Minor League Preview – High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans
The third installment of a series previewing the 2015 minor league season focuses on the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. A brief overall look at the system will precede the team summaries.
Please note that the previews are based on current roster assignments and anticipated Spring Training success. All assignments, both as to position and level, are subject to change pending the completion of Spring Training. Click here for the Cubs’ minor league camp rosters.
High-A – Myrtle Beach Pelicans
What do you do for an encore when you breeze through the playoffs and take your league championship? You take your act on the road and you add talent! That’s just what last year’s Midwest League Champions will be doing in new home for the Cubs’ High-A affiliate, Myrtle Beach.
Infield – A very solid infield got a boost with the return of Tim Saunders. Saunders has battled arm injuries for the past two seasons but seems to be ready to resume his career. Prior to the injuries, Saunders batted .381 in 49 games. And even with the injuries sapping his ability, the 24-year old Saunders has been able to post a career average of .279 with 48 stolen bases in 56 attempts. A shortstop by trade, Saunders has also played second, third, and the outfield. The presence of Saunders allows the Cubs to ease in a great double play combination of Carlos Penalver and Danny Lockhart.
Only 20 years old, Penalver hit .211 with a home run, but did have 40 RBI and 21 stolen bases. The real value of Penalver is defense as most observers feel that he was better than his very good fielding average of .964 indicates. The 22-year old Lockhart is a player that most scouts feel fall just short of being included in the top prospect lists. Primarily a second baseman, the lefty hitting Lockhart has also played short and third. Last season, Lockhart hit .284 with 28 RBI and 12 stolen bases.
Switch hitter Jeimer Candelario had a 2014 he would like to forget. Initially assigned to High-A Daytona, the 21-year old Candelario struggled and was sent back to Low-A. The third baseman still holds a lot of promise, and looks to build on a .223 average with 11 home runs and 63 RBI. Just where 22-year old Chesny Young figures in all of this is unknown.
Drafted in the 14th round last year, Young started off his career hitting and has not stopped. After two games in the rookie league, Young played 15 games with Short Season-A Boise before earning a quick promotion to Low-A Kane County. Through it all, Young hit a combined .327 with 18 RBI and three stolen bases in 44 games. Mainly lining up at second base where he fielded very well at .987, Young has also dabbled at both third base and shortstop.
Steadying the infield could be 25-year old first baseman Jacob Rogers. Rogers was a rock at first base, fielding .993 while driving in 67 runs with 16 home runs and hitting .268. A recently signed player that will be able to provide depth could be Shane Kennedy. A non-drafted free agent, Kennedy has been practicing with the group expected to be with Myrtle Beach this season after coming back from a knee injury in college. Kennedy has been listed as a second baseman, and has played both third and first base in Spring Training.
Outfield – To use the line from the movie Top Gun, the best way to describe the outfield squad for the Pelicans is “I feel the need, the need for speed!”Myrtle Beach will have one of the fastest and most athletic outfields in all of the minor leagues. Starting in left field is an emerging prospect in Shawon Dunston Jr. The 22-year old left-handed Dunston really blossomed in the second half of the 2014 season, raising his batting average to .268 with two home runs, 37 RBI, and 27 stolen bases.
Returning to action after losing a year to shoulder surgery, centerfielder Trey Martin looks as if he is ready to resume a promising career. Also 22 years old, Martin hit .247 with five home runs, 37 RBI, and 29 stolen bases. Although he has played mostly center field, Jacob Hannemann most likely will move over to right field in this configuration. The athletic, 23-year old is starting to become more of a baseball player with his first full professional season under his belt. Splitting his time between Low-A and High-A, the lefty Hannemann batted a combined .251 with eight home runs, 51 RBI, and 37 stolen bases.
Backing up this trio is a bit of a mystery as it is not certain whether Yasiel Balaguert will be promoted after losing about a half a season last year to injury. Infielders Saunders and Kennedy will see some reps in the outfield, but the best bet for a fourth may be Kevin Brown. The organization seems very high on Brown’s ability as he is currently practicing with the Triple-A Iowa squad and played six games with Double-A Tennessee last year. The 23-year old lefty hit .261 across three levels with five home runs and 37 RBI in just 62 games. Brown also has experience at first base.
