Cubs top prospect Eloy Jimenez was projected to start the year in Myrtle Beach but a bone bruise to his right shoulder has delayed his season. Don’t worry Pelicans fans, Eloy will be in town soon and by the way, you’ve got a pile of prospects on the roster.
Oscar De La Cruz wasn’t on too many radars to start the 2016 season but he ended up on everyone’s by the time the summer was over. Now considered one of the top arms in the Cubs system, the 22-year-old Dominican Republic native was nursing an injury as the season started and began the campaign in the Arizona Rookie League. He made two starts in Eugene and was promoted to South Bend, where he finished the year with six more starts, fanning 35 in 27.2 innings. De La Cruz only threw 39 innings last season so the ability to log quality innings will be something to watch in the Carolina League. De La Cruz throws a fastball in the mid-90s, spins a plus curveball and has a decent change for his three-pitch mix. De La Cruz will make his Carolina League debut on April 9 at Lynchburg.
Get ready for Eddy Martinez Pelican fans. In his first full-season with the Cubs, Martinez not only improved his game at the plate but also gained great experience getting adjusted to life in the states. Signed out of Cuba before the 2016 season for a reported $3 million, the 22-year-old hit .254/.331/.380 in 126 games. Martinez has a cannon in right field and the best arm in the Cubs minors, its not close. Look for his home run totals to increase, hitting 10 last year in South Bend.
The Cubs first pick in the 2016 draft, Thomas Hatch (3rd round-Oklahoma State) will make his pro debut in the Carolina League. Hatch didn’t pitch after being drafted due to health concerns and the number of innings he threw helping lead Oklahoma State to the College World Series. Hatch is the first pitcher to start his career in High A after being drafted by the Cubs since Theo Epstein took over.
Adbert Alzolay may be the best kept secret in the organization. The 22-year-old Venezuelan made 20 starts last year in South Bend and went 9-4 with a 4.34 ERA. Alzolay threw a career-high 120.1 innings and sported a 1.22 WHIP. Alzolay gets the start on opening night in Lynchburg.
Ryan Kellogg moves up a level after an impressive 2016 season in South Bend (9-7, 3.03 ERA, 130.2 IP, 107 K, 1.08 WHIP) in a team-high 23 starts. The Cubs fifth-round pick in 2015 out of Arizona State, Kellogg played for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic.
Justin Steele had a rough 2016 season at South Bend, his first at a full-season affiliate. The 21-year-old was 5-7 with a 5.00 ERA in 19 starts in the Midwest League, logging 77.1 innings. Drafted out of high school in 2014, Steele is considered one of the top left-handers in the Cubs system and is penciled in as the #3 starter in the rotation.
Casey Bloomquist went under the radar last year at South Bend as the right-hander logged 117 innings while going 8-8 with a 3.00 ERA in 30 games, 12 as a starter. The 23-year-old also recorded four saves and sported a team-best 1.06 WHIP. Bloomquist will get the ball on April 7 at Lynchburg.
Jeremy Null is back in town after logging 105 innings for the Pelicans in 20 starts (5-6, 4.20 ERA). The 23-year-old may be seeing more time out of the pen as the season starts.
A bullpen full of familiar faces as six of the seven arms wore a Pelicans uniform last year. Left-hander Tommy Thorpe appeared in 39 games last year, five as a starter, and was 4-6 with a 3.59 ERA and one save. The former eighth-round pick in 2014 logged 77.2 innings and fanned 69 while holding opponents to a .239 average. Jordan Minch is back with Myrtle Beach after an arm injury ended his season in July. In 29 games before the DL, the lefty recorded two saves and tossed 34.1 innings with a 2.88 ERA. Dillon Maples got off to a rough start with the Pelicans last year and after ending up on the DL, was eventually sent to South Bend. Maples finished the season strong and recorded nine saves in 19 appearances, holding MWL bats to a .198 average. After a great start at South Bend, Pedro Araujo was promoted to Myrtle Beach at the end of June last year but the 23-year-old struggled, going 0-2 with a 5.21 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP in 13 games. He was sent back to SB in August and finished the year at 3-0 with a1.59 ERA and 45 K in 34 MWL innings. Craig Brooks dominated MWL hitters to start last year, recording five saves while posting a 1.39 ERA over 32.1 innings with 42 K. He earned a mid-season promotion to Myrtle Beach but didn’t have the same success, allowing 29 hits and 20 walks over 24 innings. Promoted to Myrtle Beach at the end of July, James Norwood appeared in eight games in the Carolina League, tossing 9.1 frames. The hard-throwing right-hander only logged 36 innings last year due to two stints on the DL. Scott Effross appeared in 32 games last year for South Bend, posting a 6-0 mark and a 2.77 ERA in 52 innings. The Cubs 15th round pick in 2015 was a former teammate of Kyle Schwarber at Indiana and will be making his Carolina League debut.
