Our 30th anniversary celebration continues with a look at the 15 best offensive seasons in Mudcats' franchise history. The list is of course subjective, but should make for a fun deep dive into some of Carolina's all-time greatest performances.
In order to build the list, Mudcats' broadcaster Greg Young used a simple runs created metric to rank every individual season in team history. Specific season accolades like league MVP, all-star nominations, end-of-year league rankings, franchise records and more were also heavily considered to round out the rankings.
Without further ado, and based on the criteria mentioned above, here are the top 15 offensive seasons in team history:
15. Rich Aude, 1B
Totals: .289/.376/.491, .867 OPS, 120 G, 122 H, 25 2B, 3 3B, 18 HR, 73 RBI, .202 ISO, 50 BB, 79 SO
Accolades: Southern League Player-of-the-Week, Willie Duke Award
Rich Aude led the 1993 Mudcats in just about everything as he owned a team best .866 OPS as well as a team best slash line of .289/.376/.491. Aude also led the Mudcats with 66 runs scored, 25 doubles, 18 homers and 73 RBI.
14. Chris Heisey, CF
Totals: .347/.426/.572, .998 OPS, 71 G, 94 H, 18 2B, 2 3B, 13 HR, 40 RBI, .225 ISO, 34 BB, 34 SO
Accolades: Southern League All-Star, SL Player-of-the-Week, Willie Duke Award
Chris Heisey only played in 71 games with the Mudcats in 2009, but still totaled 94 hits including 18 doubles, two triples and 13 home runs. That 2009 season also saw Heisey hit .347/.426/.572 before being transferred to Triple-A Louisville in late June. A former 17th-round pick by the Reds in 2006, Heisey also finished his first half with Carolina with 34 walks against just 34 strikeouts. Heisey also led off a game with a home run twice, with the first coming off a rehabbing Tom Glavine on April 12, 2009 in Mississippi.
13. Chris Coghlan, 2B
Totals: .298/.396/.429, .825 OPS, 132 G, 144 H, 32 2B, 5 3B, 7 HR, 74 RBI, .131 ISO, 67 BB, 65 SO
Accolades: Southern League All-Star, SL Player-of-the-Week
Chris Coghlan hit .298/.396/.429 with 32 doubles, five triples, seven home runs and 74 RBI over 132 games for the then-Marlins affiliated Mudcats in 2008. He also finished the year second in the Southern League in stolen bases (34) and fifth in runs (83). Coghlan moved on to Triple-A New Orleans and eventually up to the majors and the Marlins the following season. He was later named the National League Rookie of the Year while with the Marlins in 2009.
12. Chad Hermansen, SS/OF
Totals: .275/.373/.478, .851 OPS, 129 G, 134 H, 31 2B, 4 3B, 20 HR, 70 RBI, .203 ISO, 69 BB, 136 SO
Chad Hermansen led the 1997 Mudcats in games (129), runs (87), hits (134), doubles (41), strikeouts (136) and batting average (.275). Hermansen, the 10th overall selection in the 1995 MLB Draft, also totaled 233 total bases in 1997, placing him second in Carolina's single season franchise record book. He was also the first Mudcat to ever hit for the cycle after accomplishing the feat on July 19, 1997 against Birmingham.
11. Mark Johnson, 1B
Totals: .276/.384/.515, .899 OPS, 111 G, 107 H, 20 2B, 2 3B, 23 HR, 85 RBI, .239 ISO, 67 BB, 89 SO
Accolades: Southern League MVP, SL All-Star, SL Leader in Home Runs, SL Leader in IBB, Two-Time SL Player-of-the-Week, Willie Duke Award
Mark Johnson was the first Mudcat to earn league Most Valuable Player honors after being named the Southern League’s MVP in 1994. That season was Johnson’s third as a member of the Mudcats as he also played for Carolina in 1992, 1993 and 1994. In 1993, Johnson led the Mudcats in games (125), triples (4) and walks (66) all while hitting .233/.344/.404 with a .747 OPS, 18 doubles, 14 home runs and 52 RBI. Johnson returned to Double-A Carolina in 1994 and led the Mudcats in runs (69), home runs (23), RBI (85), walks (67), on-base (.384) and OPS (.900). That 1994 MVP season for Johnson also saw him lead the Southern League in homers and intentional walks (11) and saw him put together a .276/.384/.515 slash line. Johnson’s 85 RBI in 1994 are the third-most for a Mudcats player in a single season in record team history.
10. Lee Mitchell, 3B
Totals: .282/.393/.488, .881 OPS, 135 G, 127 H, 29 2B, 2 3B, 20 HR, 73 RBI, .206 ISO, 72 BB, 153 SO
Accolades: Southern League All-Star Game Top Star, SL Leader in Fielding at 3B, Willie Duke Award, Ed Hales Award
Lee Mitchell first played for the Mudcats in 2006, but it was 2007 season back with Carolina that ended up being one of the club's best individual seasons. Mitchell led the 2007 Mudcats in just about everything as his 135 games played, 73 runs scored, 127 hits, 20 homers, 72 walks, .393 on-base, .488 slugging and .881 OPS were all team highs. A sixth-round pick out of Georgia, Mitchell totaled a .970 fielding percentage in 2007, tops among Southern League third basemen. He accomplished the same feat the previous year after finishing the 2006 season with a .972 fielding percentage. His 135 games played that season are the second most for any player in franchise history; while his 37 doubles in 2006 are third on the franchise all-time list. Mitchell was Carolina's Willie Duke Award winner and split the Ed Hales Award with Ryan Bear in 2007.
9. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Totals: .365/.429/.609, 1.038 OPS, 69 G, 97 H, 29 2B, 3 3B, 10 HR, 59 RBI, .244 ISO, 31 BB, 49 SO
Miguel Cabrera, Major League Baseball’s Triple Crown Award winner in 2012 and two-time American League MVP, began the 2003 season with the Mudcats before quickly getting the call to the bigs later that same year. While with the Mudcats, Cabrera hit .365 with 10 home runs and 97 hits over 69 Southern League games. Cabrera began his thrilling, albeit short, run with the Mudcats by clubbing an Opening Night grand slam on April 3, 2003. He also put together a 15-game hit streak between April 22 and May 8, 2003. Cabrera would later be selected from Double-A Carolina on June 20, 2003 and went on to finish that same season batting .268 with 84 hits in 87 MLB games with the World Series Champion Marlins.
8. Dave Sappelt, CF
Totals: .361/.416/.548, .964 OPS, 89 G, 119 H, 19 2B, 8 3B, 9 HR, 62 RBI, .187 ISO, 31 BB, 46 SO
Accolades: Southern League MVP, SL Leader in Batting, SL All-Star, Willie Duke Award
Dave Sappelt set a Mudcats’ franchise record after hitting .361 over 89 games during the 2010 season. Sappelt also led the 2010 Mudcats in on-base (.416), slugging (.548), OPS (.964), triples (8) and RBI (62) that season. The Coastal Carolina product began that 2010 season with High-A Lynchburg before a transfer to the Double-A Mudcats in late April. He later went on to finish the 2010 season with Triple-A Louisville.
7. Jason Kendall, C
Totals: .326/.414/.448, .862 OPS, 117 G, 140 H, 26 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, 71 RBI, .122 ISO, 56 BB, 22 SO
Accolades: Southern League MVP, SL All-Star, SL Leader in OBP, Willie Duke Award
Jason Kendall first played for the Mudcats during the 1994 season and was teammates with that season’s Southern League MVP Mark Johnson. Kendall would then return to the Mudcats in 1995 and not only went back-to-back with Johnson in regard to earning Southern League MVP honors, but he also helped lead the Mudcats to their first of two Southern League titles. Kendall led the Southern League in on-base (.414) and was second in batting (.326) during his tremendous 1995 season. In all, Kendall played in 117 games in 1995 and scored a team high 87 runs for a Mudcats team that won a club record 89 regular season games (95 including playoff victories). He also totaled 140 hits, 56 walks and just 22 strikeouts in what was his second season with the Mudcats. The then 21-year-old catcher helped lead the Mudcats to the first half championship that year and was named a Southern League All-Star. Kendall’s .326 batting average in 1995 is third-best in Mudcats’ franchise history. Additionally, he was the fourth ever Mudcats player to total five hits in a game after going 5-for-7 vs. Jacksonville on July 6, 1995. Kendall was elected to the Southern League Hall of Fame in 2015.
6. Josh Willingham, C
Totals: .281/.449/.565, 1.014 OPS, 112 G, 95 H, 24 2B, 0 3B, 24 HR, 76 RBI, .284 ISO, 91 BB, 87 SO
Accolades: Southern League All-Star, SL Leader in Walks, SL Leader in OBP, SL Leader in SLG, SL Leader in Fielding at Catcher, SL Player-of-the-Week, Willie Duke Award
Josh Willingham played for the Mudcats in parts of four different seasons, but it was his 2004 year that stood out the most. Willingham hit .281/.449/.565 with a 1.014 OPS over 112 games with the Mudcats in 2004 and went on to finish that same year in the bigs after getting his first call to majors. Willingham owns the Mudcats franchise record for single season OPS after totaling a team best 1.014 OPS in 2004. He is also second on Carolina’s all-time list (recorded team history) in both on-base (.449), slugging (.565) and home runs (24). Overall, Willingham hit .280/.438/.547 with 29 home runs, 95 RBI and a .985 OPS over 144 total games with the Mudcats between 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008. Willingham also totaled three different multi-hit homer games after clubbing two home runs in games on June 6, 2003, April 9, 2004 and June 20, 2004.
