The minor league season starts tomorrow so we’ll continue our look at the Opening Night rosters of the four Cubs full-season minor league affiliates. Today we have the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans and later, the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.
Who is in charge? Pelicans manager Buddy Bailey is a minor league legend, having won over 2,100 games in his 30-year career as a minor league manager. He was also the Red Sox bench coach in 2000. Bailey returns to Myrtle Beach for the third straight season and has been managing in the Cubs system since 2006.
The pitching coach for the third-straight year is Anderson Tavarez, who is in his 18th season in the Cubs system: six as a player and the last twelve as a pitching coach.
Ty Wright has been promoted from the Pelicans’ assistant coach last season to the hitting coach this year. Wright spent seven years as an outfielder in the Cubs system and has been a coach for the past four.
Carlos Rojas joins the team as the assistant coach after having been an infield coach for the past two season for the Cubs minor league team in the Dominican Summer League. He played in the Cubs farm system from 2003 to 2007 and in the Orioles system from 2008 to 2012. Honestly, I don’t know much about Rojas but I do know that no one gets to have a ten-year minor-league career unless an organization considers him a valuable asset for his off-the-field contributions.
Pitchers: The big name here is last year’s other first-round draft pick, right-hander Alex Lange. Lange was ranked as the Cubs No. 5 prospect by Baseball America and the eighth-best prospect in the system by me. Lange is a curveball specialist, with his mid-80s curve rating as a potential “70” on the 20-80 scouting scale. Lange also has a low-90s fastball that had even more velocity at LSU. He needs to develop his changeup if he wants to stay in the starting rotation. Myrtle Beach is a bit of an aggressive placement for Lange, as he’s only thrown 9⅓ innings as a professional so far, all of them at short-season Eugene. However, for a pitcher who went to a major college program and pitched in a couple of College World Series, it’s not that aggressive a place to start.
Right-hander Keegan Thompson was the Cubs third-round pick out of Auburn last summer and BA ranks him as the No. 14 prospect in the system. He’s got four pitches that he mixes up well and the scouts say he has an advanced “feel” for pitching. He missed his junior season in college after Tommy John surgery, so he’s making up for lost time with this advanced placement. He pitched 19 innings for Eugene last summer and went 1-2 with a 2.37 ERA. He struck out 23 batters and only walked four, so you know he likes to work the zone. The scouting reports I’ve read on him make him sound a bit like Kyle Hendricks, which should make him popular around here if he succeeds in Myrtle Beach.
Huge left-hander Bryan Hudson is the third big name on the Pelicans pitching staff. BA ranked Hudson as the Cubs No. 15 prospect and he made my honorable mention list. Hudson is a curveball specialist and scouts think it could be a plus pitch. Last year in South Bend, Hudson made 24 starts and threw 124⅓ innings, going 9-3 with a 3.91 ERA. He struck out 81 and walked 54. Hudson is 6’8”, and his tall lanky frame sometimes gives him difficulty keeping his pitching motion consistent. This leads to control problems and I swear, every time I watch him pitch, either in person or on video, he has a bad game. He must be trying to impress me. But clearly Hudson has had a lot of good games and if he manages to improve his control, he’ll have a major-league future. He’ll have to improve his changeup if he wants that future to be in the rotation, but he clearly has the stamina to be a starter.
Left-hander Jose Paulino had a rough season in South Bend last year, going 7-6 with a 4.51 ERA over 123⅔ innings, but he had been considered a serious prospect before that. He’s got three pitches that grade out to be at least major league average and his fastball, if he can improve his command of it, could be even more. Paulino will look to bounce back in Myrtle Beach.
Lefty Ryan Kellogg made 23 appearances and 20 starts for Myrtle Beach last year and posted a 5.21 ERA. He’ll try to improve on that in his second time around the league. Casey Bloomquist and Jordan Minch also return. Bloomquist pitched mostly out of the bullpen for the Pelicans last season and struggled, but he made two successful late-season starts for Double-A Tennessee last season, so the Cubs may give him more opportunities to start.
Right-hander Tyler Peyton will likely pitch out of the bullpen after going 3-3 with a 3.19 ERA for South Bend last year. Because he’s an alumnus of the University of Iowa, he’s just a better person than most other people. Right-handers Chad Hockin, Tyson Miller, Jhon Romero, Tyson Miller along with lefty Wyatt Short also make the move up from South Vend to Myrtle Beach. Romero had an especially good season in the bullpen for both Eugene and South Bend last year, but the Colombian native was old for his level at both places.
