While the minds of many are far from baseball, as the world continues to cope with the current crisis, spring and the coming of baseball has always inspired hope.
To that end, it’s time to look forward as to what can be one of the most exciting teams in the minors this coming season: the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. With a potential 12 players who made it to my 2020 Prospect1500 Cubs Top 50 Prospects, the rest of the Carolina League may have their work cut out for them.
It All Starts With Pitching
The core of this team is coming off a Midwest League Championship that saw their pitching dominate in the playoffs. But headlining this staff will be someone who wasn’t a part of that squad, 2019 first round pick Ryan Jensen.
After 6 starts and 12 innings in the Short Season-A Northwest League last year, the Cubs may jump the 22-year old Jensen a level. With an upper-90’s fastball and slider, Jensen will probably remain in the rotation to build up his innings. However, with a 6′, 180 lbs. frame and a max-delivery approach, Jensen to eventually end up in the bullpen.
After a few high profile promotions, Riley Thompson emerged as the leader of the South Bend rotation. At a sturdy 6’3″, 205 lbs., Thompson got a better feel for his off-speed pitches in the second half of last year. Combined with a mid-90’s fastball, the 23-year old can become the staff leader if he remains consistent.
Following Jensen and Thompson are two under-rated performers: lefty Faustino Carrera and Cam Sanders. The 21-year old Carrera actually led the SB Cubs with 21 starts and 105 strikeouts. Carrera also posted a 3.62 ERA and 1.214 WHIP. The son of former major-leaguer Scott Sanders, Sanders led all South Bend starters with a 2. 94 ERA.
Vying for the final spot in the rotation could be Zach Mort and Brendon Little. An 8th round selection in 2018, Mort made 12 starts between Eugene and South Bend last season. Mort does not have any outstanding pitches, but does have outstanding control. As good as Mort’s control is, Little’s leaves something to be desired. The 2016 first round selection could benefit from the extra instructional time this spring to harness his ability. Little does have a wipe-out curve that could be devastating in the bullpen if he fails to make the rotation. A wild card is 2019 19th round selection Adam Laskey. The 22-year old missed all of last year to injury.
Depending on assignments, Myrtle Beach could also have many options out of the bullpen. Both set to be 25-years old at the start of the season, Sean Barry finished 25 games for South Bend and picked up 6 saves, while Brian Glowicki had 7 saves in 15 appearances. From the left side, 23-year old Eugenio Palma contributed 5 save and 61 strikeouts in 68 innings. A couple of other 23-year old’s in Riley McCauley and Peyton Remy will be looking for roles in either the pen or rotation.
Eye-popping Infield Ability
Going around the horn, the Pelican infield will feature #10 prospect Christopher Morel at third base. Morel is a highly athletic player that has both gold glove and power potential. With a .284/.320/.467/.787 slash line and 6 HR, 31 RBI, 9 SB, in 73 games, the 20-year old is just scratching the surface. Morel has also played shortstop and can also project to centerfield.
To Morel’s left, shortstop Andy Weber made great improvements both offensively and defensively in the second half of last season. Weber hit .287/.362/.421/.783 after the break and cut down on his strikeouts while increasing his walk total. The 22-year old also decreased his errors as he settled into being a full-time shortstop.
Much like fellow 2019 draftee Jensen, Chase Strumpf looks to pass over Low-A South Bend and move directly to Myrtle Beach. The second round pick actually did play 6 games with the SB Cubs, but did most of his damage at Eugene, where he had a .292/.405/.449/.855 line. The one concern for the 22-year old is his defense. The Cubs are hoping that Weber and Strumpf develop a chemistry at the keystone sack.
First base duties appear to be split between Nelson Maldonado and Jake Slaughter. The 23-year old Maldonado not only brings the lumber with him, he brings his leadership skills. Maldonado wasn’t challenged at any level last season, batting .332/.378/.456/.834 with 37 RBI in 56 games. Originally a shortstop, the 23-year old Slaughter made some game-saving plays down the stretch at first base for South Bend. Slaughter hit .296/.355/.408/.764 between Eugene and South Bend while also playing second and third base.
The reserve infield spot will be a contest between Aramis Ademan, Luis Vazquez, and Delvin Zinn. Playing for the Pelicans for the past two seasons, the 21-year old Ademan has shown little progress and probably needs to be held back. The front office may try to save face and promote Ademan anyway, which would affect the progress of Zinn. Although Zinn wasn’t setting the Carolina League on fire in 2019, he did perform better than Ademan. The 22-year old Zinn batted .242 in Myrtle Beach and brings speed along with the ability to play second, short, and third. At 20-years old, Vazquez is the wild card after seeing acting at four levels last year, including Triple-A Iowa.
And, Oh That Outfield!
The fact that Myrtle Beach could be starting the season with five outfielders that can project as centerfielders is a testament to the ability of this bunch. It all starts with the Cubs’ number 3 prospect Brennen Davis.
The Cubs‘ Minor League Player of the Year last season, Davis has the ability to barrel the ball and put up big power numbers, while maintaining the speed and arm strength to project to all three outfield positions. Playing in 50 games, the 20-year old hit .305/.381/.525/.907 with 8 HR, 30 RBI, and 4 stolen bases.
But that’s not the only top 10 prospect the Pelican’s outfield will have. Joining Davis will with fellow 20-year old, number 7 prospect Cole Roederer. Playing a full-season South Bend, production came in fits and starts as Roederer became overly aggressive at the plate. With a full season under his belt, Roederer should be able to return to a more disciplined approach. Defensively, Roederer lacks top arm strength but shows great range and instincts.
Twenty-one year old Nelson Velazquez is a prospect with a lot of raw, untapped potential. The Cubs‘ number 21 prospect may have benefited from his winter playing in Puerto Rico, as well as with the new batting infrastructure in the Cubs’ coaching. Velazquez is almost elite defensively, with the range for center and the arm for right.
Backing them all will be 2019 25th round choice Zac Taylor. The 24-year old made a meal out of the lower minors’ pitching, batting .254/.315/.427/.742 with 5 HR and 27 RBI over four levels. Taylor has a good combination of speed/power/defense that should provide a talent boost to the upper levels of the system.
Adding speed and contact ability will be D.J. Artis. The 23-year-old Artis has many of the qualities the Cubs look for in a lead-off hitter. In 64 games over three different stops last season, Artis put up a .371 OBP, swiping 19 bags.