Two years as a Cubs affiliate, two Carolina League Mills Cup championships. That is a pretty good relationship. This year, the Pelicans are stacked with talent once again as they go for the three-peat.
2016 review (82-57 record)
Myrtle Beach relied on some powerful starting pitching and a second-half surge from their offense, not to mention some promotions from South Bend. Pitchers Trevor Clifton, Erick Leal, and Preston Morrison set the pace on the mound while David Bote, Yasiel Balaguert, and Charcer Burks did the same at the plate.
The bullpen, led by Ryan McNeil and James Pugliese, shut down the opposition. The Pelicans did all this after saying goodbye Gleyber Torres and Rashad Crawford in the Aroldis Chapman trade, losing bullpen stalwart Jordan Minch to injury, and seeing Ian Happ promoted to AA Tennessee.
There’s still a little uncertainty as to who might be playing in Myrtle Beach this year, most of which comes down to the starting rotation. That fluidity figures to continue in the second half due to promotions from South Bend.
Ryan Kellogg, whose plus curveball baffled the Midwest league en route to a sub-2.00 ERA in the second half for South Bend, looks to be the left-handed anchor of the staff. The star of the show, though, will likely be Oscar de la Cruz. The 6’5” right-hander has a dominating presence on the mound to go along with a mid-90’s fastball and a plus curve. He is still working on a changeup as well.
Add in righties Kyle Miller and Casey Bloomquist, and you have two more pitchers who throw in the low-90’s. Miller has an excellent cutter while Bloomquist has excellent command of three pitches and is just beginning to develop a cutter of his own to get lefties out.
Lefty Jose Paulino is another pitcher who could dominate at Myrtle Beach. With a low-to-mid-90’s fastball and a power curve/slider, Paulino could be one of the top pitchers in the Cubs’ system by the end of the year if he’s able to further develop a third pitch. Rumor is that 21-year-old might be in the bullpen to start the year, where his two pitch mix would be lethal.
Adbert Alzolay is likely to nab a starting role, and Thomas Hatch should be in Myrtle Beach by July 1 at the latest. He is just too good a pitcher, with a four-pitch arsenal and high-level college experience, to stay in South Bend all season.
I also expect Dylan Cease to be in South Carolina by the end of June. In fact, the Pelicans’ second-half staff could be almost completely remade with some of the top prospects in the organization being promoted from South Bend.
Everyone seems to believe Eloy Jimenez will start the year at Myrtle Beach once he recovers from his recent bone bruise. I agree with that assessment, but he should be off to Tennessee by the middle of June. His pitch recognition skills are more refined now and I think the Cubs’ top prospect is going to destroy pitchers in the Carolina League. After a brilliant spring with the big league club, Jimenez does not look that far away from Chicago.
In the early absence of their super-stud, there are still plenty of other bats to provide offense for the Pelicans. Eddy Martinez will be playing centerfield this year and I think we will see his bat take a leap forward in his second full year of professional baseball.
Second baseman Carlos Sepulveda is a hitting machine. The 19-year-old it over .300 in South Bend last year and I expect more of the same this year as his hit tool and awareness is just so good. Catcher PJ Higgins is another plate-discipline guy who hit in the upper .280’s with an on-base percentage of around .400. He’s also the best defensive catcher in the Cubs system, with great release times to second base.
Matt Rose is going to turn some heads this year. He started off 2016 poorly and was reassigned to Eugene, where he regained his confidence and stroke. From there, he went on to pummel seven home runs just in the month of August upon returning to South Bend. He won’t replicate that total every month with the wind blowing in off the ocean at Myrtle Beach, but if he can turn on some balls, he’s going to do some serious damage this summer.
LF – Eloy Jimenez
CF – Eddy Martinez
RF -Daniel Spingola
3B – Jesse Hodges
SS – Andruw Monasterio
2B – Carlos Sepulveda
1B – Matt Rose
C – PJ Higgins, Tyler Alamo
DH – Connor Myers
SP – de la Cruz, Kellogg, Alzolay, Kyle Miller, Bloomquist, Justin Steele
First to be promoted
Eloy Jimenez, Oscar de la Cruz
In just a short time as a part of the organization, Myrtle Beach has already proven to be a valuable springboard for several Cubs prospects. This year looks to be no different, as the Grand Strand is once again flush with burgeoning talent. If you’re planning on getting down there to see some of the top players in action, though, you might want to head down early in the summer.
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AAA Iowa Cubs