Myrtle Beach Update: Improvements in Hitting Keep Pelicans in Hunt
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans closed out their first half with a 36-34 record, 7.5 games behind the division champion Salem Red Sox. The Pelicans had the best ERA in the Carolina League but they also had the worst batting average. Half of their bullpen was promoted to Tennessee by the end of May and their best hitter, Ian Happ, joined the Smokies at the All-Star break. That’s not necessarily a recipe for a repeat of last year’s Mills Cup Championship.
But I think the odds, as of today, are in their favor to get back to the playoffs.
Going into the second half, the Pelicans knew that their starting pitching would be the hallmark for their team. Starters Trevor Clifton, Zach Hedges, Erick Leal, Jake Stinnett, and Jonathan Martinez have kept the scores low and have kept the Pelicans in most games. However, the pitching has been up and down so far in the second half as rain is playing havoc with the daily schedule. They’ve had to play several seven-inning double headers due to the rainouts, which throws off the routines of the starters. Only Leal seems unfaze by the weather 12 games into the second half.
The hitting, an obvious first-half weakness, is better but it still needs improvement. New players David Bote (.303) and Ian Rice (.302 w/4 HRs in ten days) have come in and done very well in place of Happ. The two hitters at the top of the lineup, Rashad Crawford and Charcer Burks, struggled to get it going early. Crawford is at .239 for the season and Burks is at .228.
However, Crawford is hitting .364 in July and kind of reminds me of Dexter Fowler. As he goes, so go the Pelicans. The Cubs’ top prospect, Gleyber Torres, is hitting at a .304 clip in the second half. Manager Buddy Bailey dropped Torres to third after Happ left and inserted Burks and Crawford at the top of the order. Rice slid in behind them in the cleanup spot and the Pelicans have won four of six this month. Things look promising.
In spite of the promotions, the bullpen has stabilized with Ryan McNeil in the closer role and the improved performances of James Pugliese and Jordan Minch. Pedro Araujo was promoted from low-A and has not allowed a run yet this year between South Bend and Myrtle Beach.
The Pelicans are currently 7-7 and sit in second place, just 1/2 game out of first in their four team division in the second half. But, you’re about to hear one of the strangest things in baseball in the next paragraph.
The Road to the Playoffs
The Carolina League has some of the wackiest playoff rules in all of minor league baseball. Like most of the other class A leagues, the division winners in each half qualify for the playoffs. That’s not abnormal. What is strange is how they determine the wild cards at the end of the season.
If the team that won the first half title also wins the second half title, the wild card for the playoffs is determined by the next team with the best overall record for the year. The Pelicans, currently at 41-41 for the season, have an 8.5 game lead over Winston Salem (34-49) for that spot.
For the Pelicans to hold their lead, and to actually get into the playoffs, they are going to need two things in the second half. One is an improved weather outlook. This will stabilize the starting rotation in their daily routines. The second thing they’re going to need is some hitting. I do not think there going to be too many more promotions of position players to Myrtle Beach. Eloy Jimenez is not gonna be walking through that door. PJ Higgins is not gonna be walking through that door and neither will Carlos Sepulveda.
The current hitters on the Pelicans are going to have to be the ones who get it done. Crawford, Burks, Jason Vosler, Jeffrey Baez, Andrew Ely, and Daniel Spingola are going to have to step it up at the plate. That doesn’t mean home runs. They just need to get hits and get on base and to keep the train moving every night.
The Professional Development Contract (PDC) between the Cubs and the Pelicans expires at the end of this year. In the past two weeks, South Bend and Eugene have had both their PDCs extended. I would expect the same to happen to Myrtle Beach in the next month. The only thing that could stand in the way of the deal would be the number of rainouts. I really can’t see the Cubs going to the California League for Class A baseball. It’s too hot and it’s a noted hitter’s league, a place where young pitchers struggle. At the same time, Myrtle Beach has bent over backwards to accommodate the franchise’s every wish the past two years. It seems like a done deal to me that the Cubs stay in Carolina.