The Pelicans went 1-2 on the road against their arch-rival (?) Charleston RiverDogs over the weekend, so with the off-day today, it seemed like a good time to check out the 2022 roster.
The Low-A affiliate is always going to be the most interesting because of all the talent that is leaving Arizona and rookie ball for the first time. For many of these players, it’s their first taste of the daily grind of professional baseball. And for many of us, it’s our first chance to see them, either in person or via milb.tv.
Of the players currently on the Pelicans roster, 20 of the 30 of them had at least some time in Myrtle Beach last year, Some of them that was just for less than five games, however.
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans have been the Cubs’ Low-A affiliate since last season. That’s the first step once a player leaves rookie ball at the Spring Training complexes, at least since last season when they eliminated Short-Season A ball.
From 2015 to 2019, the Pelican were the Cubs’ High-A team. They play in the Carolina League, which has reclaimed its traditional name after being called the “Low-A East League” last season. There are 12 teams divided into two divisions in the Carolina League, which stretches from Maryland to Georgia.
Sometimes we just call the Pelicans “The Birds” for short.
The Pelicans play in TicketReturn.com Field, which is one of the best pitchers’ parks in all of the minor leagues. Just know that when evaluating the statistics the Birds put up this year or last.
Who are the top prospects?
I put this section up top because it’s what most of you are the most interested in. But remember, every player on the roster is trying to reach the majors and every year someone who was not highly-regarded at an early stage of their career finds something extra and makes the majors.
The biggest name on the Pelicans this year is center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, the 2020 first-round draft pick of the Mets whom the Cubs acquired when they sent Javier Báez to Queens. Crow-Armstrong is considered a potentially elite defensive center fielder with plus speed and an above average arm. His left-handed bat is more of a question. His contact skills are considered good, but how much power he’ll hit for is up in the air. It is possible, however, that Crow-Armstrong grows into some power as he ages.
PCA, as he’s known, has only played six games over the past two seasons thanks to a pandemic and a torn labrum last season. He’s still a pretty unknown quality. Crow-Armstrong will want to get on the field, get some games in and work on his hitting. His defense may be major-league ready already.
Coming in right behind PCA in some prospect rankings and above him in others, is third baseman James Triantos, the Cubs second-round pick last season. Triantos impressed everyone with his hitting in the Arizona Complex League last year, putting up a line of .327/.376/.594 with six home runs in just 25 games. He just turned 19 in January, so he’s still quite young for this level. Triantos’ defense is way behind his offense at this point, but most scouts think he has the tools to be at least average at third. Triantos has a very high ceiling at this point. It’s just a question if he gets there.
Switch-hitting infielder Reginald Preciado was part of the return from the Padres in the Yu Darvish deal. This tall and lanky shortstop won’t turn 19 until next month. Preciado has quick hands and his level hitting stroke leads to a lot of line drives all over the diamond, from both sides of the plate. He does have a bad tendency to chase breaking pitches off the plate and he’ll need to grow out of that. On defense, scouts are divided on whether he can stick at shortstop. He looks good there now, but if he adds some weight to that 6’5” frame, he may have to move to another position.
Outfielder/first baseman Felix Stevens is not someone you’ll find on a lot of prospect lists at the moment, but he certainly has the potential to be on a lot of them by year’s end. Stevens is a huge right-handed slugger from Cuba who hit .298/.365/.606 with seven home runs in 30 games in the ACL last season. He’s already got one home run for the Pelicans.
Who’s in charge?
The manager of the Pelicans is minor league legend Buddy Bailey. Bailey has won 2202 career regular-season games as a manager, which puts him fourth on the all-time list and first among active managers. He managed in the Braves system from 1983 to 1990 and in the Red Sox system from 1991 to 1996 and again from 2002 to 2005. He was the Red Sox major league bench coach in 2000 and served as a scout and roving instructor with Boston from 1997 to 1999 and again in 2001 and 2002. Bailey joined the Cubs organization in 2006 and has been managing here ever since. He won league titles with the Daytona Cubs in 2011, with the Pelicans in 2016 and with South Bend in 2019.
