CCU’s Conway among top MB-bound Cubs’ prospects

ccubase-conwayWith Opening Night only three days away, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, are excited to announce a prospect-packed initial roster for the 2015 season. In the first year in the Cubs system, the Pelicans will begin the year with an incredibly diverse roster that includes nine players in the Cubs Top 30 prospects according to both MLBPipeline.coms Prospect Watch and Baseball America, as the team aims for a fifth straight postseason appearance.

The balanced roster has five position players from MLB.com and Baseball Americas Top 30 Cubs prospects and four pitchers from the same lists. Making the abundance of talent of this years roster even more remarkable is that the Chicago Cubs farm system has been widely regarded the best in baseball. The system received top marks from ESPNs Keith Law, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, the Sporting News, Minor League Ball, and the MiLBYs.

2015 Pelicans Roster (MLBPipeline.com / Baseball America Top 30 Cubs Prospect Ranking):

Pitchers (14): RHPs Paul Blackburn (No. 27/No. 18), Matt Brazis, Josh Conway, Jonathan Martinez, Juan Paniagua, Starling Peralta, James Pugliese, Tayler Scott, Tyler Skulina, Daury Torrez (25/30), Jen-Ho Tseng (11/11), and Duane Underwood (8/10); LHPs Gerardo Concepcion and Michael Heesch.

Catchers (3): Victor Caratini (19/13), Ben Carhart, Alberto Mineo

Infielders (6): Jeimer Candelario (15/24), Wesley Darvill, Andrew Ely, Daniel Lockhart, Carlos Penalver, and Jacob Rogers.

Outfielders (4): Shawon Dunston Jr., Jacob Hannemann (22/17), Billy McKinney (9/6), and Mark Zagunis (18/15).

Leading the group is Baseball Americas minor league Manager of the Year and eight-year big league catcher Mark Johnson, who spent the last two seasons managing the Class-A Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League.

Last season, Johnsons club went an MiLB-best 91-49 and swept through the Midwest League playoffs with a 7-0 record on the way to a Midwest League championship. The new Pelicans skipper will have 19 of the players from that team with him on Opening Night: Blackburn, Candelario, Caratini, Carhart, Concepcion, Dunston Jr., Hannemann, Heesch, Lockhart, Martinez, Paniagua, Penalver, Pugliese, Rogers, Skulina, Torrez, Tseng, Underwood, and Zagunis.

The mostly highly-touted prospect, outfielder Billy McKinney, is one of four players on the Pelicans roster who was acquired by the Cubs via trade. McKinney, ranked the No. 83 prospect in baseball by Baseball America and No. 81 by Baseball Prospectus, was drafted 24th overall in the 2013 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics. The 20-year-old hit .264 with 11 homers last season, split between Class A-Advanced Stockton (Athletics) and Daytona (Cubs). He excelled after coming over in a trade with Addison Russell and Dan Straily in exchange for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. With Daytona, McKinney hit .301 in 51 games. Brazis, Caratini, and Martinez, like McKinney, came to the Cubs in a trade.

Mark Zagunis comes to the Grand Strand off of an outstanding 2014. The catcher and outfielder was named a Baseball America Northwest League All-Star Selection, hitting .299 and posting a .429 on-base percentage in 41 games before his promotion to Class-A Kane County. Zagunis also made the Northwest League All-Star game. Paul Blackburn is the other Midseason All-Star selection from last year; he made the Midwest League All-Star roster.

Jen-Ho Tseng and Duane Underwood fronted the Cougars pitching staff last year, a group that had the best ERA in the Midwest League. Both posted sub-3.00 ERAs; Tseng, 20, was 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA in his first pro year, while Underwood, also 20, posted a 2.50 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 100 2/3 innings.

Pitcher Josh Conway will have the opportunity to pitch in familiar confines. The Smithsburg, Maryland, native played his college ball at Coastal Carolina University where he earned Second-Team All-Big South honors in 2012 before going down with an injury. The 23-year-old skips the Class-A level after posting an outstanding 2014 season in his first pro year since undergoing Tommy John surgery. With the Class A-Short Season Boise Hawks a year ago, Conway went 0-1 in 13 starts with a 1.96 ERA. He was a star in college, with the 10th-best ERA in CCU history (2.68). He is the eighth-highest draft selection in the history of Chanticleers baseball.

In addition to ranking nine of the Pelicans in their Top 30 Cubs prospects, Baseball America also lauded a handful of Pelicans players with Best Tools labels. Caratini is the Best Defensive Catcher in the system according to the 2015 Prospect Handbook. They tabbed Hannemann as the Fastest Baserunner in the system, Penalver as the Best Defensive Infielder, Tseng with the Best Control and Best Changeup, Underwood with Best Fastball, and Zagunis with Best Strike Zone Discipline. They also list Juan Paniagua as the top Sleeper prospect in the system and Ely as the Best Defensive Player from the Cubs 2014 draft class.

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