The Carolina Mudcats are celebrating their 25th season at Five County Stadium. Though the original Mudcats moved to Pensacola, Fla., in 2011, a different ownership retained the name, and its rather sparkling history was also preserved through the affiliations of now five franchises.
With the help of writer J. Clay Best and assistant sports editor Chris Wright, we dived into the Mudcats’ 25-year history and selected an all-time lineup. If this were a fantasy team, the name might be Miggy’s Mudcats, in honor of the franchise’s greatest player: two-time A.L. MVP Miguel Cabrera.
Cabrera is the only likely Hall of Famer but not the only Mudcat who developed into a major league All-Star. These selections do not include rehab stints and are influenced by the player’s production with the Mudcats and in the major leagues.
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Outfielder: Juan Pierre (2000 with Mudcats). Pierre stole bases (46) and hit for average as a Mudcat, masking what he did for six teams in 14 seasons in MLB. Pierre had 22 hits in 17 playoff games, setting the table for the Marlins’ 2003 World Series championship.
Second base: Tony Womack (1993, 1995). Like many on this list, Womack’s career was a reflection of his time in Carolina. He stole more than 20 bases in each of his two seasons before moving on to the major leagues, where he won the world championship in 2001 with Arizona.
Third base: Miguel Cabrera (2003). The most talented and decorated player to come through Zebulon, Cabrera mashed in the Double A Southern League before getting called up straight to the Marlins, where he was a key cog in a World Series championship over the Yankees. Just 20, he homered off Roger Clemens in Game 4, after hitting three homers in the NLCS. His numbers in 69 games with the Mudcats – 1.038 OPS, .365 average, 29 doubles, 10 home runs, 59 RBIs, 9 stolen bases – foreshadowed a Hall of Fame career in the majors.
Outfielder: Matt Holliday (2002). Given what he has done in MLB – seven All-Star appearances, a World Series title, etc., – Holliday was comparatively light-hitting as a Mudcat, with a .766 OPS and 10 home runs in 130 games in 2002. His worst OPS for a season in the majors was last season, at .811. He’d hit fourth behind Cabrera in an alumni game, though.
Outfielder: Todd Frazier (2009). The reigning home run derby king hit 14 as a full-time Mudcat in 2009, playing more games in left field than at his current position, third base, where he played four times.
DH/utility: Josh Willingham (2003-2004). He has the most single-season home runs with the Mudcats of anyone on this list (24 in 2004) and he played five positions to boot, though he caught 78 games in 2004.
First base: Neftali Soto (2011). Soto was the star of the Mudcats’ final season in the Southern League, hitting 30 home runs in 102 games in Zebulon. He has not caught on with the Reds’ big league team – Joey Votto halts his progress at first base – and has been spending a lot of time in Louisville.
Catcher: Jason Kendall (1994-1995). Kendall’s 1995 season (.324 average) vaulted him into the category of an elite catching prospect which he fulfilled with three All-Star nods in his first five seasons in Pittsburgh.
Shortstop: Francisco Lindor (2013). Lindor, 21, is the youngest member on this team, not even as old as the Mudcats’ franchise. He showed up in Zebulon with a reputation as a slick-fielding shortstop whose lofty prospect status was rivaled only by Cabrera. He earned the ratings, too – 27 stolen bases and a .306 batting average in 83 games.
Starter: Josh Johnson (2005). As a 21-year-old in Double-A, Johnson went 12-4 with a 3.87 ERA. The next season, Johnson finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting with the Marlins before struggling with arm issues in 2007 and 2008.
Starter: Dontrelle Willis (2003). Like Cabrera, Willis made the jump straight to Miami and keyed the World Series run. The Mudcats got the luxury of six starts by Willis, who was 21 when he went 4-0 with a 1.49 ERA, all while thrilling fans with his signature high leg kick.
Starter: Travis Wood (2009). For a full-time starter, Wood may have the group’s best numbers. He went 9-3 with a 1.21 ERA and a 0.966 WHIP in 119 innings in 2009. An uneven major league career has left his status in flux as a full-time major league rotation guy.
Reliever: Brad Boxberger (2010-2011). It was a tale of two seasons: an 8.49 ERA in 2010 and a 1.31 ERA in 2011 were on the opposite ends of the spectrum. He has found a niche as a closer with Tampa Bay, but his year-to-year consistency will shape the rest of his career.
Tracy Woodson (2003). The former N.C. State star who played 65 games for the 1988 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers also presided over the 2003 Southern League Champions featuring Cabrera, Willingham, Willis and others.