The Carolina Mudcats will hitch their hopes to a veteran rocket ship this spring, with assistance from two returning coaches.
The Atlanta Braves announced their minor league field staff assignments earlier this month, naming Ralph “Rocket” Wheeler as the skipper for the affiliate club which plays at Five County Stadium in Zebulon.
Both pitching coach Derrick Lewis and hitting coach Carlos Mendez return to the Cats’ dugout, while trainer Nick Flynn rounds out the Mudcats’ 2016 field staff assignments.
Wheeler managed the Danville Braves in 2015 and is entering his 14th season overall as a manager in the Braves organization. He previously managed the Gulf Coast League Braves from 2011-14, the Mississippi Braves in 2011, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans from 2006-10 and the Rome Braves from 2003-05.
Wheeler has amassed a 1,257-1,349 (.482) record over his 23-year minor league managerial career. His assignment to the Mudcats marks his second as manager of the Braves High-A affiliate. He earned Baseball America Minor League Manager of the Year honors in 2008 after leading the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to a franchise record 89 regular season wins. He also won the Carolina League Manager of the Year award that same season.
The Braves named Wheeler their Minor League Manager of the Year in 2003 after he lead Rome to the South Atlantic League Championship. Wheeler previously spent 26 seasons (1977-2002) in the Toronto Blue Jays organization as a player, coach and manager.
Lewis is in his 13th season with the Braves and his third at the High-A level. He has also coached the Lynchburg Hillcats (2011-2014), Rome Braves (2008-2010), Danville Braves (2004-2007) and the Gulf Coast League Braves (2004-2007).
Mendez enters his third season at the High-A level and his ninth overall in the Braves system. He joined the Braves organization in 2008 as a hitting instructor for Danville and remained with the rookie level Braves through 2010. Mendez later took over as hitting coach in Rome from 2011 to 2012. In 2013, he worked as the hitting coach of the Gulf Coast League Braves before returning to again Danville in 2014.
Flynn is in his first season as the Mudcats’ trainer. He comes to the Braves organization after serving the previous two seasons as the trainer for Tampa Bay’s Single-A affiliate.
Two former Cats get Spring Training invites: Pitcher Lucas Sims and catcher Joseph Odom were listed among the 27 non-roster invitees chosen by the Atlanta Braves to participate in Spring Training at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. beginning in February. Both Sims and Odom played for the Mudcats in 2015.
Sims, 21, began the 2015 season with the Mudcats and eventually moved on to Double-A Mississippi despite a lengthy stint on the disabled list following the bus accident last May.
His 2015 Carolina League run saw him post a 3-4 record and a 5.18 ERA over nine starts. The former first-round pick (2012, 21st overall) later went on to go 4-2 with a 3.21 ERA over nine starts with the Mississippi Braves before the season concluded.
Odom, 23, established career highs in home runs, doubles, hits and RBI in 2015. In 65 games played, the Mudcats’ catcher amassed a total of 48 hits with 24 of those going for extra bases.
Sims and Odom were also invited to play in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League following the 2015 season.
The full list of non-roster players invited by the Braves to 2016 Spring Training additionally includes infielders Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson and outfielder Braxton Davidson, all who have yet to play at or above the Advanced A level.
Muddy’s Buddies program to debut: The Mudcats’ new Muddy’s Buddies program is available to children ages 12 and younger and consists of two levels of membership options, the Rookie and All-Star packages.
A Muddy’s Buddies rookie membership is free and includes a membership ID card, a box seat ticket to all Sunday Muddy’s Buddies games (10 total games, excludes July 3), a special birthday e-mail from Muddy and an exclusive e-newsletter for members.
The Muddy’s Buddies All-Star level membership is only $15 and features a membership ID card, a box seat ticket to all Sunday Muddy’s Buddies games (10 total games, excludes July 3), a Muddy’s Buddies t-shirt, a meet and greet with Mudcats players, a 10 percent off kids apparel coupon for the Tackle Box team store (one time use), one free speed pitch pass and one free prize wheel spin to be used on a Muddy’s Buddies Day, a special birthday e-mail from Muddy and an exclusive e-newsletter for members.
For more information, contact the Mudcats at 919-269-2287 or visit carolinamudcats.com.