There has been quite a bit of minor league news over the last couple of weeks that was overlooked due to focus on the big league team.
Here’s a roundup of the news and notes from the Cubs’ system …
Myrtle Beach Pelicans
The 2015 Carolina League Champions, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans were named Baseball America’s Class-A Organization of the Year during the Winter Meetings.
The Pelicans earned the prestigious Bob Freitas Award.
After a successful debut season as a Chicago Cubs affiliate that included a league championship, brand new attendance record and a number of creative promotions, Baseball America has named the Myrtle Beach Pelicans the Bob Freitas Class-A Award winner. The award recognizes long-term excellence and is presented to the organization with the best overall operation at each level of Minor League Baseball. President and General Manager Andy Milovich accepted the prestigious award on behalf of the Pelicans at the Baseball Winter Meetings.
“It’s an incredible honor to be recognized by Baseball America as the top franchise in Class-A,” stated Milovich. “It’s a testament to a great ownership, fantastic staff and a community that is incredibly supportive of the Pelicans.”
Since Greenberg Sports Group purchased the club in 2006, the Pelicans have poured more than $4 million into ballpark improvements. The 2015 season marked the fifth straight year that TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark was ranked by Stadium Journey as the top ballpark experience in the Carolina League and among the top ten best in all of Minor League Baseball, finishing eighth of out 160 parks on the list.
Thanks to innovative and entertaining promotions such as Prostate Cancer Awareness Night, Christmas Vacation in July and Old School Hip Hop Night, the Pelicans welcomed an average of 3,877 fans through the gates of TicketReturn.com Field in 2015, setting a franchise record for the second straight season. Despite eight lost gates, Myrtle Beach finished with a total attendance of 240,357, which ranks third all-time in the history of the franchise. The Pelicans drew 15 sellout crowds, and on three occasions, the club welcomed a max-capacity, standing-room-only sellout crowd of 6,599 fans.
In addition to their focus on the local community, the club worked to draw vacationers, specifically Cubs fans, to Myrtle Beach. One social media campaign targeted at Cubs fans was “9 Innings of Winning,” in which the Pelicans partnered with the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, the Cubs, all Cubs affiliates and several well-known Cubs bloggers to giveaway prizes each inning during a nationally televised game in June. Another campaign targeted at visitors stemmed from a partnership with Horry County Department of Airports. The Pelicans launched an advertising campaign at Myrtle Beach International Airport that featured a recorded greeting from Cubs manager Joe Maddon welcoming visitors to the Grand Strand. The club also sent their “street team” to greet direct flights from Chicago and hung jerseys with the numbers correlating with the baggage carousel at the airport. The club’s efforts to become a regional and national power saw the team’s Twitter followers increased by 200 percent, Facebook likes jumped by 60 percent and Instagram followers vaulted from 844 to more than 3,200 by the season’s end.
The club’s efforts continued into the offseason, as the Pelicans teamed up with three other South Carolina minor league teams to create a joint GoFundMe page that supported flood victims in the state. Additionally, Myrtle Beach was the Carolina League’s nominee for the MacPhail Award, Director of Marketing Kristin Call was named Carolina League Female Executive of the Year and former Media Relations Manager Nathan Barnett was honored as the circuit’s Broadcaster of the Year.
The 2015 season was the 17th season for the Pelicans franchise and first as the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans have a new play-by-play announcer.
The team announced last week that Scott Kornberg is the new voice of the Pelicans, the Cubs’ High-A affiliate and 2015 Carolina League Champions.
Scott Kornberg was named the team’s Play-by-Play Announcer and Media Relations Manager.
Kornberg, 24, was the Broadcast and Media Relations Assistant with the Winston-Salem Dash last season. The Belle Meade, N.J. native graduated from the University of Maryland in 2013 where he called Terps men’s basketball, football, baseball and men’s soccer games as the co-Director of the student-run station WMUC Sports.
Those on Twitter can follow Scott Kornberg – @ScottKornberg
Albert Almora Jr. – Willson Contreras
Marty Pevey talked to the Des Moines Register last week after the Cubs announced the managers and coaching staff for all of its minor league affiliates.
Pevey expects Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras to make their I-Cubs debuts at some point during the 2016 season and would not rule out both players beginning the year with Iowa. And Pevey said “it’s time” Almora Jr. played at the Triple-A level.
Almora Jr. should continue playing all three outfield spots with the I-Cubs and hit toward the top of the lineup.
Pevey admitted he cannot imagine “Willson not being on our roster to begin with.” Pevey pointed out Contreras led the Southern League in hitting and if he starts the year back in Double-A, he should not be there long.
Pierce Johnson is the top starting pitching prospect in the Cubs’ system closest to the majors. Johnson will be in big league camp this spring. Johnson should start, and spend the season with Triple-A Iowa. Unlike the last two years, Johnson needs to begin the season on time and not on the disabled list.
