Any day now, fans of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans will rejoice with great jubilation when it is announced that Eloy Jimenez has been activated from the disabled list.The fortunes of the Pelicans will change when the anointed one steps into the batter’s box for the very first time. Fireworks will explode, baseballs will rain down in the bleachers, and all will be wonderful…until Jimenez is inevitably promoted to Tennessee by the time he reaches first base. Then the Pelicans will be right back where they started.
On the other hand, the Pelicans are a bit used to Cubs’ top prospects staying only a little while. Last year, it was Gleyber Torres and Ian Happ with short stays at the advanced-A affiliate. This year, manager Buddy Bailey has the boys playing well after a rough start to the season. Going into the weekend of the 28th, the Pelicans were 12-9 and had won four in a row.
Early-season hitting woes
Considering that the Carolina League is known as a pitcher’s haven, it is not uncommon for hitters to take a while to warm up. With the wind blowing in every day, it takes some adjusting. Carlos Sepulveda and Connor Myers struggled at the top of the lineup, but Jesse Hodges is coming on strong.
Promoted to Myrtle Beach in mid-summer of 2016, Hodges is showing the same power he has displayed since his time in Boise. He is tied with Matt Rose for the lead in home runs with 3, and Hodges leads the team in with 12 RBI. Robert Garcia’s .359 average paces the Pelicans, with Daniel Spingola next at .314 and a team-leading .419 OBP.
The team hitting has been rounding into shape as a whole, with catcher PJ Higgins, shortstop Bryant Flete, and catcher/first baseman Tyler Alamo putting things together with averages rising over .260 and OBPs of .350 or more. Top prospect Eddy Martinez had a terrible start to the season, but is hitting over .260 with 2 HRs and 9 RBI in his last 10 games. He should continue that trend as May warms up.
The starting rotation got the nod as the strength of the team heading into the season, at least on paper. Now that the first month is almost over, however, it’s the lights-out bullpen leading the way. Led by Craig Brooks, James Norwood, and Dillon Maples, the Pelicans have dominated other teams in the late innings. Brooks has been just filthy, striking out 20 in 12.2 IP. Because AA Tennessee also has a great bullpen, it is more than likely that all three relievers could be staying in Myrtle Beach despite having ERAs of 0.71, 1.00, and 1.59, respectively.
While the Cubs have usually gone with a six-man rotation at this level, Bailey is going with only five: Oscar de la Cruz, Thomas Hatch, Justin Steele, Ryan Kellogg, and Adbert Alzolay. Steele has been dealing this year with a 1.50 ERA in four starts and is showing the confidence to throw any of his three pitches for strikes.
After Steele, the most improved pitcher in terms of stuff is Adbert Alzolay (2.49 ERA). He’s always had a good controllable fastball. but his secondaries are vastly better than in 2016. De la Cruz has not been overpowering, but a 3.26 ERA means he has been far from terrible. Thomas Hatch has been bitten by the big inning bug this year. Only four starts, though, he still has a lot of time to figure it out.
Still time to break out
With a pair of homers in 18 games as a second baseman, Trent Giambrone has provided a lot of fireworks. While his average is only .243, the 2016 draftee out of Delta State has a .312 OBP and has been a staple in the Pelicans lineup. I think his average will rise over time this summer as he continues to adjust to the league.
“I’ve been impressed at how (Giambrone) works counts,” Scott Kornberg, Pelicans TV/Radio announcer, said. “He’s pretty adept at getting to deep counts and drawing walks/going the other way for a base hit with two strikes. But he’s also not afraid to pounce early in the count on a fastball if a pitcher thinks he can just sneak something easy in there. Really impressive presence at the plate for someone who was only drafted last year and skipped Low-A.”
Putting it all together
With four victories in a row, the Pelicans are starting to put it all together. Ryan Kellogg just made his first start after playing for Team Canada in the WBC. Right now, they are just 2 games out of first. They are only just beginning and I think the Pelicans will put together a very good May.