Catching –A player that seems to be on the rise is 23-year old Cael Brockmeyer. Invited to assist with catching in the big league camp this spring, Brockmeyer was one of the last catching prospects to be reassigned. Brockmeyer had to split time with several other prospects at Low-A last year, but hit .297 with eight home runs and 43 RBI in 77 games. Brockmeyer was above average defensively, tossing out 22 percent of all base stealers while seeing some time at first base.
One of the top prospects in the system, it appears that Victor Caratini will open in Myrtle Beach in 2015. Acquired from the Braves for INF Emilio Bonifacio and LHP James Russell, the 21-year old switch-hitter batted a combined .277 with five home runs and 55 RBI in 101 games. Some scouts believe that Caratini is already the best defensive catcher in the system.
An All-Star in the Midwest League as a third baseman Jordan Hankins is making the transition to catcher. The organization has flirted with the 23-year old Hankins moving to catcher in the past, but kept him as an infielder once the regular season started. After his All-Star performance in Low-A, Hankins found things tougher in High-A as he had a combined .283 average with five home runs and 51 RBI.
Pitching – Leading the Midwest League in wins, ERA, and WHIP, the pitching staff that helped secure a league championship may have gotten stronger moving to High-A Myrtle Beach.
The starting rotation may go at least seven deep and starts with Minor League Pitcher of the Year Jen-Ho Tseng. The 20-year old Tseng became one of the most feared pitchers in the Midwest League after missing about four weeks with a sore shoulder as he had a 0.87 WHIP and 85 strikeouts against 15 walks in 105 innings. Tseng went on to post a 6-1 record and a 2.40 ERA.
Following Tseng in the order should be the CCO’s other Minor League Co-Pitcher of the Year, Daury Torrez. The 21-year old Dominican led the league with a 0.997 WHIP and tied for second with 11 wins. Torrez was also fourth in the league with a 2.74 ERA and had 81 strikeouts against 21 walks in 131.1 innings. Among the Cubs pitchers to get the most attention recently has been Duane Underwood.
Turning just 20 years old in the middle of last season, Underwood showed marked improvement, going 6-4 with a 2.50 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP that included 84 strikeouts against 36 walks in 100.2 innings. Next up for the Pelicans should be another young but talented thrower in Paul Blackburn.
Blackburn, who turned 21 years old in December, was the bedrock of the Kane County staff in 2014. Finishing tied for eighth in the Midwest League with a 1.188 WHIP and tenth with a 3.23 ERA, Blackburn went 9-4 in 24 starts with 75 strikeouts in 117 innings. A new acquisition for the system, Jonathan Martinez is a stealth prospect for most Cubs fans.
Traded by the Dodgers in exchange for infielder Darwin Barney, Martinez’s combined 11 wins tied with Daury Torrez for second in the league, while he finished ahead of Paul Blackburn with a 1.18 WHIP and just behind him with a 3.26 ERA. Only 20 years old, Martinez also had 106 strikeouts against 21 walks in 129.2 innings. If you are looking for a lefty in the rotation, than Tyler Ihrig would be the pitcher you are looking for.
The 23-year old was an emergency call-up for High-A Daytona when injuries hit their pitching staff in late May. Ihrig was then assigned to Short Season-A Boise for eight starts before being promoted to Kane County for their playoff run. Altogether, Ihrig was 7-3 in 16 games (13 starts) with a 4.01 ERA and a 1.181 WHIP (64 strikeouts against 14 walks in 83 innings).
A 2013 fourth round draft choice, Tyler Skulina had a season of extremes in 2014. As a member of Low-A Kane County, Skulina went seven innings of a combined no-hitter and had a very solid 1.18 WHIP. However, the 23-year old could not turn that into victories, and he looked lost after being promoted to High-A Daytona. Skulina was a combined 4-9 with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP (75 strikeouts in 98.1 innings).
Up first in the battle for closer should be Juan Carlos Paniagua. In need of meaningful innings, Paniagua was used as a sixth starter in the rotation for Low-A Kane County and flashed his potential. In 17 games (14 starts), Paniagua was 6-4 with a 3.36 ERA. Promoted to High-A Daytona in mid-July, Paniagua had an additional eight appearances (seven starts), but did not have the same success, going 2-4 with a 6.14 ERA. All totaled, Paniagua went 8-8 with a save, a 4.10 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP that included 98 strikeouts in 109.2 innings. The 24-year old has an upper-90s fastball and plus slider, which may play better in the back of the pen.
