Pelicans look to ride mix of old, new faces to threepeat

mbpel-trophyIn conjunction with the Chicago Cubs, the two-time defending Carolina League champion Myrtle Beach Pelicans have announced their 2017 Opening Day roster, which features six Top 30 Cubs prospects and 12 players who return from last season’s title squad.

Myrtle Beach’s pitching staff has led the Carolina League in ERA in each of the past two campaigns, and the Pelicans’ rotation will likely sport three Top 30 Cubs prospects in 2017. Oscar De La Cruz (No. 5 by Baseball America, No. 6 by MLB.com) will be joined by Chicago’s top 2016 draft pick in Thomas Hatch (No. 12 MLB.com, No. 13 Baseball America) and left-hander Justin Steele (No. 24 Baseball America). Hatch will make his professional debut with Myrtle Beach.

The Pelicans’ other Top 30 prospects, all position players, reside at each level of the diamond. After manning the outfield in South Bend last year, Eddy Martinez’s (No. 11 by both publications) second professional season will come in the Grand Strand. The Cuban was named the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Month in July after batting .362 with 22 RBIs in 27 games. The youngest player on the Pelicans roster at just 20 years old, Carlos Sepulveda (No. 18 MLB.com) should take a middle infield spot for the Birds in 2017. Meanwhile, P.J. Higgins (No. 22 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com), who Baseball America called the Best Defensive Catcher in the Cubs’ organization, will likely serve as Myrtle Beach’s starting backstop. The Old Dominion product walked 72 times against 75 strikeouts with South Bend last year to post a .389 on-base percentage.

Most of the holdovers from the Pelicans’ 2016 Mills Cup Championship team reside on the pitching staff. Jeremy Null made 20 starts a year ago, but Pedro Araujo, Craig Brooks, Scott Effross, Dillon Maples, Jordan Minch, James Norwood and Tommy Thorpe all logged the majority of their innings out of the bullpen. Thorpe allowed just one run over his final 10 games in 2016 for a 0.54 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 16.2 innings during that stretch. Before his season ended with an injury, Minch, a fellow southpaw, went 15 appearances in a row and 18 of 19 without surrendering a run. His campaign finished with a 2.88 ERA in 34.1 frames.

Adbert Alzolay, Casey Bloomquist and Ryan Kellogg are the other newcomers on the Pelicans’ pitching staff. Alzolay was strictly a starter in South Bend a year ago, going 9-4 with a 4.34 ERA. Bloomquist posted a 3.00 ERA and an 87:17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in a swingman role with the Low-A Cubs. Kellogg, who pitched in one game with Team Canada during the World Baseball Classic, went 9-7 with a 3.03 ERA and 107:26 strikeout-to-walk ratio for South Bend a year ago.

Helping Higgins with the catching are Tyler Alamo and Tyler Pearson. The former also spent some time at first base with South Bend in 2016, launching all five of his career home runs during the campaign. Pearson batted .205/.297/.261 with a home run and nine RBIs in 31 games with Myrtle Beach last year.

On the infield, Bryant Flete and Jesse Hodges each head back to Myrtle Beach after helping the Birds to their fourth title a year ago. Flete hit .285/.395/.415 with six doubles, two triples, two homers and 18 RBIs in 34 games with the Pelicans. Hodges registered a .287/.349/.359 line in 61 games with South Bend before appearing in 29 contests in Myrtle Beach.

Trent Giambrone, Adonis Paula and Matt Rose round out the Pelicans infield. Giambrone, the Cubs’ 25th round pick in 2016 out of Delta State, batted .291/.399/.430 with 12 doubles, four homers and 22 RBIs in 51 games with Short Season Class A Eugene last season. Rose compiled a .902 OPS with 19 extra-base hits in the second half after 2016 after recording a .555 mark and seven extra-base knocks in the season’s first half.

Daniel Spingola is the Pelicans’ lone holdover in the outfield. The Georgia Tech product hit .267/.347/.346 in 87 contests between Myrtle Beach and South Bend last season. Connor Myers, another member of the Cubs’ 2016 draft class, and Robert Garcia are the other outfielders on the Pelicans’ roster. Myers, who was selected in the 27th round out of Old Dominion, played in 49 games between Rookie-level Mesa, Eugene and South Bend last season. Garcia batted .283/.345/.418 with 13 doubles, three triples, two home runs and 19 RBIs in 49 games with Eugene a year ago.

Buddy Bailey, who enters his 29th year as a minor league skipper, will serve as the Pelicans’ manager for the second consecutive season. Pitching coach Anderson Tavarez also returns for his second year in Myrtle Beach. Hitting coach Guillermo Martinez and assistant coach Ty Wright each enter their first campaign with the Pelicans. Athletic trainer Toby Williams and strength and conditioning coach Jason Morriss round out the staff.

Myrtle Beach’s 2017 campaign begins on Wednesday,  when the Birds host the Battle of the Beaches exhibition game against the Charleston RiverDogs at 6:05 p.m. at TicketReturn.Com Field at Pelicans Ballpark. The regular season opens the next day with a seven-game road trip that starts with a four-game set in Lynchburg.

Photo by Larry Kave/MB Pelicans

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