Mario Feliciano's first at-bat with the Carolina Mudcats this season resulted in a groundout to shortstop. It wasn't the outcome Feliciano wanted, but two components of the at-bat -- the swing and the contact -- were improvements from his first three professional seasons.There was no pain in Feliciano's right shoulder.
Mario Feliciano's first at-bat with the Carolina Mudcats this season resulted in a groundout to shortstop. It wasn't the outcome Feliciano wanted, but two components of the at-bat -- the swing and the contact -- were improvements from his first three professional seasons.
There was no pain in Feliciano's right shoulder. The 20-year-old catcher could finish his swing with both hands on the bat. And he wasn't only looking to make contact with the pitch; he entered the at-bat with the mind-set of attacking any pitch in the strike zone.
It was a far cry from where he was just six months prior with a shoulder injury that limited his ability not only in the batter's box but also behind the plate.
Feliciano, with a healthy right shoulder, is enjoying a breakout season at the Class A Advanced level. The Milwaukee Brewers' No. 14 prospect was named a Carolina League All-Star and has already set career highs in extra-base hits and runs batted in after an injury-plagued 2018 limited his production.
"It's great. Right now I feel like I can show the Brewers and everybody else who I am, because a few years ago I couldn't show my 100 percent to anybody," Feliciano said. "I was playing with maybe 50 or 60 percent. This year my shoulder is 100 percent, it's way different. I'm very happy."
Feliciano leads the Carolina League with 14 home runs and is second in both RBIs (54) and total bases (129), and his .454 slugging percentage is more than 100 points higher than his career best set during the 2016 season with the Rookie-level AZL Brewers.
The increased production has come after he underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery during the offseason, which allowed Feliciano to build strength and regain confidence in his right shoulder.
He recalled feeling tired, but not in real pain during the 2017 season with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Class A Midwest League. Feliciano played in a career-high 104 games that season with 22 extra-base hits (16 doubles, two triples and four homers) and batted .251/.320/.331 to earn recognition as an MiLB.com Organization All-Star.
But the pain escalated the following season. Feliciano, the Brewers' second-round selection in the 2016 Draft, was unable to finish a swing with his right hand on the bat, frequently resulting in one-handed swings, and he had doubts whether he would be able to get a strong throw from behind the plate to either second or third base if a runner was attempting to steal.
He played in only 46 games last season -- 42 with the Mudcats and four on a rehab assignment with the AZL Brewers -- and the shoulder issue flared up during his second game in the Arizona Fall League. Surgery was scheduled soon to get him back on the field in time for Spring Training.
"It was like a cleanup," he said.
Feliciano estimated he needed six to eight weeks of recovery time and then entered a throwing program to get back in rhythm in time for Spring Training.
He worked extensively with Mudcats hitting coach Bobby Bell on his timing, and the two came up with a plan on how to attack at-bats while also remaining healthy.
"My biggest deal this year is to get healthy," Feliciano said. "Don't worry about numbers or whatever, just be healthy and be ready to play every day."
Feliciano has remained healthy through the season's first three months and has produced in the middle of the Mudcats lineup. He hit .274 with five homers and 19 RBIs in June, and all five homers came in a four-game stretch at the beginning of the month. That also sparked a stretch of seven straight games with an RBI.
"Right now my biggest thing is the second half. It's not about how you start, but how you finish," Feliciano said. "I don't want to be like some guys who will start hot but finish cold. I just want to be the same the whole year. I know the bad times are going to come, but it is what it is. It's baseball. I just want to have a lot of fun playing baseball."
In briefHot at the right time:
Salem left fielder Victor Acosta
briefly got a taste of Class A Advanced play each of the past two seasons, but in his first full season with Salem, the 23-year-old from Venezuela is settling in and thriving. Acosta batted .366 in June after struggling in May with a .217 average. He has recorded at least one hit in 17 of his last 19 games to raise his batting average to .316, good for third in the Carolina League.Mending the rotation:
Down East left-hander Sal Mendez
began the season in the bullpen before moving into the rotation in mid-May. The change has been instrumental in his development. Mendez, the Rangers' 40th-round selection in the 2013 Draft, is 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA in seven starts with the Wood Ducks. He has allowed two earned runs over 23 innings spanning his last four starts.Reversal of fortune:
Lynchburg didn't have much luck in the season's first half when games went into extra innings. The Hillcats sported a 1-5 mark in extra-inning games, including a span of three consecutive losses in mid-May that dropped the team under the .500 mark. But things have turned around in the second half. Lynchburg is 3-0 with back-to-back victories at Winston-Salem to close a four-game set that opened the second half and then a walkoff triumph over Down East last Saturday.
Damien Sordelett is a contributor to MiLB.com.