Garner Cleveland: Sports

Four Mudcats set for All-Star experience

David Wallace says maybe it’s his fault.

The Carolina Mudcats will send four players including three elected starters to Tuesday’s California League-Carolina League All-Star Game in San Jose, Calif.

But they’re also going to finish the first half in last place in the league.

“I think I need to manage better, apparently,” Wallace said with a chuckle. “I’ve got four all-stars. I was talking to Vance Wilson over at Wilmington and he’s got one, and they’re up there at the top.”

Actually the Blue Rocks were last in the Northern Division through Friday at 32-36, but they would have been right in the Southern Division race. The Mudcats, meanwhile, were 21-46.

But heading to San Jose is the nucleus of the club as well as its ace starting pitcher.

The Mudcats’ two first-round draft picks – shortstop Francisco Lindor and center fielder Tyler Naquin – were chosen to start along with first baseman Jerrud Sabourin. And right-hander Cody Anderson will pitch for the Carolina League.

Wallace said all four should have been easy selections.

“I think Lindor is the best player in this league,” the manager said. “He goes out and plays hard and doesn’t take anything for granted. He knows he’s got a hard road and hard work in front of him and he’s willing to do it. That’s why he’s one of the leaders on this team.

“Naquin is probably the best minor-league center fielder I’ve played with or seen at this level. … He’s very grounded, and you don’t always see that in guys who are as successful and talented as he is.”

The skipper was also impressed with the selections that weren’t high on everyone’s draft list.

“Sabourin is a great story,” Wallace said. “He wasn’t drafted and he’s earned every bit of respect he’s gotten and really put himself on the map with his professionalism and the way he plays first base. His at-bats are really professional at-bats.

“Cody hasn’t pitched that much, but we like his body, his frame, his arm and everything. He just needs to become more of a pitcher instead of just a thrower and he’s doing that. He’s listening to Jeff (pitching coach Harris) and is really starting to think more on the mound.”

It’s the first trip to an all-star game for Naquin and Sabourin, while Lindor and Anderson played in the Midwest League game for the Lake County Captains last season.

“I’d advise the new guys to just enjoy it,” said Lindor, the Cleveland Indians’ first-round pick (eighth overall) in 2011 who was hitting .296 with a homer, 21 RBI and 15 steals through 67 games. “It’s a great experience, definitely a cool experience.

“We haven’t had a great first half (as a team), but what counts is what we do in September. Last year we made a big turnaround. We became more of a team. We were all pulling for each other and picking each other up. We’re not stressing. I know we’re going to turn it around.”

Naquin said he’s very excited for the all-star opportunity.

“We’re going to go up there and play hard,” said Naquin, the Indians’ 15th pick in the first round last season who was hitting .308 with six homers and 27 RBI. “I get a chance to be in the home-run derby so we’ll see what happens.

“You can’t complain when you see our guys play. Francisco makes tremendous plays at shortstop. Sabourin swings the bat as well as anybody in the league and is a great first baseman, picking stuff. Cody, obviously, is a big right-handed power pitcher who can overpower people.”

Californians Sabourin and Anderson both say they look forward to playing close to home.

“I’m super excited to be going to the West Coast,” said the San Diego native Sabourin, who was hitting .314 with three homers and 27 RBI. “My parents and my uncle and a couple of my friends are going to be there. It’s kind of cool. We get to see how the talent in that league compares to us.

“The selection is huge for me personally. I’ve been able to stay consistent, and I think we’re becoming a good team. It speaks volumes that we have three starters in the game. The talent is definitely there. We’ve been unlucky and lost a lot of one-run games. But I think it’s going to turn around in the second half.”

Anderson, a Quincy, Calif., native, was picked in the 14th round in 2011 and was 6-3 with a 2.65 ERA.

“I live about 4 ½ hours away, so my family will be there,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be pretty neat.”