The Carolina Mudcats are starting their final season in the Southern League, and veteran general manager Joe Kremer says he's taking it as a positive.
This will be the Mudcats' final year as Double-A affiliates of the Cincinnati Reds before that franchise moves to Pensacola, Fla., and is replaced at Five County Stadium by the Class A Carolina League club currently playing its final season as the Kinston Indians.
"We're excited about the Carolina League next year," Kramer said at the club's media day. "Very rarely do you ever get a chance to reinvent yourself, so we're looking to put out an even better product. It's a good move for both the Southern League and the Carolina League."
Third-year Mudcats skipper David Bell said the club's 21st year in Double-A ball may be among its best.
Twenty of the 24 players on the Opening Night roster were with the 2010 team that went 58-79.
"It's really good to be back," Bell said. "I've had great experiences with the players we've had the last two years. I feel like this could be a special season as the Reds' last season here. It should be a good one."
Third baseman Mike Costanzo and second baseman Jake Kahaulelio both played in the 2010 Southern League All-Star Game last year.
"I've already played with a bunch of these guys, so we already know what is expected of everybody," Costanzo said. "We have good chemistry here, and I think that's a credit to the coaching staff. This front office is great here, and it would be really nice to go out with a good season and make the playoffs."
Bell said he was really impressed in the spring by sometime center fielder and leadoff man Denis Phipps, a prospect from the Dominican Republic the manager says has a very high talent ceiling.
"We've got a real good team," Phipps said. "We're more confident now and know all about the league. We've got power, speed, the whole package."
Opening-night starter Daryl Thompson, who fought shoulder soreness last season after an operation in 2009, is the only Mudcat on the Reds' 40-man roster.
"I'm feeling good," Thompson said. "We have good chemistry in the clubhouse and that carries onto the field. Everybody plays together, and nobody tries to be selfish. We have a lot of characters on the team, but everybody gets along pretty well."