Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Carolina Mudcats 2016 Preview

Swanson's a Mudcat in 2016
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Yesterday, I previewed the Rome Braves roster, which is full of prospects throughout. Today's team, the Carolina Mudcats, is not quite as impressive from a prospect standpoint, though the franchise's top prospect will start there. There are some good prospects throughout this team, though.

Staff - Rocket Wheeler (Manager), Jose Mota (Coach), Carlos Mendez (Hitting), Derrick Lewis (Pitching)
-Since 2003, Wheeler has been managing Braves affiliates with his longest tenure coming with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans for five seasons until 2010. He was at the helm of the 2008 squad that won 89 game behind the play of Ernesto Mejia, Tyler Flowers, and Scott Diamond. Now he's back in the Carolina League with the Mudcats. The rest of the coaching staff is unchanged from last season. Mendez played 16 professional years with a 26-game run with the Orioles in 2003 mixed in. After spending his final three years with Richmond, the career .296 minor league hitter retired and joined the organization as a coach in '08. Lewis, a 20th rounder in 1997, pitched as high as AAA with the Braves organization before retiring in 2003 and joining the Braves coaching ranks the year after. Mota was not part of the announced coaching staff, but is on Carolina's roster page. In a career spanning a dozen years, he made it to the majors twice in the 90's.

(L) - Left-handed Pitcher/Hitter
(B) - Switch-Hitter
(#number) - Where player ranked in my preseason Top 50 if applicable

Pitchers - Zach Bird (#16), Ryan Clark (#36), Enderson Franco, Chase Johnson-Mullins (L), Ryan Lawlor (L)
-Bird's placement is a mild surprise after Atlanta gave him three starts in AA after acquiring him in the Hector Olivera/Alex Wood exchange last July. A high-ceiling guy, Bird has great potential, but many question marks that have stunk with him since the Dodgers signed him out of Murrah High School in Jackson, Mississippi. Clark's an aggressive placement after being the Braves' fifth round pick last June. In 52.2 innings with Danville, he showed pinpoint control and kept the ball in the yard (4 K/BB, 2 HR allowed). An UNC-Greensboro alum, Clark could be a depth guy for the major league roster at some point in 2017. Picked up from the Marlins organization (he played with Houston and Tampa Bay before that), Franco is a 23-year old in his seventh year of minor league ball with zero innings above A-ball. Another aggressive placement, Johnson-Mullins was picked eight rounds after Clark. A reliever out of Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Johnson-Mullins walked too many batters last year, but if the 21 year-old southpaw throws strikes, he could be a good reliever for the Braves. Georgia Bulldog fans remember Lawlor, who the Braves also picked last June in the 8th round. He started 7 of 8 games for Danville last year and had a good strikeout rate of 8.2 per nine. He walked a few too many, but kept the ball in the yard.

Pitchers (cont'd) - Sean McLaughlin, Raimar Navarro (also sometimes Raymar), Wes Parsons, Evan Phillips, Max Povse (#21)
-Lawlor's teammate with Georgia and Danville last year, McLaughlin is one of the few 2015 picks to already have A-ball experience after finishing last year with 17.2 innings with Rome. Struck out nearly 10 batters for every nine innings thrown and had pretty stout control to match (3.4 K/BB). Navarro left Cuba in 2013 and was training with Hector Olivera for a time as he tried to find an MLB deal. Before defecting and signing with the Braves last August, he pitched in the Cuban National Series with Holguin from 2009-2012 mostly as a starter, though he was very very young to be pitching in Cuba's primer league. Now 24, his first game with Carolina will be his first one in the states. Parsons came on the scene with a big 2013 season at Rome after being signed as an undrafted free agent, but stagnated in 2014. He was also hurt and that would continue in 2015, when he pitched just 19.2 total innings including one start in Carolina before his season came to a close. There's a lot to like about Parsons when he's healthy and dealing. With any luck, we'll see some of that this year. A 17th rounder out of UNC-Wilmington last June, Phillips appeared in 12 games with Rome after less than a month with Danville. The righty, who was also drafted by the Royals in 2012, had big strikeout numbers last year (11.2 per nine). Povse started last year with a dozen good starts in Rome before earning a callup to Carolina where everything came off the rails. After less than a month there, it became apparent something was wrong. Povse's season whimpered to a close in late July. The 6'8" behemoth will try to right the ship in 2016.

