All eyes will be on the middle infield at TicketReturn.Com Field to start 2016 as Gleyber Torres, considered the Cubs top prospect, and Ian Happ, the team’s #1 pick last June, will be wearing Pelicans uniforms.
Torres, the 2015 Midwest League Prospect of the Year, earned a late season promotion to Myrtle Beach and started at short during the playoff run. Torres hit .287/.346/.376 with 24 doubles, 64 RBI and 22 stolen bases while improving his defense at short in South Bend. After joining the Pelicans in early September, Torres played seven regular season games and then six playoff games, hitting a homer and winning a championship ring.
Considered one of the top hitters in the draft, the Cubs used the ninth overall pick on the University of Cincinnati product. Spending his first pro season in the outfield, the 21-year-old made the move to second during fall instructs, and spent the off-season and spring training preparing for the new challenge. During the Pelicans Media Day, Happ said he was “happy to be back on the dirt” after playing the infield in high school and college. Hitting is no problem from either side of the plate as Happ’s first-year resume included a 445-foot blast in Wisconsin. The Pittsburgh native batted .259/.356/.466 in 67 games with nine homers and 10 stolen bases between Eugene and South Bend.
Jonathan Martinez made have been the best kept secret in the Carolina League last year despite being named an all-star. Leading the league in ERA (2.56), WHIP (0.94) and BAA (.199), the 21-year-old went 9-2 in 21 starts, logging 116 innings plus a six-inning win in the playoffs. The Venezuelan native gets the opening night start.
Trevor Clifton and Jake Stinnett will be making their High A debuts in the Myrtle Beach rotation. Clifton was the Cubs 12th round pick in 2013 out of Heritage High School in Tennessee and the 20-year-old right-hander made 22 starts last year in South Bend, and finished 5-1 over his last six starts with a 1.96 ERA in 36.2 innings. Stinnett was the Cubs second round pick in 2014 out of Maryland and took the hill 22 times last year in the MWL. Going 7-6 with a 4.46 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP, Stinnett had a strong spring training and continues his education after limited college experience.
Over three years ago the Cubs sent Tony Campana to the Diamondbacks and got a lanky 18-year-old out of Venezuela—Erick Leal. Making 23 starts last year at South Bend, including a nine-inning no hitter against Kane County, the 6-foot-3 right-hander will make his High A debut. Leal was 10-8 with the SB-Cubs, throwing 128.2 innings and a 3.85 ERA. The workhorse of the South Bend staff was Zach Hedges, who tied with Leal with 23 starts and led the team with 132 innings. The 26th round pick in ’14 went 8-8 with a 4.16 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. Tommy Thorpe starts the season in the rotation after serving in both roles last year at South Bend. The Cubs 8th round pick in 2014 out of Oregon made 12 starts and logged 96.1 innings in MWL with a 3.08 ERA and a1.41 WHIP.
David Berg, the Cubs sixth-round pick last year out of UCLA, made his pro debut in Eugene and then appeared in 16 games for Myrtle Beach. Berg recorded four saves during the regular season and added two saves and a pair of wins in the playoffs. The side-winding, self-taught, right-hander threw 19.1 innings with 18 K, 3 BB, a 1.40 ERA. Daury Torrez, a starter in 23 games for the Pelicans last season, moves to the bullpen and will be joined in the pen by alum James Pugliese and James Farris, and Tyler Ihrig. Making their Carolina League debuts will be right-handers Dillon Maples and Ryan McNeil along with LH Jordan Minch.
Catcher Cael Brockmeyer played at all four affiliates last year including 36 games at Myrtle Beach, hitting .251/.338/.389 with nine homers. Gioskar Amaya moves up to High A after his first season behind the plate at South Bend. A former Florida State League All-Star second baseman, Amaya hit .260/.341/.345 in 110 games last year. Switch-hitting catcher Erick Castillo will serve as the third catcher.
Third baseman Jason Vosler got plenty of playing time this spring for Chicago, appearing in 13 games and hitting a homer. A 16th round pick in 2014, the left-hander hit 10 bombs last year in limited time between Myrtle Beach and South Bend. Cuban Yasiel Balaguert will see plenty of time at first for the Pelicans after spending his first four pro seasons primarily in right. He hit .271/.310/.407 in 82 games for South Bend last year.
Daniel Lockhart is back in Myrtle Beach after 118 games last year at second (.223/.271/.301) and will start the year as a backup at second and short. Super utility man David Bote played four different positions in 98 games in South Bend, plus four appearances on the mound.
