It has to be tough to play and manage in the minor leagues, especially when you qualify for the playoffs in the middle of June, since you have 72 more games to play before the postseason actually begins. This is the case of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The Pelicans won the Carolina League Southern Division First Half title with a record of 41-28. In the second half, they are in second place in the division with a record of 28-20 with 24 games left, even after a 5 game skid to start the second half.
In the second half, the Pelicans have gone through a lot of changes. At one point, starting pitchers Duane Underwood, Tyler Skulina, and Paul Blackburn were all on the DL together. Only Blackburn has returned, while Skulina just started throwing rehab games this week in the Arizona Rookie League. In addition, the 4 and 5 hitters, Jacob Rogers and Jeimer Candelario, were promoted to AA Tennessee. However, Manager Mark Johnson just plugs someone else in the lineup and rotation and the Pelicans keep winning.
Earlier this summer, I speculated about how winning at one level might affect the other. Well, that time is now. Will the Pelicans add players for a playoff push? One or two players might be the difference in winning a Carolina League Championship.
The Guys on the Mound
While Jen-Ho Tseng has shed his 95 mph fastball, he has had a solid second half with a 2.70 ERA in 8 starts. Fellow starter Daury Torres has a 3.38 ERA in 8 starts and Johnathan Martinez has emerged as a solid prospect with a 2.68 ERA in 8 starts. Since returning from the DL, Blackburn has an amazing 0.35 in 5 starts!
Two new arms have done well in replacing Underwood and Skulina. Jeremy Null has battled minor injuries, but last night he threw five shutout innings. Since his promotion to Myrtle Beach, Null has a 3.58 ERA in 7 starts. His former South Bend teammate, Brad Markey, has been the bigger surprise; the reliever-turned-starter has been brilliant for the Pelicans. Markey has 1.01 ERA in 35 innings in 6 appearances, 5 of those being starts. He has used pinpoint command of 3 pitches to mystify Carolina League batters.
The infusion of new life into the bullpen from South Bend has adjusted to life in the Carolina League this season as well. Jasvir Rakkar (2.37), David Berg (2.79), and David Garner (2.08) have all been outstanding alongside the stalwarts Michael Heesch, James Pugliese, and Josh Conway since their promotion to the Pelicans. James Farris is adjusting after a rough start to high-A ball and has a 3.09 in his last ten games. The pitching seems set and ready to go for the playoffs.
Putting Together a Lineup
While the pitching has adjusted well, the lineup has had its ups and downs. The hitters have struggled to score runs and manager Mark Johnson moved Mark Zagunis out of the leadoff spot and put Chesny Young in his place, while Pin-Chieh Chen moved into the two hole. The Pelicans still have trouble scoring from time to time and they just are not very consistent.
As Chesny Young was in the middle of his 44 game on-base streak, Mark Zagunis saw his average plummet down into the .270’s from a high of .320 in early July. Jason Vosler, who took the place of Candelario and Rogers in the middle of the lineup, has been a very pleasant surprise hitting 5 HRs in 20 games for the Pelicans. Cael Brockmeyer is hitting over .300 this month since returning to the Pelicans after subbing briefly in Tennessee and Iowa during the Pan-Am and Futures Games. Cael has been playing a mixture of 1B, C, and DH since his return.
The Pelicans need some offense to put them over the top. Since July 1, 15 of their games have been decided by one run. That’s a lot. A bat that hits .300 vs .200 means one more hit a game. A batter with a near .400 OBP is one more base runner a game than a .280 OBP player. The differences are small, but over a five game series, that’s 5 to 7 extra hits and 5 to 7 extra base runners. That’s a lot when you play a lot of one run games.
New Players: Just Some Speculation
The Cubs like for their minor league teams to win if they have the chance. Management gives them the personnel to do so, as we saw at Daytona in 2013 and again at Kane County in 2014. Cubs Director of Player Development Jaron Madison could be sending some of South Bend’s finest to help solidify the batting order and give the Pelicans the best chance to succeed in the playoffs.
That’s a tough thing to do to the Pelicans that have been through a lot together, including winning a championship last year at Kane County. I think, at the minimum, the second after South Bend falls out of contention you will see Gleyber Torres become a Pelican.
It would be odd for the 18-year-old Torres to play SS as the Pelicans’ Carlos Penalvar is an outstanding fielder. However, Penalvar is only hitting .212. On the other hand, Torres has a very advanced feel at the plate and is hitting .308 on the year while leading South Bend in RBIs with 59. Torres is also very good defensively himself. He is very familiar and comfortable playing with and alongside Young, Brockmeyer, and Vosler, his teammates at South Bend earlier this year. He seems like a perfect fit for the Pelican’s playoff push.
The Cubs also like for their top draft picks to experience a playoff atmosphere. Ian Happ has already played a full season of NCAA baseball (56 games) and now has added on 46 games (as of August 15) with another 22-24 games left. That’s a lot of baseball for a first-year player. The plan, originally, was to send Happ to instructs to work on playing second base after his season at South Bend ends. I doubt if he does go to Myrtle Beach, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Happ’s name on a lineup card as the DH there either.
It would be cool to see the Pelicans win their first Carolina League Championship as an affiliate of the Cubs in their very first year in the system. I think they could win with what they have now. However, adding a bat like Gleyber Torres might be something that could be the Pelicans over the top.