Minor League Preview – High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Good morning to everyone at the CCO! This is the third installment previewing the 2016 minor league season. 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.
High-A – Myrtle Beach Pelicans
The sum may have been better than the whole for last year’s South Bend Cubs, as several members have moved on to be considered among the organization’s top prospects. Quite a few will be a part of this year’s Myrtle Beach squad. The front office has cobbled together a collection of holdovers from last season’s Pelicans team, along with players from the SB Cubs and several promising draft choices. The man asked to bring this all together is veteran manager Buddy Bailey, who has a reputation for building cohesive teams.
Infield – All eyes will be on the Pelicans’ middle infield, which will be inhabited by two of the Cubs’ top prospects, Gleyber Torres and Ian Happ. Torres skyrocketed to the top of the Cubs’ prospect lists based on the successes of his first professional season. The 19-year old Torres batted .293/.353/.386/.739 with 24 doubles, five triples, three home runs, 62 RBI and 22 stolen bases in 119 games for South Bend. The 2015 first round draft choice, Happ is moving from the outfield to second base. How the 21-year old switch-hitter takes to the new position will be under scrutiny. Offensively, Happ showed that he was ready for the challenge of High-A by hitting a combined .259/.356/.466/.822 with 17 doubles, four triples, nine home runs, 33 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 67 games between Short season-A Eugene and the SB Cubs. A surprise promotion last season, Jason Vosler showed that he belonged with the eventual Carolina League champions. After batting just .235 for South Bend, the 22-year old Vosler was sent to Myrtle Beach as a fill in, where he blossomed. Taking over at third base, Vosler would go on to bat a combined .238/.323/.374/.697 with 18 doubles, two triples, 10 home runs and 40 RBI while improving defensively. Another player changing positions defensively, Yasiel Balaguert appears to be ticketed for first base. The 23-year old has battled injuries throughout his career, but is still known for his power potential. In 82 games with South Bend, Balaguert hit .271/.310/.407/.717 with 18 doubles, two triples, seven home runs and 40 RBI while taking to the position change well. Reserves are plenty with the versatile David Bote, Jesse Hodges, and Sutton Whiting. Bote has done everything except catch in his pro career, as he went .251/.328/.384/.712 with 20 doubles, two triples, six home runs, 41 RBI and five stolen bases in 98 games for South Bend. Hodges had a down year offensively, batting .238/.316/.363/.679 with 18 doubles, a triple, six home runs and 34 RBI in 90 games. But the 22-year old showed he could play third, first, and catch in a pinch. Twenty-four year old switch-hitter Whiting actually played at four levels last season after being drafted in the 24th round, lining up at second, short, and outfield. Overall, Whiting hit .254/.361/.324/.685 with three doubles, a triple, two RBI and six stolen bases in 30 games.
Outfield – The added attention some of the top prospects will bring to Myrtle Beach could have a positive effect for Jeffrey Baez, who may be the best Cubs prospect you never heard of. After a forgettable first half, the 22-year old exploded to bat .284/.324/.427/.751 with 17 doubles, five triples, nine home runs, 34 RBI and 34 stolen bases. Baez not only has the best outfield arm in the system, but is also considered the best base runner. Left fielder Charcer Burks seemed to run out of steam in his first full season, but remains a very good prospect. Turning just 21 years old this spring, Burks hit .257/.339/.347/.686 with 22 doubles, four triples, three home runs, 44 RBI and 28 stolen bases. An unheralded player in center field is lefty Rashad Crawford. The 22-year old Crawford is just beginning to tap into his potential, as he went .280/.322/.382/.704 with 15 doubles, five triples, four home runs, 50 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 107 games for South Bend. Two players looking to redeem themselves are Trey Martin and Shawon Dunston Jr. Martin won a minor league gold glove last season, but his offense has not caught up yet as he hit a combined .241/.279/.320/.599 with 18 doubles, three triples, two home runs, 39 RBI and 20 stolen bases between South Bend and Myrtle Beach. Dunston Jr. has been battling injuries throughout his career, playing only 17 games for the Pelicans and hitting .211/.237/.351/.588 with two doubles, three triples, three RBI and three stolen bases.
Catching – After taking the year off to recover from elbow surgery, Will Remillard will have to see if he can regain the form that once made him the top defensive catcher in the system. The 23-year old Remillard was a Midwest League All-Star in 2014 before being sidelined with back and arm injuries. Gioskar Amaya took a step backward last season in order to make the conversion from second base to catcher. The 23-year old was successful defensively for the most part, but it took a toll on Amaya offensively. In his second tour of the Midwest League, Amaya batted .260/.341/.345/.686 with 18 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 43 RBI and 17 stolen bases with South Bend. Also a Midwest League All-Star as a third baseman in 2014, Jordan Hankins has since had a hard time finding his niche. The 24-year old left-handed hitter got into only 28 games with Myrtle Beach and South Bend last year, hitting .256/.347/.354/.701 with five doubles, a home run and 11 RBI.
