Final Record: 82-57
Twice as nice.
I think that sums up the Pelicans’ second Mills Cup Championship in a row. The final game was touch-and-go, but James Pugliese shut down the Lynchburg Hillcats with 7 K’s over 4.1 innings in relief of starter Preston Morrison. The Pelicans scratched and clawed their way back from a 3-2 deficit to win 5-3. David Bote was named series MVP as he should have been. The young 2B hit .577 in the series.
Congratulations go out to the Pelicans players and coaches who just had an unbelievable run in August and September. They used great starting pitching, a great bullpen, and some serious hitting the last month. I think Buddy Bailey and the coaches did an unbelievable job of keeping this team focused after all the trades and promotions of late July. After a series against Salem in early August, you could see that this team believed in itself and wasn’t afraid of anyone!
The Pelicans Regular Season
This year the team was led by Yasiel Balaguert at the plate and easily the best corps of starters and relievers in the Cubs’ system. Starters Trevor Clifton, Preston Morrison, and Erick Leal had outstanding seasons for the Pelicans. Relievers Ryan McNeil and Daury Torrez looked to have finally figured things out in the bullpen. Clifton, who has now moved himself up into the top 5 or 6 prospects in the Cubs system, and the bullpen just dominated the last 7 weeks of the season.
For most of these players, 2016’s success was rooted in August of 2015 at South Bend when the team began to win in their full season of professional ball. When they arrived in Myrtle Beach they had much more confidence than they did when they began at South Bend. The pitching was there from the start in 2016, but it took the hitting a while to get going. Even with Ian Happ and Gleyber Torres in the middle of the Pelicans lineup, they struggled to score runs.
It was after the trade of Torres and Rashad Crawford, along with the promotion of Ian Happ, that the offense really took off. Coming from South Bend to replace them were Donnie Dewees, Ian Rice, Jesse Hodges, Daniel Spingola, Bryant Flete, and Andrew Ely. From my perspective, the key to that the lineup was David Bote becoming a full-time player for the Pelicans.
Bote had one of the best months of any Cub prospect in August of last season. He began 2016 as an organizational player filling in at Tennessee and Iowa. When Jeimer Candelario was promoted from Tennessee to Iowa, Pelicans third baseman Jason Vosler replaced Candelario at Tennessee. Bote never looked back, hitting almost .380 in the month of August. Combined with Rice, Yasiel Balaguert, Dewees, and Flete hitting and playing some filthy defense, this lineup really took off.
Looking Ahead to 2017
The Carolina League changes quite a bit next year, adding two teams to move from eight to 10 total. It is still a bit unsettled, but it looks like Kinston and Fayetteville will be the two affiliates for teams to be determined. This will change the number of times the Pelicans play every team in their division. Instead of playing Carolina, Salem, and Winston-Salem 30+ times, that number shrinks to the mid-20’s.
I’m not quite sure how long Eloy Jimenez is going to stay at Myrtle Beach next year. He did get to play in three games in the Mills Cup Series in place of Yasiel Balaguert, hitting .273 with a couple of RBI in the series as a DH. I have a feeling that the reins will be off of him fairly quickly and that he could move up to Tennessee by June or July. But while he is there in Myrtle Beach, I am sure Pelicans fans will come to adore him the way that South Bend fans have.
I am not quite sure if Eddy Martinez is ready for that same kind of fast track. Missing almost two years of playing ball has affected his approach. There’s no doubt he’s excellent in the field and he may have the best outfield arm in the Cubs minor league system. His second half at South Bend in 2016 was pretty good as he hit almost .280, it’s just the power that needs to improve. Once it does, he’s going to be just fine.
Matt Rose hit under .200 for the first month and a half at South Bend and was reassigned to Eugene. It was there that he rebuilt his game and his confidence and finished second in home runs in the system to only Balaguert. I think Rose will spend the whole year at Myrtle Beach and the Pelicans fans will like him, too.
As for pitching, I’m not quite sure how it’s all going to shake down. Ryan Kellog probably makes it, along with Casey Bloomquist, Oscar de la Cruz, and likely Adbert Alzolay. South Bend pitching kind of fell apart in the last month, especially the bullpen. Justin Steele, who improved much in the second half, could work as both a starter and reliver, as could Kyle Miller and Kyle Twomey. That’s a lot of versatile arms.
Returning from injuries
After Tommy John surgery in back-to-back years, Catcher Will Remillard should return next year. In his brief time at spring training in 2016, the bat appeared to look good. We’ll just have to wait and see for 2017.
Sleeper Prospect for 2017
As the Cubs’ third round pick in the 2016 draft, Tom Hatch did not pitch after he signed. Considering he had already thrown upwards of 130 innings during his final college season, that was a wise choice. With four pitches he can throw for strikes, I am not quite sure where Hatch will play in 2017. I know it’s not going be Arizona or Eugene, and I don’t really think South Bend will be much of a test for him. I tend to lean towards Myrtle Beach.
Dylan Cease will be two years removed from Tommy John surgery when the 2017 season opens, which means the pitch counts will be off and inning limits will be gone. He will be free to throw without reservation. If he has command of his secondary pitches, he may very move quickly through the system.
Overall, things are very bright for Myrtle Beach. With two titles in two years and an influx of power bats coming in in 2017, a third Mill Cup series is within reach.