Jim "Mudcat" Grant, not a Carolina Mudcat (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Following up on my post from Wednesday, here is an early season recap of what is going on in the lower half of Cleveland's full season minor league affiliates.
Carolina is not quite as prospect-laden as Lake County, but is perhaps more interesting because of the number of kind-of/could-be good prospects on the roster. This includes guys like mammoth first baseman Jesus Aguilar, last year's Lake County breakout star, but a guy who is universally regarded as a limited, bat-only prospect. Thus far, however, his bat has played...leading the Mudcats with a .345/.418/.500 line, with acceptable BB and K peripherals. Carolina is also home to my favorite darkhorse prospect, Carlos Moncrief. Moncrief has good power (.195 ISO), patience (18% BB-rate) and speed, but his biggest question is whether he can make consistent enough contact. He is one example of a guy where batting average is informative, and in his .196/.333/.391 triple-slash line, it is that first number that is the big problem. Ronny Rodriguez is a more highly regarded toolsy prospect, whose placement at Carolina might be viewed as fairly aggressive. His line so far, .250/.300/.375, is not blowing down any doors, but also is not a complete failure. The same can't be said of his double-play partner, Tony Wolters, and his .138/.222/.169 line. The organization's decision to bypass Lake County altogether for Wolters looks like it may have been a mistake at this point and I would not be surprised if he finds himself joining the Captains if he can't turn things around quickly. More encouraging has been the bat of 2011 James Madison draftee, Jake Lowery. While playing primarily at catcher, Lowery has put up a nearly identical line as Aguilar, hitting .350/.418/.500. The other big cog in the offense has been Tyler Holt, who is probably just waiting for the journeyman OF detritus in Akron and Columbus to clear up so that he can move on to AA. After a sensational start, he has cooled down to a .338/.419/.462 line.
On the pitching side of the ledger, T.J. House has been the big story. After a decidedly mediocre 2011, House has come out on fire at Carolina, less than one base-runner per inning while striking out 22 batters in his 19 innings of work (good for a 0.95 ERA). Mike Rayl and Clayton Cook continue to produce good results in the rotation, though it is less clear if they have the ability to maintain their success. Carolina is the one stop in the system not currently saturated with interesting relief prospects (maybe the reason they are under .500). The best of the bunch so far has been former rule 5 pick, Jose Flores, who has allowed just one run in 8.2 innings while recording 10 Ks.
Lake County might be the most interesting team to watch, but unfortunately they have also suffered through a difficult opening to the season, including a recent 10-game losing streak. One of the biggest blows to the team, however, has been the loss of Levon Washington to a torn labrum in his hip, previously operated on in 2010. Washington had been off to a very encouraging .440/.563/.480 start prior to the injury. All-world SS prospect, Francisco Lindor, has had an encouraging start, hitting .259/.318/.383, showing flashes of speed, power, defense and hitting ability. Fellow teenager, Luigi Rodriguez, has been the catalyst of the offense, with a .314/.380/.500 line including three triples. After a slow start, OFer Bryson Myles has raised his line to .294/.324/.456. Former St. Eds catcher, Alex Lavisky, while still struggling some with his plate approach (17 K, 4 BB), seems to be showing some improvement in his hit tool (.258/.296/.409). The Captains other catcher, just turned 20-year old Alex Monsalve, has held his own with a .239/.338/.373 line. Aside from Washington's injury, the biggest disappointments have been from Robel Garcia (.212/.278/.227) and Leo Castillo (.162/.205/.176), both of whom have impressive tools. Kyle Blair, after putting up one of the worst relief appearances imaginable (3.1 IP, 13 ER, 3 HRs), has back to back scoreless innings...but his overall line is probably ruined for the season by that April 15th appearance.
The two headliners on the starting rotation, Elvis Araujo and Felix Sterling, have both been solid in four April starts. Each has K'ed 19 batters while logging 20 innings. Araujo has allowed more hits (19 vs. 11), but fewer walks (6 vs. 9) and HRs (1 vs. 2). Kyle Petter had been nearly un-hittable in seven innings at LC (2 hits, no runs, 3 walks, 13 Ks), but has struggled in his first two appearances since being promoted to Carolina. Since his promotion the bullpen stalwart has been Mason Radeke, a 21-year old right-hander out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who has held batters to a .175 average while striking out a batter an inning.
Lake County is likely to experience some shuffling as promotions from extended spring training occur, which should keep the roster interesting throughout the season.