5. George Canale, 1B/OF
Totals: .287/.349/.503, .852 OPS, 130 G, 140 H, 30 2B, 6 3B, 21 HR, 102 RBI, .216 ISO, 46 BB, 83 SO
Accolades: SL Leader in RBI
George Canale had already spent three seasons of Major League Baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1989, 1990 and 1991 before playing for the Mudcats in 1995. Canale (in what was his penultimate season of professional baseball) went on to lead the 1995 Southern League Champion Mudcats in doubles (30), triples (6), home runs (21), RBI (102) and slugging (.503). To this day, Canale’s 102 RBIs in 1995 remains a single season franchise record for the Mudcats. The Virginia Tech product actually set a number of franchise firsts that season, including becoming the first and only Mudcat in recorded franchise history to total six hits in a game after going 6-for-9 with a double, two triples and 5 RBI in a 17-inning game vs. Port City on August 12, 1995. He was also the first Mudcat in recorded team history to hit three home runs in a game after clubbing a home run in the fifth, sixth (grand slam) and ninth on May 1, 1995 (6 RBI game). Canale also helped turn the first triple play in team history on June 21, 1995 vs. Greenville and sits atop the Mudcats record book in at-bats in a game with 9 on August 12, 1995.
4. John Raynor, OF
Totals: .312/.402/.489, .891 OPS, 126 G, 141 H, 29 2B, 6 3B, 13 HR, 51 RBI, .177 ISO, 62 BB, 122 SO
Accolades: Southern League All-Star, SL Leader in Runs & Stolen Bases
Outfielder John Raynor scored a Southern League best 104 runs and stole league best 48 bases during the 2008 season. Those 48 steals are tied for the most in a single season in Mudcats' team history. Raynor, who was born in Benson, NC and played at UNC Wilmington, hit .312/.402/.489 with .891 OPS over 126 games for the Mudcats in 2008. He also totaled 29 doubles, six triples, 13 home runs and 51 RBI as Carolina's leadoff man that season. Raynor also finished that 2008 season with leadoff home runs on June 6 vs. Chattanooga (off BJ LaMura), July 7, 2008 vs. Tennessee (off Donnie Veal) and July 9, 2008 at Birmingham (off Justin Cassel).
3. Emil Brown, OF
Totals: .330/.401/.496, .897 OPS, 123 G, 154 H, 31 2B, 2 3B, 14 HR, 67 RBI, .166 ISO, 50 BB, 71 SO
Accolades: Southern League All-Star, Willie Duke Award
In 1998 outfielder Emil Brown totaled a franchise record 154 hits over 123 games played. Brown also hit a team best .330 (second highest average in team history) and totaled a team high 89 runs scored (third most in franchise history). In all, Brown led the 1998 Mudcats in batting (.330), slugging (.496), OPS (.897), games (123), runs (89), doubles (31) and stolen bases (24). Brown was a Southern League All-Star that season and was named Carolina's Willie Duke Award winner at the end of the year.
2. Jeremy Hermida, OF
Totals: .293/.457/.518, .975 OPS, 118 G, 113 H, 29 2B, 2 3B, 18 HR, 63 RBI, .225 ISO, 111 BB, 89 SO
Accolades: Southern League All-Star, All-Star Game Top Star, SL Player-of-the-Week, SL Leader in Base on Balls, SL Leader in OBP, Willie Duke Award
Jeremy Hermida set the Southern League record for on-base percentage after reaching base at a staggering .457 clip during the 2005 season. That number of course led the Southern League and coincided with a league leading 111 walks. Hermida, the MVP of the 2005 SL All-Star game, slashed .293/.457/.518 with a .975 OPS over 118 games with the Mudcats that season while also totaling 113 hits, including 29 doubles, two triples and 18 home runs. Hermida owns the Mudcats' franchise record for on-base (.457) and walks (111). He is also tied for the team record for stolen bases in a game with four; set on June 19, 2005 in Tennessee.
1. Gaby Sanchez, 1B/3B
Totals: .314/.404/.513, .917 OPS, 133 G, 150 H, 42 2B, 1 3B, 17 HR, 92 RBI, .199 ISO, 69 BB, 70 SO
Accolades: Southern League MVP, SL All-Star, SL Leader in Doubles, Two-Time SL Player-of-the-Week, Willie Duke Award, Ed Hales Award
Gaby Sanchez turned in arguably the most memorable season in franchise history after hitting .314/.404/.513 and totaling a .917 OPS over 133 games for the Mudcats in 2008. Sanchez led the Southern League with 42 doubles that season and set a Mudcats' franchise record in the process. Sanchez additionally finished with 245 total bases in 2008 tying him with George Canale for for the most in a single season in franchise history. His 150 hits that season are the third most in franchise history and his 92 RBIs that year are second all-time in team history. The University of Miami product also clubbed 17 homers, totaled 69 walks and scored 70 runs in 2008 while earning the Southern League Most Valuable Player award. Sanchez led that 2008 Mudcats team (one that featured Cameron Maybin and Chris Coghlan) in games, on-base, slugging, OPS, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, walks and strikeouts. He additionally took home both the Willie Duke and Ed Hales awards at season's end. Sanchez was a two-time Southern League batter of the week, a Southern League All-Star and homered three times in a game on three separate occasions (7/16, 8/3 and 8/4). That season eventually culminated with a call to the big leagues as Sanchez made his MLB debut with the Marlins on September 17, 2008 against the Astros.
Greg Young is the play-by-play broadcaster and Director of Media Relations and Broadcasting for the Carolina Mudcats. Follow the Mudcats on Twitter @CarolinaMudcats.