A couple weeks ago we found out that the Carolina Mudcats will no longer be the Cleveland Indians' High-A affiliate: starting next season, the Indians' High-A affiliate will be the Lynchburg Hillcats, while the Mudcats will be affiliated with the Atlanta Braves. Thus ends a relationship that begun 1987 when the franchise was in Kinston, North Carolina.
Still, it's not too big of a move. Lynchburg (VA), like Carolina (Zebulon, NC), is in the Carolina League, so it won't be a major logistical shift for the organization. What makes the Carolina League different from many other leagues is that there are only eight clubs in it. That leads to a schedule in which teams play each other all the time, especially intra-divisional matchups, so that clubs will make adjustments to opposing players as the season goes on, something that you don't really get in the 16-team Midwest League. The smallness of the league was one of the reasons the Indians kept Francisco Lindor in Carolina for most of the 2013 campaign.
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Several players had nice seasons, though no one really dominated the league. Yesterday Baseball America came out with their Top 20 prospects for the Carolina League, and though nobody made the list, a couple players are worth mentioning.
- Erik Gonzalez, who was added to the 40-man roster last winter, had a nice offensive line with Carolina before he was promoted to Akron. Given the shortstops ahead of him in the organization, a move to third base isn't far-fetched.
- Speaking of third base, Yandy Diaz made his US professional debut (he defected from Cuba a couple years ago) and the results were very encouraging. Despite missing a big chunk of the season to injury, he worked 49 walks, good for a top-ten finish in the league. Diaz should join Gonzalez in Akron next season.
- Jeremy Lucas had his best offensive season as a pro, and because earned more and more playing time as the season wore on.
- LeVon Washington, who has struggled to stay on the field, largely avoided the DL this season. He will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter, though I don't think the Indians will protect him with all the outfield prospects they've added to the organization in recent years.
- Luigi Rodriguez is also Rule 5-eligible, placing him in the boat as Washington. I think he's a prospect, but he has yet to see AA and the Indians actually have outfield depth now.
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Last year Carolina's pitching was awful, particularly the bullpen. This season, though, their pitching was a strength.
- Shawn Morimando returned for a second season in the rotation, and he improved on his very good 2013 numbers before a late-season promotion to Akron.
- Ryan Merritt was the workhorse of the staff, logging a league-high 160.1 innings and walking only 25 batters in those innings. Merritt doesn't throw that hard, but he's turned himself into a legitimate prospect.
- After dominating the Midwest League, Adam Plutko was promoted to Carolina at the end of May. His Carolina League numbers were more pedestrian, though this only his first season as a pro.
- Dylan Baker, who was Lake County's best starter a year ago, missed most of the season because of a broken leg, but he did return right at the end of the season and is the Tribe's designated starting pitcher in the Arizona Fall League.
- The trio of Jacob Lee, Josh Martin, and Grant Sides did an excellent job at the back end of the bullpen, though I'd only classify Sides as a prospect. Ben Heller, who certainly should be considered a prospect, joined the team in early July and pitched well despite walking 13 in only 16 innings.