Catchers: Two of the three catchers on the Pelicans roster are repeating the Carolina League. P.J. Higgins is considered to be a defensive specialist, but he only hit .237/.327/.298 last year. Tyler Pearson will be starting his third season in High-A, although he’s only played 65 games total over the past two seasons. Venezuelan Jhonny Pereda joins them after hitting .249/.335/.290 in South Bend last year.
Infielders: The big name in Myrtle Beach this summer is shortstop Aramis Ademan, who was BA’s top Cubs prospect coming into this season and my No. 2 prospect. Ademan hit .286/.365/.466 with four home runs and ten steals in 39 games as an 18-year-old in Eugene. He was promoted to South Bend at the end of August when Isaac Paredes was traded to the Tigers and the left-handed hitting shortstop wasn’t as good there, going .244/.269/.378 in 29 games. But for his age in the Midwest League, that’s not bad at all. He’s considered solid defensively and he could still grow into more power. Putting him in Myrtle Beach is aggressive, but the Cubs undoubtedly think he can handle it. (Either that, or they don’t think he can handle the early-season cold in South Bend. Probably both.)
The other top prospect among Pelicans infielders is third baseman Wladimir Galindo, whom BA ranked as the Cubs #18 prospect and I put all the way up at No. 12. Galindo was in the middle of a breakout season at South Bend, hitting .290/.350/.432 with four home runs in 44 games when he broke his leg in early June, knocking him out for the rest of the season.
Galindo is an impressive hitter with good size and power to all fields that should only get better as he gains more experience. Scouts are mixed as to his ability to stick at third base, but I like what I see from him at third. No one doubts he has the arm strength for third base. His upside is an everyday third baseman with plus power, a fair batting average but solid on-base percentage and average defense. That’s not going to get him a job in Chicago (unless it’s with the White Sox), so he could be the Cubs newest trade bait if he has a strong comeback from his leg injury this season.
Left-handed hitting Austin Upshaw can play either first, second or third base and he’s got some solid hitting skills. The 17th-round pick last summer was one of my honorable mentions in the Cubs system after hitting .290/.339/.382 in South Bend in 52 games after the draft.
Andruw Monasterio and Vimael Machin will likely split second base duties for the Pelicans. Both players are repeating High-A this year, although the left-handed hitting Machin did hit an impressive .303/.360/.438 with 11 home runs in 117 games between South Bend and Myrtle Beach. First baseman Tyler Alamo repeats Myrtle Beach after hitting .281/.322/.422 with 12 home runs in 114 games. He’ll play a lot of first base and DH.
Outfielders: The top outfield prospect in Myrtle Beach is center fielder D.J. Wilson, who was ranked as the Cubs No. 11 prospect by both Baseball America and me. Wilson is small at only 5’8”, but the tools just jump off the charts. He’s tremendously quick with both his feet and and his hands. Despite his size, he can turn on a ball and drive it into the bleachers for a home run with his strong wrists. Defensively, he’s just a delight to watch. He makes all the routine plays and some spectacular ones as well. The only problem is that the 21-year-old left-handed hitter has struggled to hit consistently. Last season in South Bend, Wilson hit .229/.318/.453 with nine home runs and 15 steals in 310 at-bats. But he also struck out 89 times. He did improve as the season went on, hitting .245 in the second half. Wilson’s upside is tremendous and many have compared his upside to Adam Eaton, so the Cubs will be patient with him if he struggles.
Left fielder Kevonte Mitchell and right field Chris Pieters also take the step up from South Bend. The right-handed Mitchell hit .245/.316/.397 with 11 home runs and 21 steals last year. He strikes out too much, but that’s a nice power/speed combination. The left-handed Pieters runs really well for a big guy, and in fact, there is good speed all over the Pelicans outfield. Pieters hit .254/.340/.384 with four home runs and 13 steals in the Midwest League. He looks like a guy who should hit for more power, but he really hasn’t shown that power in games yet.
Connor Myers is also a terrific defensive outfielder, so along with Wilson, the pitchers in Myrtle Beach should have some strong support. Myers does struggle at hitting, however, and he returns to Myrtle Beach after hitting .188/.234/.245 in High-A last year.
Daniel Spingola returns to Myrtle Beach after splitting time between the Pelicans and Tennessee last year. He plays both corner outfield positions and can handle center field in a pinch.
When? The Pelicans start their season tomorrow at 7:05 at TicketReturn.com Field in Myrtle Beach against the Frederick Keys. All home games are available on milb.tv or you can listen for free at myrtlebeachpelicans.com. Twenty-two weekend home games will be televised on the CW21, if you live in the Myrtle Beach market.