The Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Chicago Cubs Low-A minor league affiliate, announced their Opening Night roster in advance of Thursday’s game against the Charleston RiverDogs. The Pelicans roster features some highly-anticipated debuts and a few returning top prospects.
The Pelicans, or the Birds as they are sometimes called, have been an affiliate of the Cubs since the 2015 season. They were a High-A team from 2015 to 2019 and they won the Carolina League championship in both 2015 and 2016. Myrtle Beach was moved to Low-A during the minor league reorganization of 2021. The Pelicans won the first-half title of the South Division last year.
The Pelicans are managed by Buddy Bailey, a legend in his 35th season of managing in the minor leagues. Bailey is the active leader in minor league wins as a manager with 2,280. Of that total, 353 of them have come managing the Pelicans from 2016 to 2018 and again in 2021 and 2022. Bailey has been with the Cubs organization since 2009.
The new pitching coach is former major league pitcher Bruce Billings, who pitched for the Rockies, Athletics and Yankees. He also had a three-year stint in Taiwan’s CPBL. He also worked as a pitching coach in Taiwan in 2021. He also coached in the Phillies organization.
The new hitting coach is Roberto Vaz, who spent seven years in the minors with Oakland and Texas. He is in his first year in the Cubs organization after serving as an assistant coach for Louisiana State-Eunice for the past eight seasons.
One word of warning for those who follow the progress of the Pelicans this season. Pelicans Ballpark is one of the most extreme pitchers’ ballparks in the minor leagues. It’s an especially difficult place to hit home runs. So keep that in mind when you see the pitching and hitting statistics for Pelicans prospects. (Although they do play half their games on the road.)
Also, Thursday night’s opener will be televised on the Marquee Network, starting at 6 p.m. Central time. It’s an off-day for the Cubs, so tune in if you can.
Cade Horton, the Cubs’ first-round draft pick in 2022, will make his professional debut with the Pelicans. Horton will be among the most-watched Cubs prospects this season. During the 2022 regular season with Oklahoma, Horton struggled as he recovered after missing the 2021 season with Tommy John surgery. But during the regionals, super-regionals and the College World Series, Horton was lights-out and looked more than worthy of a top-ten pick in the draft. The reports from Spring Training have backed up those elite scouting reports. This is a bit of a conservative assignment for Horton, so it will be interesting to see how he handles it and how long he stays in Myrtle Beach.
It seems like Cubs fans have been hearing about shortstop Cristian Hernandez forever, but in reality the 19-year-old has only been in the system since 2021. (Although his expected signing in 2020 was delayed by the pandemic.) In Myrtle Beach, Cubs fans will finally get to see Hernandez play, either in crowded stadium or on tv or video. Hernandez’s performance in rookie ball last season wasn’t bad, but it was underwhelming for a prospect who was so highly-regarded. However, Hernandez certainly displayed the tools of an elite ballplayer. He was just a lot more raw than expected. So the Cubs will be looking for signs of progress.
Catcher Moises Ballesteros finished last season with Myrtle Beach and he showed that he could hit. In his first at bat for the Pelicans, he crushed a home run off the center field batter’s eye. But Ballesteros struggled behind the plate. He’ll have to show progress defensively before he gets promoted to South Bend.
Infielder Pedro Ramirez, who just turned 19 on Saturday, put himself on the prospect map with a strong season in rookie ball last year, hitting .326/.399/.541 in Mesa. That earned him a ten-game debut with the Pelicans last year where he went 11 for 41. Ramirez is a switch-hitter with plus speed, good contact skills and solid defense.
Left-hander Branden Noriega is a mystery man on the Pelicans roster. Although the Cubs drafted him in the 11th-round last year, Noriega hasn’t pitched anywhere other than in last year’s Draft League since graduating from high school in Florida in 2019. The reports are that he has a 94-to-97 mph fastball.
Right-handed Saul Gonzalez joined the Pelicans last season after coming over from the Mets in the Mychal Givens trade. Gonzalez had a 3.63 ERA over 17⅓ innings with Myrtle Beach.
Gonzalez is one of several pitchers who return to Myrtle Beach after playing at least part of the season there in 2022. Right-handed reliever Yovanny Cabrera made ten relief appearances in Myrtle Beach last year. Right-hander Michael Arias made two starts for the Pelicans last year. He was a shortstop in the Blue Jays organization, but the Cubs converted him to pitching after the Blue Jays released him.
Right-hander Koen Moreno was the Cubs’ fifth-round pick out of high school in North Carolina in 2020. He made five starts and two relief appearances last year for the Birds. He needs to learn to throw more strikes. Fellow right-hander Angel Gonzalez could also throw more strikes. He made 25 relief appearances for the Pelicans last year and walked 28 while striking out 30 in 32.1 innings.
Right-hander Johzan Oquendo spent all last season with Myrtle Beach and struck out 88 batters in only 58⅓ innings of relief. Right-hander Brody McCullough was the Cubs’ tenth-round pick last season out of Wingate University in North Carolina. He allowed just one run in five innings with the Pelicans late last season. Right-hander Grant Kipp was an undrafted free agent out of Yale last season. He made five relief appearances for the Pelicans in 2022. Seventh-round pick Nick Hull made three starts for the Birds late last season.
Right-handed starter Kevin Valdez is making his Pelicans debut after a strong showing in the Arizona Complex League last year. Left-hander Mariano Santy has a good ERA in rookie ball last year (3.45), but walked way too many—24 in 15⅔ innings.
Joining Ballesteros are two catchers who are returning from the 2022 Pelicans. Miguel Fabrizio only hit .152 in 66 at-bats last year, but he had three doubles, a triple and two home runs—so 6 of his 10 hits went for extra bases. Malcom Quintero hit .226 with one home run in 34 games for the Pelicans in 2022.
Shortstop Reginald Preciado made a lot of top prospect lists after a strong season in the ACL in 2021, but his 2022 season with the Pelicans was disappointing. But he’s still just 19 years old and has plenty of time to get his career back on track.
Shortstop Rafael Morel is Christopher’s younger brother. He’s spent the last two seasons in rookie ball and will be making his Low-A debut this year.
First baseman Felix Stevens returns to the Pelicans after hitting 11 home runs in Low-A in just 71 games last year. Stevens is a huge man and he has tremendous raw power, but he’s a bit of a three-true-outcomes player.
The Cubs selected infielder Miguel Pabon in the 34th round out of Puerto Rico in 2018. His progress has been sidelined by injuries since then. He finally makes his Low-A debut this year.
The Cubs took Christian Franklin in the fourth round in the 2021 draft. out of Arkansas. He missed all of the 2022 season with a knee injury.
Left-handed hitting Parker Chavers was a seventh-round pick in 2021. He hit .244 with two home runs in 35 games for the Pelicans last year.
Andy Garriola was a 17th-round pick out of Old Dominion last year. He makes his Pelicans debut.
The Cubs selected left-handed hitting Jefferson Encarnacion in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft from the Phillies. He hasn’t played since 2019 and not above the Dominican Summer League.