After making the switch from second base, P.J. Higgins has transformed himself into one of the Cubs’ top catching prospects. In his first full season behind the dish, the 23-year-old not only drastically improved his defensive skills, but hit .283/.389/.355 in 121 games at South Bend. The Cubs 12th round pick in 2015 posses a good eye at the plate and has a .381 OBP in two seasons. Tyler Alamo had his best season as a pro after getting drafted out of high school in the 24th round in 2013. The 21-year-old hit five homers last year in South Bend after not homering in his first three seasons. Alamo also improved his defensive skills at first base. Tyler Pearson is back with MB after spending 2016 as the backup catcher. The 24-year-old hit .205/.297/.261 in 30 games last year.
Second baseman Carlos Sepulveda burst onto the Cubs prospect scene in 2016 as the 20-year-old hit .310/.366/.373 in 80 games for South Bend in his second season of pro ball. Signed out of Mexico as part of the 2014 IFA class, Sepulveda isn’t flashy but a solid player that displays his skills both at the plate and on defense. Matt Rose was second in the Cubs minors with 17 homers last season as he returned from a demotion to Eugene and hit 13 bombs for South Bend. Drafted as a third baseman in the 11th round in 2015 out of Georgia State, the 22-year-old has played a majority of his games at first. Bryant Flete is back with Myrtle Beach after helping the Pelicans to the Mills Cup last year, batting .285/.395/.415 in the final 34 games of the season. Flete, 24, is primarily a second baseman but may see more time at short. Second baseman Trent Giambrone is skipping South Bend and the Cubs 25th round pick last June finds himself in High A. The 23-year-old was one of the top bats for Eugene, hitting .292/.404/.433 with four homers and 22 RBI in 51 games after the draft. Jesse Hodges earned a mid-season promotion to Myrtle Beach last year and is back to anchor third base for the Pelicans. Signed as a free agent out of Canada back in 2013, Hodges hit .254/.316/.328 between South Bend and MB in 90 games. In his sixth season with the Cubs, Adonis Paula, 22, appeared in 40 games for South Bend last year, batting .204/.253/.307 with two homers.
With Jimenez nursing an injury, Robert Garcia, Connor Myers and Daniel Spingola comprise the outfield. Garcia, 23, makes the jump from the Northwest League to High A after batting .283/.345/.418 in 49 games for Eugene. The switch-hitting outfielder can play all three outfield positions and was signed as part of the Cubs 2013 IFA class out of the Dominican Republic. Myers continues to make a quick rise through the system after being selected in the 27th round last June. Defense is the centerfielder’s best tool and he hit .229/.288/.349 with three homers in 49 games between Mesa, Eugene and South Bend. Spingola was drafted twice by the Cubs and signed after the 2015 draft. Spingola, primarily a corner outfielder, returns to Myrtle Beach after batting .231/.322/.327 in 49 games last season.
Buddy Bailey is back for his second year in Myrtle Beach after guiding the Pelicans to the 2016 Mills Cup. A member of the Cubs organization since 2006, Bailey has managed at Dayton (2006, 09-11), Tennessee (2008, 12-15), and Iowa (2007). Pitching coach Anderson Tavares is back for his second year with Myrtle Beach and his 17th with the Cubs either as a player or a coach. New hitting Guillermo Martinez heads to Myrtle Beach along with several key bats that helped lead South Bend to a playoff spot. The former Marlins farmhand is in his fourth year with the Cubs, spending the first two as an assistant coach at Boise and Tennessee. Former Cubs minor leaguer Ty Wright is the assistant coach, his third with the Cubs after stints in Eugene and Mesa.
Carolina League Primer
Two new teams enter the Carolina League in 2017—the Buies Creek Astros and the Down East Wood Ducks (Rangers) both in Southern Division with Myrtle Beach. Winston-Salem (White Sox) and Carolina (Brewers) are the other two teams in the South. Frederick (Orioles), Lynchburg (Indians), Potomac (Nationals), Salem (Red Sox) and Wilmington (Royals) comprise the Northern Division.