Pitching – Just how manager Bailey will sort this out will be of some interest, as it appears that the Pelicans have too many starters. The Opening Day starter for South Bend last season, Jeremy Null stands a good chance to earn that honor for Myrtle Beach in 2016. Most Valuable Player of the 2015 Midwest League All-Star Game, Null had some trouble after being promoted to the Pelicans. The 22-year old went a combined 8-5 in 21 starts with a 3.38 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 82 strikeouts in 117.1 innings. Still only 20 years old, Trevor Clifton could challenge for the top of the rotation with a good spring. Spending the entire season with the SB Cubs, Clifton was 8-10 in 23 appearances (22 starts) with a 3.98 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 103 strikeouts in 108.2 innings. Unable to hold up to the expectation of a second round draft pick was Jake Stinnett. Scouts felt that the 23-year old would sail through the system, but instead Stinnett became mired in South Bend. In his first year as a pro, Stinnett was 7-6 in 22 starts with a 4.46 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and 91 strikeouts in 117 innings. Lefty Tommy Thorpe really changed his career path when he was moved from the bullpen to the rotation. Much more effective as a starter, the 23-year old was 5-7 with one save in 27 appearances (12 starts). Thorpe had a 3.08 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 65 strikeouts in 96.1 innings. Two draftees that seem ticked for Myrtle Beach are left-hander Ryan Kellogg and Preston Morrison. The 22-year old Kellogg has had a good spring after having a difficult time with Short Season-A Eugene following the draft. Kellogg was only 0-1 in 10 appearances (nine starts) with a 4.98 ERA, 1.61 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in 21.2 innings. The side-arming Morrison was practically unhittable in the Northwest League. Also 22 years old, Morrison was 1-1 in nine appearances (four starts) with a 0.81 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 30 strikeouts 22.1 innings.
Where this leaves South Bend’s number two starter Zach Hedges is uncertain. The 23-year old was a true innings-eater, tossing 123 innings and going 8-8 in 23 starts with a 4.16 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 80 strikeouts. Erick Leal tossed a no-hitter for nine-plus innings in August, as the 21-year old led South Bend in victories. Leal was 10-8 in 23 starts, with a 3.85 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 86 strikeouts in 128 innings.
The rest of the bullpen will be a combination of minor league vets and new draftees. Sam Wilson figures to be the lone lefty, but was hardly dependable in 2015. The 24-year old was hit hard in South Bend, going 1-1 in 11 appearances with a 5.95 ERA, 1.62 WHIP and 17 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. Fire-balling Daniel Lewis made some strides in his first full season, but still has a way to go. At 25 years old, Lewis needs to pick up the pace after going 0-2 in 24 appearances with a 3.68 ERA, 1.66 WHIP and 22 strikeouts in 36.2 innings. The closer position will be a contest between 2015 draft picks Craig Brooks and Scott Effross, along with incumbent James Farris. Selected in the seventh round, 23-year old Brooks did well in 10 appearances for Eugene. Brooks was 2-0 with two saves, a 3.38 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 21 strikeouts in 10.2 innings. Fifteenth round pick Effross was also effective after signing. Splitting time between the rookie league and Eugene, the 22-year old was 0-1 with two saves in 12 appearances, with a 2.14 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 17 strikeouts in 21 innings. Twenty-three year old Farris emerged in the South Bend bullpen to be an effective stopper, recording nine saves in 19 games finished. Farris found the going in Myrtle Beach a little more difficult as he ended the season a combined 2-8 with nine saves in 38 appearances, with a 3.47 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 56 strikeouts in 46.2 innings.
What to Watch For: Cohesiveness. Myrtle Beach has a lot of talent both in position players and in pitching. However, a good number of the team members have not played together, and may take some time to gel. Buddy Bailey is good at getting the most out of his players, but the Pelicans may have a better second half than first.
Minor League Previews
Five Minor League Players to Watch
- Rookie and Short Season A-Ball
- Low-A South Bend and High-A Myrtle Beach
- Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa
Attention CCO Readers
The Chicago Cubs Online preliminary reader’s poll is underway. This season, the CCO will be posting the Top Prospect Watch in a separate article on Tuesdays. Please post the names of the minor league players you would like the CCO to follow next season in the comment section, on Facebook and/or Twitter as this is the final week for nominations.
The CCO will take the top 20 vote getters and run in a special poll for the final two weeks of preseason. The CCO will track the progress of top 10 players throughout the entire season. This past week, right-handed pitcher Dylan Cease remained sole possession of first place. A representative sample of positions and levels of play is optimal. You can name as many players as you like, but remember, only 10 will eventually be chosen. So from Aramis Ademan to Rob Zastryzny, all nominations will be accepted and given equal weight.