The next option for closer could be Francisco Carrillo. Turning 25 years old last week (March 15), Carrillo began the year with Short Season-A Boise and moved up to Low-A Kane County in the beginning of August. Carrillo took the bull by the horns and proved to be a shutdown closer in the stretch, racking up six saves and a 1.35 ERA in 12 appearances. For the year, Carrillo was only 1-3 with seven saves and a 2.06 ERA with a 1.093 WHIP that included 49 strikeouts in 39.1 innings.
Challenging for the closer role could be 22-year old David Garner. Garner showed good swing-and-miss stuff with Short Season-A Boise, fanning 23 in 15 innings. Promoted to Low-A Kane County in late July, Garner failed to establish himself and lost out the closer position to Francisco Carrillo. His season totals were a 2-1 record and three saves in 22 appearances, a 3.82 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP that included 36 strikeouts in 30.2 innings.
Supporting in middle relief should be a pair of left-handers in Gerardo Concepcion and Michael Heesch, along with right-handers James Pugliese, Justin Amlung, Trevor Graham and Ben Wells.
After basically not playing in 2013, the Cubs have yet to solve the enigma that is Concepcion. The 22-year old looked as if he was just starting to turn a corner with Low-A Kane County when he took a line drive off his foot and broke a bone. Concepcion worked his way back to the Cougars by playing in the rookie league, and looked good enough in his return to be promoted to High-A Daytona. With the D-Cubs, Concepcion showed the promise that he displayed when the Cubs signed him as an international free agent in 2012. The numbers for all three teams were a record of 3-2 in 29 appearances with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.173 WHIP (55 strikeouts in 59.2 innings).
Held back in extended Spring Training to start last season due to injury concerns, the 24-year old Heesch returned to the bullpen at Low-A Kane County and was effective, going 3-1 in 24 appearances with a 2.18 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP (59 strikeouts in 45.1 innings).
Beginning his career as a starting pitcher, Pugliese has seemed to have found his niche in the bullpen. The adjustment didn’t seem to affect the 22-year old’s pitching as Pugliese went 4-0 with three saves in 31 appearances and a 1.66 ERA with a 0.99 WHIP (56 strikeouts in 54.1 innings).
Amlung was pressed into service as a starter when injuries hit High-A Daytona, but was more effective as a reliever for Low-A Kane County. Amlung, 24 years old, was a total of 8-4 with a save in 27 appearances (13 starts), with a 3.13 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP (85 strikeouts in 106.1 innings).
The Cubs called on Graham to fill in at High-A Daytona last spring while the 23-year old was still pitching in extended Spring Training. Graham then spent the rest of the season with Short Season-A Boise. Graham was a combined 6-4 with a 4.78 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP (57 strikeouts in 58.1 innings).
Ben Wells started out the 2014 season with High-A Daytona and fell flat, posting a 6.55 ERA and 2.27 WHIP in 22 innings. The 22-year old was then sent back all the way to Short-Season A Boise to collect himself, where he put up some modest numbers including a 2-2 record and 3.86 ERA. Wells moved back up to Low-A Kane County and put up his best numbers of the season, going 4-0 with a 2.23 ERA. Wells’ totals were 8-6 in 21 appearances (18 starts), a 3.86 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP (60 strikeouts in 86.1 innings).
What to Watch for
Myrtle Beach should be a very entertaining team to watch. They will play great defense and may steal over 150 bases. And then, there is all that pitching. The key will be to see if the offense can click enough to support the pitching staff, something that was able to happen last season. There is not a lot of power, so the pressure will be on Jacob Rogers, Victor Caratini, and Jeimer Candelario to drive in runs. In the end, their pitching should keep them in the hunt for a second straight league championship.
Minor League Previews
Five Minor League Players to Watch
- Rookie and Short Season-A Ball – Down on the Farm Report – 02/23/15
- Low-A South Bend and High-A Myrtle Beach – Down on the Farm Report – 03/02/15
- Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa – Down on the Farm Report – 03/09/15
Attention CCO Readers
The Down on the Farm preliminary reader’s poll has been completed, and the top 20 players nominated are part of an online poll to reduce the number down to ten players. Please vote at the CCO home page in order to ensure that that your favorite player is followed by Down on the Farm Report for the 2015 season.
Race to Wrigley
For the third straight year, I will be competing in the Race to Wrigley 5K run on April 25, 2014. If anyone is interested in making a donation or joining the CCO team, please visit Race to Wrigley – Chicago Cubs Online to register. All proceeds go to Chicago Cubs Charities and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.