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Get to know the Myrtle Beach Pelicans

The Cubs’ Carolina League affiliate features a rising star behind the plate.

D.J. Wilson
Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

Day 2 of our preview of the Cubs’ minor league affiliates takes us to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are the Cubs’ affiliate in the Carolina League.

I wrote this yesterday in my preview of the South Bend Cubs (which you should take the time to read if you haven’t already) but I want to encourage you to see one of the minor league affiliates this summer or, barring that, a different minor league team closer to where you live. Minor League Baseball is a terrific value and most teams find something fun for everyone in the family to do. Admittedly, sometimes the actual game can get a little lost among all the promotions and such, but the players take the game very seriously and you can see some terrific ball there every day of the season. (Maybe some not-so-terrific ball too, but that can be entertaining as well.)

I should also mention that these rosters could change before Thursday.

Who? The Myrtle Beach Pelicans are the A-Advanced (or informally, High-A) affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. They are one level above the South Bend Cubs and one level below the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. The Carolina League has affiliates in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North and South Carolina.

Who are the top prospects? This year I’m listing the top prospects in a separate entry, since that’s the thing that many of you are most interested in.

Unquestionably, all eyes in Myrtle Beach will be on catcher Miguel Amaya, whom I ranked as the Cubs’ second-best prospect this off-season. Many other evaluators put him as the number-one prospect. The Panamanian backstop just turned 20 last month and he’s coming off a season where he hit .256/.349/.403 with 12 home runs in 116 games. That’s after a poor second half that everyone attributes to the young catcher wearing down under the load of catching regularly in a full season for the first time in his career. His OPS in the first half was .865. But seeing if Amaya can stay strong through an entire season is one of the big storylines in the Cubs’ minors in 2019.

Amaya was the Cubs’ sole representative in the Futures Game last July.

Defensively, Amaya is good and is likely to get a lot better as he improves his technique through more experience. His arm is strong but again, he needs more experience to improve accuracy. There’s no reason to believe he won’t get it. Pitchers also reportedly love throwing to him.

At the plate power is already at least average and he certainly could grow into a lot more power. He struggled with breaking pitches last year, so something to watch this season is whether he can make the necessary adjustments.

The Cubs’ took right-hander Paul Richan in the second-round supplemental last June out of San Diego, the same college that produced Kris Bryant. (Not to be confused with UC-San Diego or San Diego State.) Richan spent the entire season in Eugene, where he made nine starts and one relief appearance and posted an ERA of 2.12. Richan struck out 31 and walked just five over 29 23 innings with the Emeralds, so you can tell that command of the strike zone is a big strength for him. He’s got four pitches and he mixes them up well. His slider is probably his best pitch. He profiles out as a #4 or #5 starter in the major leagues, but he’s advanced enough that he could be at Wrigley as soon as next season. He’s already skipped South Bend this year and he’ll try to force a promotion to Double-A Tennessee before the end of the year.

Finally, shortstop Aramis Ademan gets a second shot at Myrtle Beach after a 2018 season here that can only accurately be described as a massive failure. Ademan was ranked by many as the Cubs’ top prospect heading in to the 2018 season, but he batted just .207/.291/.273 in 114 games for the Pelicans last season. Although he was only 19 and was one of the youngest players in the league, that’s still a very disappointing result. Defensively, he’s shown all the tools to be an above-average major league shortstop, but he’s prone to a lot of errors right now, both misplays with the glove and bad throws.

But Ademan just turned 20 last September, so he’s still young for the Carolina League. I ranked him as the Cubs’ 11th-best prospect earlier this year, so I’m still somewhat optimistic despite the dreadful 2018 campaign. But the left-handed hitter needs to stop hitting weak grounders to short this season. My optimism has limits to its patience.

Who are the coaches? The new manager of the Pelicans is Steve Lerud, who guided the “Bad News Ems” to the Northwest League title despite posting the worst overall record in the league. Lerud was a catcher for 13 years in the minor leagues before taking his first managerial job last year with Eugene. Lerud did get to play in nine games with the Phillies in 2012 and 2013. So basically, he’s Crash Davis without the power, great hair or Susan Sarandon.

Hitting coach Ty Wright played seven seasons in the Cubs’ minor league system before starting a coaching career. This is his third season coaching with the Pelicans and second and the hitting coach. Osmin Melendez is the other hitting coach and he’s in his first season. He’s been a coach in the Cubs’ system at various levels since 2013.

The pitching coach is Brian Lawrence, whom you may remember was a member of the Padres’ starting rotation from 2001 to 2005. Or maybe you don’t. He’s been the pitching coach with the South Bend Cubs for the three seasons prior to this one.

Who are the pitchers? Right-hander Alex Lange is probably a little disappointed to be back in Myrtle Beach after spending the entire 2018 season there. The Cubs’ first-round pick out of LSU in 2017 went 6-8 with a 3.74 ERA over 23 starts last year. He struck out 101 and walked 38 over 120 13 innings. When I ranked him as the 15th-best prospect in the Cubs’ system this past winter, I called his 2018 campaign “underwhelming,” and I still think that’s a good description. His curve is still a potentially nasty pitch, but his fastball velocity has slowed down to the upper-80s and his change is just OK.

