The Cubs have another Minor League Affiliate and a whole new league to get to know to boot. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans will represent the Cubs High A Advanced team and they play in the 8 team Carolina League. Myrtle Beach announced their Opening Day roster yesterday for the April 9 season and home opener against Wilmington. The 27 man roster is as follows:
Pitchers: Paul Blackburn, Matt Brazis, Gerardo Concepcion, Josh Conway, Michael Heesch, Jonathan Martinez, Juan Paniagua, Starling Peralta, James Pugliese, Tayler Scott, Tyler Skulina, Daury Torrez, Jen-Ho Tseng, Duane Underwood.
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans can boast they have nine players in both the Baseball America and MLB.com’s Top 30 list. This pitching staff is stacked, there is so much depth both in the rotation and in the bullpen. Both Victor Caratini and Ben Carhart are intriguing players behind the plate. This is going to be a really fun outfield group to watch. There is a ton of athleticism out there. Jeimer Candelario and Carlos Penalver headline the infield group. I could have written about quite a few other players in this feature but I had to make some cuts. This is going to be a very fun team to track throughout the season.
Billy McKinney:Was acquired by the Cubs in 2014 along with Addison Russell and Dan Straily for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. The A’s first round pick in 2013 was given an aggressive promotion last year, skipping Single A and starting his pro career as a 19 year old Single A Advanced Stockton and Daytona. McKinney did nothing but rake since being acquired by the Cubs in the pitcher friendly Florida State League. In 51 games with Daytona he hit: .301/.390/.432 with 36 RBI. As a 20 year old he will look to continue his success and look to earn a promotion to Double A Tennessee. McKinney has a good approach at the plate and many scouts believe he can turn into an average power hitter. He is most likely destined to stay in LF because of his below average arm. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Double A if he gets off to a quick start.
Victor Caratini: Another prospect acquired via trade in 2014. This trade sent both James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio to Atlanta for the 21 year old switch hitting catcher. The Cubs #15 ranked prospect by Northsiders Report hit .277/.346/.402 with 5 HR and 55 RBI in 101 games between the Rome Braves and Kane County Cougars last season. Caratini hits better from the left side and projects to have average power from that side. He has good plate discipline which should help him to continue to advance through the system. He will continue to work on his receiving skills with Myrtle Beach where I think he will stay for the full season.
Paul Blackburn: The 21 year old will be entering his 4th season in the Cubs organization. He has risen in the organization one ring at a time since being drafted out of High School in the supplemental 1st round in 2012. The Cubs #12 prospect according to Northsiders Report tossed the most innings of his career last year, with 117 IP. In those innings he compiled a 3.23 ERA with a 3.84 FIP. He struck out 75 hitters while only giving up 31 walks. Blackburn is all about command and projects to be a backend of the rotation type guy. He has a fastball that sits in the 87-91 range. He has a plus curveball and a change-up that could become an average offering. I am looking forward to watching him on MiLB.tv as he stays on his steady progress climbing up the Cubs system.
Jen-Ho Tseng: Signed out of Taiwan in 2013 for $1.65 million, Tseng had an impressive debut season for the Kane County Cougars. Tseng posted a 2.40 ERA with a FIP of 3.28. In 105 IP he struck out 85 while only walking 15 batters. The 20 year old has the best control in the system spotting a fastball that sits 87-92 anywhere in the strike zone. His 6’1 210 pound frame allows him to repeat his delivery with ease. He is projected to be a back end of the rotation type pitcher because he is not overpowering, but has a changeup that is his best pitch and has a solid curveball. The RHP will spend the full season at Myrtle Beach and should continue to make his way towards Chicago.
Mark Zagunis: Zagunis is moving out from behind the plate to the outfield in hopes that it will help him progress through the organizations faster because of his advanced bat. The 22 year old 3rd round pick in 2014 is a very athletic player who split time between catching and the outfield at Virginia Tech. He split time between the AZL Cubs, Boise Hawks, and Kane County Cougars last year where he hit .288/.420/.420. The 6’0 righty continuously puts together good at bats and sees the ball well which is evident by his 42 strikeouts and 42 walks in 212 ABs last season. He also displays plus speed and stole 16 bags in 2014. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the outfield and is what I will be watching throughout the season. I’d expect to see Zagunis in Myrtle Beach for the full season with an outside chance of reaching Double A.
Duane Underwood: Busted back onto the prospect radar with a fantastic 2014. The 6’2 RHP posted a 2.50 ERA and a 4.42 FIP for the Kane County Cougars last year. After getting into better shape by losing nearly 30 pounds he was able to throw the most innings of his career, hurling 100.2 IP for the season. The 2nd round pick out of High School in 2012 is ranked as the Cubs #11 prospect by Northsiders Report. Underwood boasts a power fastball that sits 94-96, with a power curve that could become a plus pitch. He is continuing to work on his change-up that could also become a plus pitch. Underwood needs to continue to work on his command and consistency, but there is no doubt he has some of the most electric stuff in the Cubs system. He will most likely spend the full season with Myrtle Beach.
Jeimer Candelario: The switch hitting 3rd baseman is one of my favorite players in the system. Candelario took a step back last year after struggling with Daytona and being sent back down to Kane County. He will look to improve in his 2nd stint in High A Advanced this time in Myrtle Beach. The 21 year old is still fairly young for the Carolina League and will look to improve on his .223/.288/.370 slash line of last season. His patient approach at the plate and power potential have me believing he could have a bounce back season this year and could breakout for Myrtle Beach.
Carlos Penalver: Can really pick it at SS, he is one of the best defenders in the Cubs system, the only question is if he will ever hit enough to merit his defensive prowess. The soon to be 21 year old hit only .211/.263/.270 last year, but like I said he is really fun to watch defensively at SS.
Daury Torrez: Torrez flew under the radar last year in the Kane County rotation and could do the same this year in another loaded rotation with Myrtle Beach. The 21 year old 6’3 RHP is the Cubs #17 prospect according to Northsiders Report. He was signed in 2010 for $25,000 which looks like a good investment for the Cubs. He threw the most innings for the Kane County staff last year with 131.1 IP, striking out 81 and only walking 21. His pitchability and command of his fastball that sits 91-92 and reaches 95 are the keys to his continued success. He projects as a backend rotation type pitch and will spend the whole season at Myrtle Beach.
Ben Carhart: The Cubs continue their experiment of converting players to play catcher with Carhart. The 35th round pick in 2012 is transitioning to catcher after playing most of his career at 3B. He has been getting rave reviews for his pitch framing skills and hand eye coordination. If he can become adequate behind the plate his willingness to work counts and take walks could make him a valuable backstop. I will be watching intently to see how he progresses throughout the season.