Carolina Mudcats start season strong with young shortstop prospects

CorrespondentApril 6, 2012 

  • Class: A Advanced affiliate of the Cleveland Indians

    League: Carolina League

    Tickets: Premium field level, $11; box seats, $10; reserved field level, $9; general admission, $6; Cattails skybox, $12.50. Children 3-and-under admitted free; children 4-6, $3.

  • When: 7:15 p.m. Friday

    Where: Five County Stadium, Zebulon.

    Tickets: 919-269-2287, carolinamudcats.com

    Radio: WDWG-98.5

The top-rated prospects on the Carolina Mudcats’ roster play the same position. But when that position is shortstop, it’s a bonus.

Tony Wolters, rated the No. 7 prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization by Baseball America, and Ronny Rodriguez, No. 13 on the list, will both play up the middle in for Friday’s season opener against the Winston-Salem Dash.

“They know how to play the game,” Mudcats' manager Edwin Rodriguez said Tuesday. “They bring a lot of energy to the field.”

Having two guys with the skills to play shortstop in the lineup at the same time will help make the Mudcats stronger on defense. And it will be a plus to get experience at two positions, both players said.

“I think it is going to help me,” said Wolters, a 2010 third-round draft pick out of high school in Vista, Calif. “(I can) really find out who I am as a baseball player. Going back and forth will really help me and give me a test to see if I can do it.”

Wolters just wants to be on the field.

“I’ll play anywhere,” he said. “My role is to help us win ball games and be the ‘Energizer Bunny’ of the team.”

Ronny Rodriguez agrees with Wolters. With Francisco Lindor, the organization’s No. 1 prospect, a shortstop at a lower level, being able to get some time at both positions could be important for Wolters and Rodriguez.

“We can’t play the same position at the same time, so it doesn’t matter,” Rodriguez said. “I just have to play my game and let Cleveland think about what position I should play.”

Manager

Edwin Rodriguez, 51, was the first Puerto Rican to manage in the Major Leagues when he managed the Florida Marlins to a 78-85 record over parts of the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Rodriguez is returning to the Mudcats – he was the team’s hitting coach in 2004. An infielder, Rodriguez played 22 games in the major leagues for the Yankees and Padres from 1982-1985, batting .227.

Pitching coach

Scott Erickson, a former University of Arizona right-hander from Long Beach, Calif., made a quick rise to the major leagues with the Minnesota Twins, reaching the big leagues in his second professional season in 1990. He helped the Twins win the 1991 World Series, leading the majors in wins in a 20-8 season. Erickson also pitched the first no-hitter in the Metrodome on April 27, 1994. Erickson finished his major league career with a 142-136 record and a 4.59 ERA.

Top prospects

Tony Wolters, SS/2B: Rated the No. 7 prospect in the Indians organization by Baseball America. Wolters, 19, is in his third minor league season. He hit .292 in his first full season in 2011 at Class A Mahoning Valley, with 19 stolen bases and a league-leading 50 runs scored.

Ronny Rodriguez, SS/2B: Rated the No. 13 prospect in the Indians organization by Baseball America. He will turn 20 on April 17. Last year, in his second professional season, Rodriguez hit .245 at Class A Lake County with 11 homer runs.

Mike Rayl, LHP: Rated the No. 17 prospect in Indians organization by Baseball America, Rayl has a 9-14 record with a 3.39 ERA in three pro seasons.

Jesus Aguilar, 1B: Rated the No. 25 Indians prospect by Baseball America. Aguilar, 21, a 6-foot-3, 241-pounder, hit 23 homer runs and had 82 RBIs in his combined time between Class A teams Lake County and Kinston last season.

Outlook

Manager Edwin Rodriguez likes the look of his team.

“We are going to be very talented,” Rodriguez said. “I know everybody says that at the beginning of the season. But I’ve been around, and if not, I would tell you, you know, ‘We’re going to be all right, going to battle.’

“But we’ve got a lot of talent.”

The Mudcats, who are beginning their first season in the Class A Advanced Carolina League after spending their first 21 seasons in North Carolina as a Double-A team, will have a prospect-laden infield with Ronny Rodriguez and Wolters splitting time at shortstop and second base and Aguilar at first base.

“The whole infield, they are 19, 20, 21 and have a lot of energy,” Edwin Rodriguez said. “They can play defense, but they can also bring offense.”

Jake Lowery, who is rated as the Indians’ No. 27 prospect by Baseball America, will catch. The outfield should be led by Carlos Moncrief, who hit 16 homers last season at Lake County.

Right-hander Clayton Cook is slated to start the opener Friday. Dale Dickerson, who spent 2011 with Double-A Akron, and T.J. House will handle closer duties.

“The pitching is going to be good,” Rodriguez said. “The bullpen is going to be our strength. The pitchers in the rotation know how to pitch.”

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