Pitchers (cont'd) - Zach Quintana, Carlos Salazar, Richie Tate (suspended), Matt Withrow
-Quick question: who did the Braves get in the Kyle Wren trade? If you guessed Zach Quintana, way to follow the format I'm doing here. Quintana was a third rounder by the Brewers in 2012, but had never found success until last year. It wasn't great success, but they got him to throw a lot more strikes and his lowered his walk rate from about 4.5 per nine to 2 per nine. He was a nice swingman for Rome - a role he might serve for Carolina. A 2013 third rounder out of Kerman, California, Salazar is kind of repeating a level after finishing 2015 with ten games in Carolina. The 21 year-old has always shown strikeout potential, but doesn't always know where the ball is going. Richie Tate got suspended for the second consecutive season after testing positive for a "drug of abuse." MLB defines cocaine, opiates, PCP, and cannabis as drugs of abuse and this is Tate's third overall suspension. Tate will miss over half of the year with a 100-game suspension and hasn't built much goodwill with a poor performance on the mound as well. With his brother Chris Withrow in Gwinnett, Matt Withrow joins Clark, Johnson-Mullins, and Lawlor in skipping Rome to begin his first full season in the system with Carolina. He started 13 games for Danville last year with a decent K/BB rate of 2.2.

Catchers - Tanner Murphy (#47), Joseph Odom
-If the Braves didn't have both Lucas Herbert and Jonathan Morales deserving promotions to Rome, Murphy likely would have been given a chance to improve upon his .193/.277/.312 stinker of a year he posted in the South Atlantic League last year. But things being as they are, Murphy will have to re-establish himself in High-A while playing in the Carolina League, which is much harder to hit in than other high-A leagues. The previous year, he showed some good on-base skills and pop (.361 OBP, .147 ISO) to match his great defense. A return to form would be great. Odom has been with the Braves' Carolina League affiliate for two years already. He's a caddy for the starter.

Infielders - Jordan Edgerton (#46), Reed Harper, Joey Meneses, Omar Obregon (B), Dansby Swanson (#1)
-Edgerton carried a little hype heading into 2015, but it eroded with a .245/.290/.317 season in Rome. Like Murphy, if he is to redeem himself, he will have to do it while moving up to high-A. Harper played 82 games with Carolina last year and OPS'd .549, which brought his career OPS down to .608. He can sub all over the infield, though. Meneses memorably OPS'd .850 with Rome in 2014 while hitting for the cycle, but struggled badly in Carolina last year. He can play the outfield, though Carolina is pretty good there. Obregon has a decent glove and speed, but is raw (19 CS in 50 attempts) and has zero power (.039 career ISO). It was a bit of a surprise to see Ozhaino Albies skip Carolina and Dansby Swanson start the year there instead. While the narrative suggested the Braves wanted to keep the duo separate for now to allow them to both play shortstop, with Swanson's competitive college experience and age, it was assumed he would start ahead of Albies. Guess not. Easily one of the most dynamic offensive players not only for Carolina, but in the Carolina League, the excitement for Swanson is huge right now. Fans have been spoiled by the quick ascension of many college players but if Swanson takes more time, that's not a bad thing. Let him develop at his own speed. He's going to be a good one.

Outfielders - Keith Curcio (L, #38), Joseph Daris (L, #40), Braxton Davidson (L, #12), Ryan Gebhardt, Sean Godfrey
-Curcio earned a promotion to Carolina last year after a .343/.416/.479 slash in 32 games with Rome. The results in Carolina were not nearly as exciting, but a .265/.327/.369 triple slash from a player in his first full season - who was also being shifted to second base at times - is acceptable. He played almost all-outfield in winter ball so I assume the 2B experiment was taken out back and shot. Curcio left Daris in Rome and the latter was given the full season to slash .272/.336/.396 - a significant improvement over his first year where he struggled in rookie ball. Daris also nearly pulled off a nerdy feat. Until the final few weeks, he had more triples than doubles, but finished with 13 doubles and 12 triples. He also stole 23 out of 30 bases. Davidson's in-game power started to show more in 2015 than the year before (.132 ISO) but it's still not in line with his projected power output. Love his patience at the plate and I think more power will come. I'm more interested to see if he stays in the outfield or if the Braves eventually move him to first. 2015 was the season of change for Gebhardt. He began the year with AA-Mobile, was demoted to low-A Kane County, promoted to high-A Visalia, demoted back to Kane County, released, signed with Long Island of the independent Atlantic League, purchased by the Braves, assigned to Rome, and then finished the year with three games in Carolina. He saw more states in six months than many of us see in a lifetime. He also found time to pitch a game. Though labelled an outfielder here, he's only played there once so far. Like Bird, Godfrey has to be disappointed with beginning this season back in Carolina. The 22nd rounder out of Ball State opened last year with the Mudcats and hit .304 over 62 games, earning a promotion to Mississippi where he hit like a decent-hitting pitcher (.194/.232/.272). Godfrey was a fun pick in 2014 because he went from drafted to Danville to Rome to Lynchburg within the span of a few months. Now, he's hanging on by a thread to his dreams of being an Atlanta Brave.

Pay to see: Povse, Swanson, Davidson.

Keep an eye on: Bird, Clark, Parson, Murphy, Curcio.

As 2016 begins, Carolina has a little star power with Swanson and Davidson, but not much beyond that. Promotions will change that as the season progresses. If you can catch Carolina play this year, do so early to make sure you get to see Swanson up close. I am going to try to see a few games with the Mudcats and Hillcats in early May for that exact reason.

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