I’m just gonna go ahead and claim that Myrtle Beach has the fastest outfield in all the minors. If you don’t believe me, let’s race. And fortunately for the Pelicans, speed isn’t the only tools this group possess. Jeffrey Baez was the most productive Cubs minor leaguer the second half of the 2016 season, hitting .348/.369/.536 with 8 HR, 25 SB, and 46 runs in his final 53 games in South Bend. He was named the Cubs Minor League Player of the Month for August, earned a late season promotion to Myrtle Beach, and was part of their title team. After an injury-plagued season, Shawon Dunston is back with the Pelicans. The 23-year-old only played 17 games last year in Myrtle Beach after a solid ’14 campaign for Kane County.
Fixtures in South Bend’s outfield last year, Charcer Burks and Rashad Crawford will make their High A debuts. Burks, a ninth-round pick out of high school in 2013, played stellar defense for the SB-Cubs and hit .257/.339/.347 with 28 stolen bases, earning MWL All-Star honors. Crawford begins his fifth season with Cubs after getting drafted out of high school in 2012 in the 11th round. The 22-year-old had his best pro season last year, batting .280/.322/.382 in 107 games with 20 stolen bases. He anchored center last year but can play both corners.
When it comes to managerial experience, no one in the Cubs organization compares with Buddy Bailey’s resume. After leading Tennessee the past four season, Bailey returns to High A, having managed in Daytona for three years, including the 2011 FSL title. Beginning his 28th season as a manager and 11th with the Cubs, the Pennsylvania native began his career with Braves in 1983 in Appalachian League and is no stranger to the Carolina League, having managed in Durham (1986 & 88) and two years in Lynchburg (1991-92).
Handling pitching coach duties at Myrtle Beach will be Anderson Tavarez, who served as Eugene's pitching coach last season. Prior to joining Eugene, Tavarez spent two years with Mesa. Tavares played in the Cubs system from 2000-05 and worked as a pitching coach with the Cubs Dominican Summer League team from 2007-12.
Mariano Duncan returns for his fourth season as the club's High-A hitting coach after serving the previous two campaigns as Tennessee's hitting coach (2011-12). The 12-year major league veteran (1985-87, 1989-97) joined the Cubs in 2011 after spending the previous five seasons (2006-10) as the Dodgers major league first base coach.
Juan Cabreja is the team's assistant coach after serving as the Dominican Cubs manager in 2014-15. Toby Williams begins his third year as a trainer in the Cubs organization and his first with Myrtle Beach after serving as the trainer in Mesa last season. Jason Morriss enters his fourth season in the organization, second with Myrtle Beach, as a strength and conditioning coach.
The Pelican open the season with a seven-game home stand and entertain Frederick, the Orioles Class A affiliate, on Thursday, April 7, at 7:05 p.m. EST in the opener. Winston-Salem is in town April 11-13. All home games are on MiLB-TV and you can listen to all games via radio on Milb.com.
The Pelicans have a new broadcasting duo as Maryland graduates Scott Kornberg and John Vittas take over play-by-play duties. Kormberg was hired in December as the club’s Media Relations Manager and the Voice of the Pelicans. Prior to his time in Myrtle Beach, he worked for the Winston-Salem Dash (Class A-Advanced, Chicago White Sox), Quad Cities River Bandits (Class A, Houston Astros), Colgate University (N.Y.) and High Point-Thomasville HiToms (Coastal Plain League). In the off-season, he serves as the football and men's basketball radio broadcaster at Western Illinois University. The Belle Mead, New Jersey native graduated in 2013 from the University of Maryland, where he called Terps men's basketball, football, baseball and men's soccer games as the co-Director of the student-run station WMUC Sports.
“My favorite baseball team growing up was the New York Mets. Not sure how much I should I admit that working in the Cubs’ organization, but I was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey,” Kormberg told NorthSidersReport. “It’s really cool to be working in the organization of one of the most storied franchises in sports.”
Kronberg got a first-hand look at the Cubs organization as he and Pelicans President/GM Andy Milovich made the trek to Mesa this spring.
“I was honestly blown away by the Cubs’ facilities in Arizona,” Kormberg said. “I knew they were fairly new and had great amenities, but to see it in-person was really something special.”
Kronberg was also impressed with the Pelicans staff.
“Buddy Bailey has like 10 million incredibly hilarious stories, and listening to him talk about baseball, you can tell why he’s been so successful throughout his career. He’s really smart, and truly a baseball-lifer. Mariano Duncan, Anderson Tavarez, Juan Cabreja, Jason Morriss and Toby Williams were extraordinarily nice, and again, speaks to how professional the Cubs organization is. They’re all highly qualified and people are drawn to them – it’ll be great for our players to be working with them throughout the year, and I’m excited to do that too.”
Kormberg and Vittas are re-united again as they did games together while students at Maryland. A 2015 grad, VIttas created the Maryland Baseball Network as a student and traveled with the Terps baseball team and called all of their games, including the Regionals and Super Regionals the last couple of years. A native of Wayne, New Jersey, he had been working for the the MLB Network before joining the Pelicans.