Lerud brings fresh face, new attitude to Pelicans

Grand Strand baseball fans will notice a few changes when the Myrtle Beach Pelicans open the 2019 season this weekend, but none bigger than the man who is calling all the shots.

The last time Steve Lerud was at Pelicans Ballpark was more than a decade ago as a 23-year-old catcher on the visitors’ side whose focus was on making it to the major leagues.

Now, as the first-year manager for the Advanced Class A club, Lerud has a different perspective from the home dugout, as well as a new mission of helping his players do the same.

“It wasn’t that long ago that I was in the same position as these guys,” said the 34-year-old Lerud, pointing into the clubhouse where his team was preparing for Tuesday night’s exhibition game against the Charleston Riverdogs. “I spent a lot of time going through what those guys are dealing with. Hopefully I can help them reach their full potential.”

This year’s crop of Pelicans, made up primarily of young prospects trying to climb the minor-league ladder to “the show,” need look no farther than their new manager for advice. Lerud spent 13 seasons in the minors only to experience the metaphorical “cup of coffee” in the majors. He played nine games for the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2012-13 seasons.

Coincidentally, Lerud played for current Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker, the skipper of the inaugural 1999 Pelicans, at Triple-A Gwinnett County (Ga.) in 2014-15. Lerud now sits behind the same desk as Snitker more than two decades later with hopes of helping his players, staff and himself continue to advance through the system to the big leagues.

“There’s a lot of pressure on these guys to perform and move up to the next level, but you have to learn how to handle it,” said Lerud, who played for the Carolina League’s Lynchburg (Va.) Hillcats in 2007-08. “The focus has to be on improving as a player. If we are doing our jobs right, none of these guys will be here at the end of the season.”

Lerud appears to be on a bit of a fast-track of his own after making the transition from player to manager. In his first year on the bench last summer, Lerud led the Short Season Class A Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds to the Northwest League championship. Fittingly for the catcher turned manager, the Emeralds clinched the league title on a walk-off balk.

Lerud hopes to bring the same level of success and excitement to this year’s team, which features six of the top 30 prospects in the parent club Chicago Cubs’ minor-league system, according to MLB.com. That includes No. 1-overall prospect and fellow catcher Miguel Amaya and the Cubs’ 2018 No. 2 overall draft pick, right-handed pitcher Paul Richan.

The Pelicans also return 12 players who spent at least part of the 2018 season in Myrtle Beach, including shortstop and No. 6 overall prospect Aramis Ademan, infielders Wladimir Galindo and Yeiler Peguero, and outfielders Kevonte Mitchell, Zach Davis and D.J. Wilson, who went 2-for-3 with four RBIS to lead the Pelicans to a 9-4 win over Charleston.

“We have a lot of young, talented guys on our roster,” said Lerud, who replaces the winningest active manager in minor-league baseball history in 62-year-old Buddy Baker. “Hopefully we’re going to grow up and get better throughout the season and we will get the most out of the talent we have. I can’t wait. It’s going to be an exciting season.”

The Pelicans host the Hillcats Thursday through Sunday (April 4-7), including Bark in the Park Night on Friday, Post-game Fireworks on Thursday and Saturday, and WPDE meteorologist Ed Piotrowski Bobblehead Giveaway on Sunday.

Photo by Janet Morgan/myhorrynews

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