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Get To Know The Myrtle Beach Pelicans

The two-time defending Carolina League champions take the field once again.

Oscar De La Cruz
John Arguello

The Cubs moved their Class A Advanced team (better known as “High-A”) to Myrtle Beach two seasons ago. In the two seasons the Cubs have been in Myrtle Beach, the Pelicans have won two Carolina League titles. This year’s group is looking to make it three in a row.

Who?: The Carolina League expands by two teams this year, adding the Down East Wood Ducks and the Buies Creek Astros.

The Pelicans are managed by minor league lifer Buddy Bailey, who is now managing in his 29th season and has over 2000 career wins. This is his second season with the Pelicans and his 12th in the Cubs system. Anderson Tavarez returns for his second season as the Pelicans pitching coach. He’s been in the Cubs system as either a player or a coach since 2000. Guillermo Martinez and Ty Wright are the hitting coach and assistant coach. Both are new to the Pelicans this season. Martinez was with South Bend last year and Wright was with Eugene.

The Pelicans have an exhibition game tonight at home with the Charleston Riverdogs of the South Atlantic League. They start the season with a seven-game road trip starting in Lynchburg tomorrow night. Their home opener is a week from tomorrow.

The Pitchers: Three members of the Pelicans starting rotation are in Baseball America’s top 30 Cubs prospects. The biggest name here is Oscar De La Cruz, a big 6’4” (at least) righthander with a three pitches that all project out to be plus. The two questions surrounding him are his health (he missed over half of last season with a forearm soreness) and his control. He was my 6th-ranked Cubs prospect this past winter and could end up as a #2/#3 starter if all works out for him.

Thomas Hatch was the Cubs first pick (in the third round) last summer, and he’s going to make his professional debut in Myrtle Beach. Despite missing all of 2015 at Oklahoma State because of a sore elbow, Hatch was a workhorse last summer, tossing 130 innings while leading the Cowboys to the College World Series. His best pitch is probably his slider. I ranked him as the Cubs #16 prospect over the winter.

Left-hander Justin Steele is the third big pitcher in this rotation, and he’s ranked as the 24th-best Cubs prospect according to Baseball America. He had a rough season in South Bend last year, but his stuff is still intriguing. He just needs to throw it for more strikes this year.

Right-hander Jeremy Null is huge (6’7”) and was a member of both of the Pelicans championship teams. He’s starting in Myrtle Beach again, but is obviously hoping to move up to Double-A quickly. The fifth starter is likely Adbert Alzolay, who was 9-4 with a 4.34 ERA in South Bend last year.

Much of the bullpen returns to Myrtle Beach from last season. Left-handers Jordan Minch and Tommy Thorpe, as well as right-handers Pedro Araujo, Craig Brooks, Dillon Maples, Scott Effross and James Norwood all spent at least some time in Myrtle Beach last season. Lefty Ryan Kellogg joins the team after a successful stint with South Bend last year and an appearance with Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Right-hander Casey Bloomquist also makes the leap from South Bend. Bloomquist can either start or relieve.

The Outfielders: First, let’s get this out of the way. Eloy Jimenez is going to miss the first week or two of the season with a bone bruise. As far as I know, the Cubs have not said where Jimenez will start the season when he’s healthy, but Myrtle Beach is a good bet. Jimenez did finish the season with Myrtle Beach last year, although the records don’t show it because he was just there for the Mills Cup Championship series. But assuming Jimenez plays for the Pelicans, he will easily be the number one attraction there this summer. It’s possible that Jimenez ends up as the top prospect in all of baseball at this time next year. With a good season, he’s certain to be a top 10 prospect.

But Cuban Eddy Martinez, who was my 18th-ranked Cubs prospect this past winter, will definitely be here. Martinez struggled a bit in his first season in America, but we can chalk some of that up to culture shock and rust. He was overhyped before he signed, but he still showed a lot of talent and he’s still young at 22. Martinez’s big goal this year should be improving against left-handed pitching.

Robert Garcia played for Eugene last summer and now jumps South Bend to start the year in High-A. He hit .283/.345/.418 for the Emeralds. Connor Myers was a 27th-round draft pick last summer and he played at three levels last year. Daniel Spingola got promoted to Myrtle Beach last June after a great start to the season in South Bend. his time in High-A wasn’t quite as successful, so he’ll try again this year.

The Infielders: Left-handed hitting Mexican second baseman Carlos Sepulveda is the one to watch here. Sepulveda was only 19 last season when he hit .310/.366/.373. Still young for his level, Sepulveda shows and advanced feel for hitting. MLB Pipeline rank him as the Cubs #17 prospect.

Corner infielder Matt Rose hit 17 home runs between Eugene and South Bend last year. Second baseman Trent Giambrone skips South Bend after hitting .292/.404/.433 in the tough hitting environment of Eugene. Jesse Hodges and Bryant Flete are back from last season and Adonis Paula rounds out the infield.

The Catchers: P.J. Higgins was my 13th-ranked prospect coming into the season. Despite being relatively new to catching (he played it in high school but not much in college), he’s shown a real aptitude for the position and Baseball America ranks him as the best defensive catcher in the system. He also hit .283 with a .389 on-base percentage in South Bend last year, so he’s no slouch with the bat either, although there isn’t much power there at present.

Tyler Alamo also comes up from South Bend, and he hit .243/.283/.330 there last year. Tyler Pearson is the other catching Tyler on the Pelicans and he returns from last season.