Hankins to turn his season around offensively.
“I’m just going up and staying with the same approach,” Hankins said. “I did have a rough start to the season, as long as I can stay in there and put together good at-bats, I should have some success. Recently, that’s been working out for me.”
Mudcats manager Scooter Tucker says the key to Hankins’ success is when he doesn’t try to do too much.
“When Todd is more selective at the plate, he has a lot more success, like anybody," Tucker said. "His biggest problem is when he tries to do too much with a pitch. When he doesn’t do that, he can have some really successful at-bats."
Much of Hankins success has come since a short trip to Triple-A Columbus. Though he only played two games with the club, he was able to practice with and take batting practice with the roster and learn from older, more experienced players.
“It was nice, like a little mini vacation for a few days,” Hankins said. “I got to see what it was like there in Triple-A and it’s motivated me to work harder from seeing all those guys up there and what they do on a daily basis.”
Whether in the infield or the outfield, Hankins consistently plays strong defense, and he says, his athleticism is a big reason for that.
“My athleticism is part of the reason I’m still playing today," Hankins said. "I’m pretty athletic, which allows me to make plays that aren’t necessarily routine. It’s always something I’ve prided myself on.”
Tucker said while Hankins makes plays that aren’t necessarily every day plays, he’s not really that surprised when he is able to get an out on any play.
“He is so athletic,” Tucker said. “Some of the things he can do in the field, you’re in awe of some of the things he can do, but you’re not really surprised by it.”
Early in the 2013 season, Hankins was forced to take a trip to the disabled list, as he suffered a broken wrist. The injury forced Hankins to miss nine weeks of the season, which he says was difficult to sit and watch the team, but it gave him motivation to come back this season at the top of his game.
“I spent a lot of time in the off-season training and making sure I was in the best shape possible,” Hankins said. “I wanted to be able to come out this season and play almost every day and stay healthy. That’s one of my main goals this year, to not miss any time. So far, so good. Fingers crossed.”
Whether he is playing in the infield or the outfield, Hankins is having a bounce back season. It might not have started the way he wanted it to, but he is certainly making the changes necessary to turn that around.
Player of the Week
Ryan Merritt (LHP): 2 GS, 1-1, 14.1 IP, 12 H, 4 R (3 ER), 2 BB, 9 K
Merritt has had a marvelous season up to this point, and this week was no different. On Thursday, Merritt had the longest outing of a Mudcats pitcher this season, going 7.1 innings and allowing only two runs, one earned, on six hits and two walks. As he picked up the win, he took sole possession, at that point, of the Carolina League lead in wins, with six on the season. Tuesday night’s game was more of the same, as he didn’t allow a run until the 7th inning. Though he allowed only two runs in the game, he absorbed his second loss of the season because the Mudcats were unable to manufacture any runs to back his strong outing. If Merritt keeps on the pace he has set for himself thus far, a promotion to Double-A Akron is a distinct possibility before season’s end.
Todd Hankins (INF/OF): 9-33, 4 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 0 BB, 8 K
After returning to the Mudcats from a short stint in Triple-A, Hankins has been on a tear offensively. Only batting around .200 all season, Hankins has worked his average up to .243. In a week short on offense, Hankins provided, scoring four runs and driving in three of his own. He also hit his fourth home run and his second triple of the year.
Shawn Morimando (LHP): 1 GS, 0-0, 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K
The ace of the Mudcats staff has been matching Merritt start for start this year. Though Morimando was unable to tie Merritt’s mark with his sixth win of the season, he did have a strong showing in his lone start of the week, allowing only two runs on four hits and three walks. Had the bullpen and defense not blown the lead after Morimando’s exit, he would have picked up his sixth victory of the year.
Cole Sulser (RHP): 1 GS, 1-0, 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K
Sulser has had a difficult first season in the Carolina League, but has begun to turn things around as of late. When Sulser took the mound this week, he was winless on the season, but now has his first victory of the season, over Myrtle Beach, the best team in the Carolina League no less. Sulser also set a new career high with nine strikeouts in his start against Myrtle Beach.
On the Hook
Louis Head (RHP): 2 G, 0-2, 2.2 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 BS
Until May 21st, Head had gone over a month since surrendering his last run on April 14th. That was the lone run Head had surrendered all season. In two appearances this week however, Head gave up four runs, two in each appearance. Though Head was tied for the Carolina League lead with eight saves, he blew his first save of the season in game one of a doubleheader on May 21st, squandering a brilliant start by Clayton Cook.
Yhoxian Medina (SS): 11-27, 4 R, 2 2B, 5 BB, 5 K
Though Medina filled in admirably at the plate during Erik Gonzalez's stint on the disabled list, his defensive short comings got the best of him this week as he committed three errors on the week and had several other plays that should have been made that he simply was unable to make.
Anthony Gallas (OF): 2-25, 1 R, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 8 K
It was a given Gallas would slow down sooner or later. Gallas is currently in the midst of an awful slump, spanning two weeks. At one point, Gallas was batting nearly .340 on the season, but his batting average has now dipped below .300. This week, he recorded twice as many strikeouts than he did successful plate appearances. Gallas also recorded one game that no batter ever wants to see in the box score next to their name: 0-3 with three strikeouts.
Jeremy Lucas (C): 4-23, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 4 BB, 5 K
In a week where offense was at a premium for the Mudcats, Lucas just didn’t deliver. Though he reached base eight times on the week, it was his inability to drive in people that were on base ahead of him. Other than his two-run homer, Lucas drove in just one other run on the week, even though he consistently came to bat with runners on base or in scoring position.
Fish Swimming Around
Hankins was optioned back to Carolina on Wednesday, just 24 hours after being promoted to Triple-A Columbus. Hankins was told the promotion was to be very short term, and it was because of movement with the big league club. On Tuesday, Torsten Boss was sent to Low-A Lake County. Fresh off of the disabled list, outfielder Ollie Linton was promoted to Double-A Akron.
Fish on the Line
The Carolina Mudcats are beginning to get healthy, something that plagues so many teams at the start of every new season. Shortstop Erik Gonzalez was activated off the disabled list with his left middle finger sprain healed. Linton, was also activated off the disabled list, but will not be with the Mudcats as he was assigned to Akron upon his activation. Now, there are just three players on the Mudcats disabled list, with infielders Joe Sever and Yandy Diazand pitcher Dylan Baker.
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.