Record: 11 – 11, 3.5 games out of first
Last Ten Games: 5-5, lost two in a row
In the preseason preview of the Pelicans’ season, we got about half the roster wrong. I thought Preston Morrison was advanced enough to skip low-A and I also missed on several other players who were held back in extended spring training. We did not foresee Jason Vossler and Shawon Dunston Jr. staying in Myrtle Beach for another season, nor could we know about injuries to Will Remillard, Jeremy Null, Dillon Maples, and Rashad Crawford. But we did get one thing right: this team is consistently inconsistent.
When the actual rosters were released a couple days before the season began, I was a little stunned to see the makeup of the club. I was extremely surprised to see Jonathan Martinez on the roster considering he’d done extremely well in the league in 2015, including being named an All-Star. I was also surprised to see relievers Daury Torrez, Dave Berg, James Pugliese, James Farris, and Jose Rosario stay behind on the team. That meant only three relievers — Dillon Maples, who was injured after just one out, lefty Jordan Minch, and the hard-throwing Ryan McNeil — were coming from South Bend.
Add in the fact that starter Jeremy Null stayed behind in extended spring training, and opening day roster projection was pretty much on par with Mitch Martin’s Sunshine Square proposal. We did get starting pitchers Zach Hedges, Trevor Clifton, Jake Stinnett, Erick Leal, and Tommy Thorpe right though. They all came up from low-A South Bend and have done a pretty decent job despite not getting much run support.
Hedges is off to an outstanding start, posting a 2.16 ERA in April with 17 strikeouts in 25 innings. Jake Stinnett is not far behind with a 2.55 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 17.2 innings. Tommy Thorpe’s had two good starts to put up a 3.45 ERA and has 11 strikeouts in 15.2 innings. Trevor Clifton has been a little wild this year and is having trouble controlling his curveball, which is breaking wildly across the plate and to the left.
Clifton already has 10 wild pitches on the season after throwing 11 all last year. He has, however, struck out 16 in 18 innings. Still, despite the hot mess of a curve, his ERA is only 4.00 which shows how well he is pitching around and out of trouble.
Right now, the hitting seems to be the biggest area of concern. Ian Happ’s hitting .313 with four home runs and 18 RBI and is getting help from Jason Vossler, Rashad Crawford, and Yasiel Balaguert, who are hitting .311, .304, and .295, respectively. Aside from that quartet, however, there is not another hitter above .239. Just to show you the inconsistencies, Daniel Lockhart currently has a six-game hitting streak yet is only batting .237. Several players are below .200, including longtime prospects Dunston, Cael Brockmeyer, Trey Martin, and Gioskar Amaya. They need to get their bats fixed before summer gets here.
But even Happ’s stats show some inconsistencies. He is killing right-handed pitching to the tune of a .344 average with a .446 OBP. Against lefties, though, he’s only hitting .211. Gleyber Torres is having his own issues; he’s seeing the ball well, he’s not hitting it. His average on the season is only .179, but he’s hitting over .300 with runners on.
The real problem is Torres hits second behind Crawford and his .300+ average, but the capable leadoff man has been out with concussion symptoms for three weeks. In Crawford’s stead has been Charcer Burks, who is hitting less than Torres.
One thing the Cubs have not been afraid to do in recent years is move players up or down in the system based on performance. Two years ago they moved Jeimer Candelario from high-A to low-A. Last year, they promoted Ryan Williams from low-A to AA. With the hitting depth the Cubs have at South Bend, it would not surprise me to see them move some producing players up in June and some of the non-producing players out.
I can see the Cubs giving top prospect Gleyber Torres and Jeffrey Baez some time to work things out this summer, though how much more time they’re going to give Dunston and Martin is up in the air
As for the pitching, I don’t think anybody’s going anywhere, and that includes Tennessee. The Smokies have plenty of arms with Duane Underwood back, so I think the starters that are at Myrtle Beach now are going to get the full effect of high-A baseball this year.
I really like what I’ve seen from Hedges so far. He has gained a couple of ticks on his fastball which makes his plus slider even more deadly. And I also love what I’ve seen from Thorpe and Stinnett, who both look like they know what they’re doing out on the mound. Stinnett is starting to look like a second round pick talent-wise, which is where the Cubs selected him in 2014.
Clifton is having those aforementioned issues with his curveball and I often wonder if he might be better off going with a different pitch, though it may be a little too late in the year to ditch the curve for something else. Then again, in his best start he was mostly fastballs and changeups. When Clifton spots his fastball, the other pitches don’t matter as much.
I think May will be an interesting month for this group of players. Last year they started to put it together in August and made a run at the playoffs at South Bend. I think we may see something like that from them this year as well. Sometimes you just have to give prospects time to learn and adjust. It may take one month, it may take two months. But if the coaches and the brass see development, that’s really all that matters. No one said going from low-A to high-A was going to be easy.