For the second-straight season, the Pelicans pitching coach is Clayton Mortensen. Mortensen had a five-year major league career with four different teams from 2009 to 2013. He continued to pitch in the minor leagues until 2017 and was on the injured list all of 2018, after which he retired to take a job as a minor league pitching coach with the Royals. He joined the Cubs last season.
Steven Pollakov is in his first season as the Pelicans hitting coach. The last two seasons he’s been a hitting coach for the Cubs’ rookie ball complex teams in Arizona, so he should be familiar with many of the current Pelican hitters. Pollakov was a catcher for one season, 2016, in the White Sox organization.
Finally, Jovanny Rosario is the Pelicans bench coach for 2022. Rosario has been working in various capacities for the Cubs for eight seasons, most recently as a hitting coach in the Dominican Summer League in 2021. Rosario was an outfielder who played in the Dodgers system from 2006 to 2009, in independent ball in 2010 and in the Mexican League from 2010 to 2013.
Who are the pitchers?
Right-handed Richard Gallardo was considered an Top 20 prospect in the Cubs system before the pandemic, but when he returned last season his velocity was down and he struggled with a 4.53 ERA in 21 starts for Myrtle Beach. He’ll try to do better this year. He’s already got one solid start behind him this season.
Luke Little is a huge left-hander whom the Cubs took in the fourth round in 2020. He only got 11 innings in during the rookie ball season last year, but the flamethrower struck out 19 batters in that time. Little needs to work on his control and secondary pitches.
The Cubs took right-hander Tyler Schlaffer in the ninth round out of Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Cook County. He got in nine starts with the Pelicans last year, going 2-5 with a 4.65 ERA.
The Cubs must like them big, because Porter Hodge is another 6’4” right-hander who relies on command a sweeping slider. Despite Hodge’s size, his fastball velocity is just average.
It just seems like right-hander Jose Miguel Gonzalez has been in the Cubs’ system forever, but it’s actually only been since 2017. The 24-year-old is repeating Myrtle Beach after going 4-8 with a 5.83 ERA in 24 appearances and 74 innings for the Pelicans last season.
Lefty Adam Laskey was a 19th-round pick out of Duke in 2019. He’s had trouble staying healthy throughout his career and didn’t make his pro debut until last year with the Pelicans. He struggled in nine starts and six relief appearances in 2021, so he’ll try again this year.
Right-handed reliever Luis Devers was very good in the ACL last season and that earned him a brief, three-inning stint with Myrtle Beach at the end of the year.
Lefty Riley Martin was a budget senior sign as a sixth-round pick in 2021, but not one without some talent. He did struggle in eight relief appearances with the Pelicans last year.
Jake Reindl pitched 34.2 innings of relief for the Pelicans last year and struck out 45 batters. He also walked 21, which led to a 5.97 ERA. You can probably guess what Reindl is working on this year.
The Cubs took Frankie Scalzo Jr. in the 14th round of last summer’s draft. The Cubs kept him on a leash, but he looked good in the eight innings he gave up in Myrtle Beach last summer, striking out seven and walking just one.
Johzan Oquendo was the Cubs’ 16th-round pick in 2019. He didn’t make his pro debut until last summer, when he struck out 49 and walked 21 in 41.1 innings in the ACL.
Oregon State lefthander Chase Watkins was the Cubs’ ninth-round pick in 2021 and he struck out 20 and walked just two in 11.1 innings in the ACL last summer. He was known for his curve and control at OSU, so he’s going to see if that plays in Low-A. He could have a future as a left-handed specialist in the majors.
Right-hander Jarod Wright was a successful workhorse reliever for the BIrds last year, posting a 3.59 ERA with three saves in 52.2 innings. He’s 25 already, so repeating Low-A is not a good sign for him, despite his success last season.
Tyler Santana did not look overmatched after he was signed as an undrafted free agent last summer and sent to South Bend for 18 innings of relief. He’ll get a proper introduction to the minors this year in Myrtle Beach.
Righty Walker Powell pitched six innings for the Pelicans last summer.
Left-hander Luis Angel Rodriguez and right-hander Sheldon Reed got tasked with filling in all over the system last year. Both did fine in limited action, except when they pitched for Iowa, which is to be expected.
Who are the catchers?