Johnson appeared in 16 games this past season with Double-A Tennessee, his second year with the Smokies. Johnson was 6-2 with a 2.08 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. Johnson allowed 24 runs, 22 earned, on 76 hits with 32 walks and 72 strikeouts in 95 innings. Johnson picked up 24 2/3 innings in the AFL with mixed results. Johnson was 1-2 with a 5.47 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in seven starts (16 runs, 15 earned, 28 hits, 13 walks, 21 strikeouts).
Johnson projects as a middle of the rotation starter in the big leagues, but has a lot of work to do. If Johnson can stay off the disabled list, time should allow him to work on his mechanics and continue his progression from a thrower to a pitcher.
Bernie Pleskoff scouted Johnson in the AFL, here are highlights of the scouting report he posted:
• Complete repertoire, a 90-93 mph fastball with late inside run, 82-83 mph curveball, 88 mph cutter, 84 mph changeup, 83 mph slider, curveball best secondary pitch, deep and effective repertoire works well when he uses it and doesn’t rely on his fastball, curveball is old fashioned yellow hammer with crisp movement and 10 mph difference from fastball
• Hitters have difficult time making hard contact with his fastball
• Uses traditional windup with a three-quarters arm slot delivery, falls off toward first base
• Inconsistent release point, leads to control issues, walks and hard contact
• Must stay consistent with his mechanics, when on and pitching with a rhythm, throws strikes
The Cubs selected LHP Rob Zastryzny in the second round of the 2013 draft. Zastryzny dealt with injuries last season in his second full year in pro ball. Zastryzny struggled when he was on the mound and spent time in the Arizona Fall League trying to make up development time he lost during the year.
In 14 starts for Double-A Tennessee, Zastryzny was 2-5 with a 6.97 ERA and 1.73 WHIP. Zastryzny allowed 47 runs, 42 earned, on 77 hits with 28 walks and 48 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings during his age-23 season.
20-80 Baseball posted a scouting report on Zastryzny that projects him as a swingman/fifth starter in the big leagues with an arrival time in late 2017.
Zastryzny’s fastball sits in the 90-92 mph range, maxes out at 92 with moderate run, below average command. His curveball, in the 77-79 mph range, was described as a loose offering that lacks quality bite and flashes as below average. Zastryzny also features a change-up (80-83 mph, 84 mph max) with fastball arm speed and deception but below average command. And his cutter that he throws in the 88-89 mph range has deception but he also has trouble commanding the pitch.
Rob Zastryzny could end up in the backend of a Major League rotation one day. Like several players in the Cubs’ system, Zastryzny could use a good spring that continues into the season. He should begin the year with Triple-A Iowa in a rotation with Pierce Johnson.
Arizona Fall League Top Prospects Team
The AFL released its 2015 Top Prospects Team. And two Cubs were voted on the team by the league’s managers and coaches.
3B Jeimer Candelario and C Willson Contreras were recognized as players who “distinguished themselves during the league’s six week schedule.”
Candelario batted .329/.371/.610 with eight doubles and five home runs for a .981 OPS in 21 games. Candelario was voted into the Fall Stars Game and went 1-for-2 with a double and a RBI. Contreras played in 14 games and had his Fall season cut short by a hamstring injury. Contreras hit .283/.361/.547 with five doubles and three home runs for a .908 OPS.
2015 Arizona Fall League Prospects Team
- Gary Sanchez, C – Yankees
- Willson Contreras, C – Cubs
- Sam Travis, 1B – Red Sox
- Dominic Smith, 1B – Mets
- Carlos Asuaje, 2B – Padres
- Chad Pinder, 2B – A’s
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B – Cubs
- Patrick Wisdom, 3B – Cardinals
- Yadiel Rivera, SS – Brewers
- Christian Arroyo, SS – Giants
- Adam Engel, OF – White Sox
- Raimel Tapia, OF – Rockies
- Mac Williamson, OF – Giants
- Clint Frazier, OF – Indians
- Jacob Scavuzzo, OF – Dodgers
- Daniel Palka, OF – Twins
- Rowdy Tellez, DH – Blue Jays
- Jurickson Profar, DH – Rangers
- Sean Manaea, SP – A’s
- Josh Hader, SP – Brewers
- Tanner Scott, RP – Orioles
- Nick Burdi, RP – Twins
• Full Report MLB.com
News and Notes
• FanGraphs posted a very interesting report on Tommy Hottovy, the Cubs run prevention coordinator.
• Baseball America recapped its awards gala during the Winter Meetings, including Theo Epstein accepting Kris Bryant’s Rookie of the Year Award as he was paying attention to his phone because the Ben Zobrist, Starlin Castro–Adam Warren trade was all happening at the same time.
• Andrew Berlin, owner of the South Bend Cubs, announced two construction projects at Four Winds Field. Two buildings adjacent to Four Winds Field would house 140 apartments and shops. And there will be a second floor and party deck added to the Cubs Performance Center according to a report from the South Bend Tribune.
• The Midwest League celebrated 2015 accomplishments during the Winter Meetings with the South Bend Cubs leading the way with a record-setting season.