Leading up to first pitch on the year against the Frederick Keys, it’s time to break down the things that will make the Carolina Mudcats one of the more interesting stories in baseball this year.
1. Starting from the bottom
The Mudcats placed last in the Carolina League’s Southern Division in 2016, finishing with a 52-87 record. If the Mudcats are going to make it to the postseason, they will need to have respectable records against both the Salem Red Sox and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
The Pelicans finished with an 82-57 record and won the Carolina league, while the Red Sox finished with a record of 87-52. The Mudcats did not fare very well against the two teams, finishing with a record of 14-32.
If they can get to a .500 record between the two clubs, it could set up the Mudcats to make a playoff push toward the end of the season.
2. Prospect-rich roster
Plenty of young and talented prospects are on the roster of the Mudcats, the Class-A Advanced affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Among the prospects are shortstop Isan Diaz, outfielder Trent Clark and third baseman Lucas Erceg, ranked the fifth, sixth and seventh-best Brewers-prospects by MLB.com respectively. The three are also ranked in the top 10 among Brewers prospects by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus.
Pitchers Marcos Diplan, Cody Ponce, Kodi Medeiros, Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burns and infielder Jake Gatewood were also ranked in the top-30 Brewers prospects by MLB.com.
Manager Joe Ayrault will have plenty of talent to mold into a solid roster or potential major-league starters down the line with the talent level of the prospects on the team.
3. New management
Speaking of Ayrault, the former Atlanta Braves prospect begins his first season with the Mudcats as manager after leading the Brevard County Manatees from 2012 to 2016. Ayrault also spent time managing the Sarasota Reds and Helena Brewers.
Ayrault has led teams to a winning record only twice in his 10 years as a manager, but one resulted in a Pioneer League Championship with the Brewers. The last two seasons, Ayrault had a record of 95-177 with the Brewers. It will be interesting to see how Ayrault will succeed with this talent-laden roster.
If the Mudcats are going to make any headway in the Carolina League, the team is going to have to improve its pitching. Of players who started more than 10 games, the Mudcats only had two pitchers finish with a record of .500 or better; the other three finished with a combined record of 10-34.
The top pitcher for the Mudcats, Matt Withrow, who had a 3.80 ERA, a 9-6 record and 131 strikeouts, is no longer with the team. He will need to be replaced.
With the depth of prospects on the pitching staff, the Mudcats can find a dependable starter.
The Mudcats begin their season Thursday at 7 p.m. and will be on the road for a week before the team’s home opener at Five-County Stadium