Ethan Hearn was the highest-ranked high-school catcher in the 2019 draft. The Cubs took him in the sixth-round and signed him with second-round bonus money. He was on a lot of top prospect lists at this time last season, but anyone will tell you that there is nothing riskier than drafting a high school catcher.
Hearn simply didn’t hit last year in Myrtle Beach, putting up a line of .176/.271/.321 with six home runs in 62 games. Hearn will simply have to hit better and make more contact in his second time around. He’s only 21 and few catchers develop quickly. He has time. Hearn did show a strong arm behind the plate that put opposition baserunners on notice every time he caught. The tools are there for Hearn, but he needs to be able to use them in games more often.
Malcolm Quintero is not to be confused with his fellow Venezuelan catcher Ronnier Quintero, who is also in the Cubs system. Quintero hit .333/.455/.444 in 39 games in the ACL last year. Myrtle Beach is a tougher test this year.
Another Venezuelan catcher, left-handed hitter Miguel Fabrizio, also dominated the ACL by hitting .372/.441/.584 in 33 games. He also got six at-bats with the Pelicans last summer.
Who are the infielders?
Other than Triantos and Preciado, shortstop Yeison Santana returns to Myrtle Beach this summer. Santana was one of the four prospects the Cubs got in the Yu Darvish deal. He was the oldest (an ancient 21 years old at the moment) and he was considered the most advanced of the four. The Cubs tried to start him out at Myrtle Beach last year, but the challenge was too much for him and they sent Santana back to rookie ball. He did much better in the ACL, hitting .292/.385/.382. He’s more experienced now and we’ll see if that makes the difference in Low-A this year.
The Cubs took Australian second baseman Liam Spence in the fifth-round out of Tennessee last summer. His older brother Josh was a pitcher for the Padres in 2011 and 2012. Spence is a contact-oriented hitter with a solid glove. As he was a 23-year-old senior sign, the Cubs pushed him to South Bend last year, where he struggled badly in 16 games. Maybe moving him back a level will get him right.
Corner infielder B.J. Murray was a 15th-round pick out of Florida Atlantic last summer and he’s a native of the Bahamas. He’s one of those players who did pretty well in the good hitting environment of Sloan Park and will now be tested at TicketReturn.com Field.
Who are the outfielders?
Jacob Wetzel hits left-handed and can play all three outfield positions. He played 86 games for the Pelicans last year and hit .229/.339/.351. He’s off to a better start this year.
The Cubs took Peter Matt in the tenth round out of Duke. He struggled in limited action last season, but it was too small a sample size for anyone to be concerned with. Matt showed good power from the right side at Duke.
Ezequiel Pagan was a 13th-round pick out of high school in Puerto Rico in 2018. He spent three seasons in rookie ball (and one with a pandemic) before finally getting a shot at Low-A last year. He was fine, putting up a line of .245/.315/.336.
Where is my favorite prospect?
Some of you have probably gone through these four previews and are asking why I didn’t talk about some of your favorite prospects. That’s because they aren’t on a roster at the moment. In pretty much every case, the answer is either they are in Extended Spring Training or they are injured.
Christian Hernandez and Kevin Alcantara, two players that everyone is anxious to see, are still in Mesa. The Cubs may wait until June and have them start in rookie ball, or they may deem them ready in a few weeks and send them up to Myrtle Beach.
Brailyn Marquez is in Extended Spring Training building up arm strength after getting a late start to the 2022 season because he contracted COVID-19.
Miguel Amaya and Drew Gray underwent Tommy John surgery and are out for the season.
The Cubs aren’t always very forthcoming about the status of their players not on a minor league roster, so we may not always know what’s up with some players. But rest assured that the Cubs want these players to succeed more than you do.
Where can I see the Pelicans?
Taking a summer vacation to enjoy the beach and some baseball in Myrtle Beach is never a bad idea, but the Carolina League stretches from Maryland to Georgia. You can always catch a road game. And of course, there’s always milb.tv. The Pelicans broadcasts have consistently been among the best quality ones in the lower minors. In fact, you can say that all four Cubs affiliates put a lot of work into their video streams, if you were on the fence about signing up for milb.tv. Of course, you can always listen to the radio feeds for free.