In 2015, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans captured the Mills Cup Trophy, beating the Wilmington Blue Rocks en route to the Carolina League championship. Although the team will look completely different from to last season, the results could be the same. The Cubs’ high-A affiliate will still call Myrtle Beach home, and the staff at TicketReturn.com Field have embraced the Cubs motto. With idiosyncrasies such as waving the W flag after a victory to serving Chicago-style hot dogs, the club will show you why they’re a part of the unique Cubs family.
On the field, the team arguably features more talent than they did last season. Two of the top four prospects, including the consensus #1 overall, could form a killer duo in the middle of the infield. The big storyline for Ian Happ and Gleyber Torres is to see whether the former will be able to stick in the infield for the foreseeable future, and if the latter will continue to strut his bat-to-ball skills while showing more power as he grows into his 6’1” frame.
Other players of interest include catcher Will Remillard, who returns after missing all of the 2015 season due to Tommy John, but had showed positive signs of staying at catcher while flashing an average stick back at Kane County. I hope my namesake Andrew Ely will continue to provide adequate defense, serving as a utility option for the Pelicans. The outfield is of the most interest, to me at least, as it includes very toolsy but unrefined prospects such as Charcer Burks, Rashad Crawford, and Jeffrey Baez. If any of these players takes a step forward with their hit tool, you’ll see him jump up prospects lists. All three have a great glove or plus speed, and if the hit tool allows them to use that speed consistently, they should post decent batting averages.
The cliche saying is “pitching wins championships,” and that is exactly what last year’s squad did. Most of the depth from that group is gone, but it is being replaced by a raw and exciting cadre of young arms. There will be six rotation spots that eight or so pitchers will be fighting for, including Preston Morrison, Jeremy Null, Trevor Clifton, Jake Stinnett, James Norwood, Zach Hedges, Erick Leal, and Tommy Thorpe. From a prospect perspective, the first five all have a decent shot at making the majors in some capacity. Stinnett has at times shown the stuff that made him a 2nd rounder in 2014, but his control hasn’t manifested itself in game yet. Meanwhile Clifton, a 2013 draftee, has continued to develop and flashes two average to above-average pitches in his curve and fastball. James Norwood has consistently been a player I expect to break out due to his plus fastball, and, if he stays healthy, he should have a strong season.
The bullpen includes some familiar names to Cubs prospect hounds, such as Corbin Hoffer, Dillon Maples, and Jordan Minch. It won’t be the lights-out bullpen of last year, but they should do a solid job to close out games for the Pelicans. If you have the chance, I really recommend taking a trip down to Myrtle Beach as the Pelicans do a great job of making the game fun for kids and adults. Andy Milovich and his staff have done wonders in creating a welcoming environment for baseball and non-baseball fans alike.
C: Will Remillard/Erick Castillo/Jordan Hankins
1B: Yasiel Balaguert
2B: Ian Happ/Angelo Amendolare/Andrew Ely
SS: Gleyber Torres/Sutton Whiting
3B: Jesse Hodges/David Bote
OF: Charcer Burks/Kevin Encarnacion, Rashad Crawford, Jeffrey Baez
SP: Preston Morrison, Jeremy Null (R), Trevor Clifton (R), Jake Stinnett (R), Zach Hedges (R), Erick Leal (R), James Norwood (R), and Tommy Thorpe (L)
RP: Corbin Hoffner (R), Dillon Maples (R), Daniel Lewis (R), Jordan Minch (L), Alexander Santana (R), Sam Wilson (L), Ryan McNeil (R), and Santiago Rodriguez (R)
Starting rotation: Preston Morrison, Jeremy Null, Trevor Clifton, Jake Stinnett, James Norwood, Zach Hedges.
Sleeper pick: Jake Stinnett. No he’s not the normal “sleeper,” but if he takes a step forward with his command and the slider shows plus more often, he has the best chance of any pitcher to junp into the top 10 range.