Bryan Hudson is a running joke in my mind, as it seems like everytime I see him pitch, either in person or over the internet, he can’t find the strike zone and pitches poorly. I can’t help but think the tall, 6’8” lefty is doing it to personally spite me. In reality, Hudson just has consistency issues. Despite his size and his nasty curve, he really doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts. When Hudson is pitching well (so I’ve heard), he gets a ton of ground balls, so he needs a strong infield defense to succeed. He’s repeating Myrtle Beach after posting a 4.70 ERA over 23 starts last year.

Javier Assad joins the team from a solid campaign in South Bend last year where he went 4-7 with a 4.40 ERA in 21 starts and two relief appearances. In fact, the Mexican right-hander has been in the Cubs’ system for four years and has moved up a steady pace of one level a year. Assad isn’t flashy and he won’t wow you, but he’s a dependable workhorse. The majors always need guys like that at the back of a rotation.

Assad will be joined by two other pitchers from Mexico who also pitched in South Bend last year—a pair of 5’11” right-handers in Jesus Camargo and Manuel Rodriguez. Camargo can either start or relieve. He was pretty good in South Bend last year, but two trips to the DL meant he only tossed 44 23 innings.

Rodriguez has been a reliever and he struck out an impressive 64 batters in only 40 13 innings in South Bend last year. Unfortunately, he walked a very unimpressive 36 batters as well, leading to an ugly 7.59 ERA. Rodriguez need to throw more strikes. I know that’s easy for me to say.

RIght-handed starter Erling Moreno is from Colombia and is another ground ball specialist. He joins Myrtle Beach after a solid season in South Bend last year although his innings were limited by three separate stints on the DL.

The ace in the Pelicans bullpen is likely to be right-hander Brian Glowicki, the Cubs’ tenth-round pick in 2017 out of Minnesota. He converted 18 out of 21 save attempts last year in South Bend and posted a 1.20 ERA over 67.2 innings. His pure stuff isn’t great which is reason to be suspicious of his success going forward, but if he succeeds here then maybe I need to dial up my expectations.

Also joining Myrtle Beach from South Bend are right-handers Brendan King, Garrett Kelly and Ben Hecht. Returning to Myrtle Beach after pitching there in 2018 are right-hander Tyler Peyton and lefty Ryan Kellogg. The Cubs took big lefty Luis Lugo from the Royals organization in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft this past December.

Who are the catchers? Other than Amaya, the only catcher currently on the roster is Tyler Payne, whose 2018 season was limited by injury to 50 at-bats in South Bend last year. He’s been in the Cubs’ organization since 2015.

Who are the infielders? Third baseman Luke Reynolds was the Cubs’ tenth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi last season and he joins the Pelicans after playing last year in Eugene, completely skipping South Bend. He hit .289/.383/.421 in 36 games with the Ems. That Reynolds is already 24 probably played a big role in promoting him so aggressively—it’s best to find out ASAP if that hitting stroke is real.

Shortstop Jhonny Bethencourt and first baseman Cam Balego also join the team from South Bend. Bethencourt hit .274/.318/.381 in 64 games and Balego hit .236/.306/.299 in 43 games between Eugene and South Bend in 2018. Balego can also catch some, so I’d expect that he’ll see some time as the third catcher for at least the beginning of the year.

Returning to Myrtle Beach from 2018 are third baseman Wladimir Galindo and second baseman Yeiler Peguero. I had high hopes for Galindo coming into the 2018 season, but he’s repeating the level after a disappointing line of .216/.276/.313 over 114 games. He’s still just 22 years old, however. Peguero is only 21 and hit .210/.240/.228 in 60 games after a mid-season promotion from South Bend.

Second baseman Carlos Sepulveda returns to Myrtle Beach after missing all of the 2018 season with an arm injury.

Who are the outfielders? The Pelicans outfield can be summed up with one word: speed. Four of the five outfielder are big threats on the basepaths.

Right-handed hitting Jimmy Herron was the Cubs’ third-round pick out of Duke last summer. He hit .245/.333/.345 in 33 games in South Bend last year, which isn’t bad considering that he was making his professional debut there (after just nine games in Mesa).

D.J. Wilson is a terrific defensive center fielder who is repeating Myrtle Beach after hitting just .219/.315/.287 in 64 games. He had two trips to the DL last year as well. Wilson also struggled to hit in the Arizona Fall League although he did steal six bases in six attempts.

Switch-hitting Zach Davis returns to Myrtle Beach after playing 38 games for them after a mid-season promotion from South Bend. He did struggle to hit in his short stint in the Carolina League, but he was very good before that in the Midwest League. Between the two levels, Davis hit .275/.359/.329 with 38 steals in 51 attempts.

Kevonte Mitchell can run too, although he’s repeating Myrtle Beach after hitting just .218/.293/.318 there last year. Grant Fennell is the one guy in the outfield who isn’t fast, although I wouldn’t call him slow either. The Cubs signed Fennell as an undrafted free agent out if Nevada last June. He played 61 games between Mesa and Eugene and hit an impressive .305/.362/.487 with five home runs. (That’s especially impressive for someone that no one even bothered to draft.) He’s making the jump from Eugene to Myrtle Beach.

When does the season start? The Pelicans play an exhibition game tonight against the Charleston RiverDogs at Field in Myrtle Beach. The regular season starts at home on Thursday night against the Lynchburg Hillcats.

If you make a trip to Myrtle Beach this summer, you might want to plan on going on July 13 as the first 1,000 fans that night will get this David “Bote McBoatface” bobblehead.