The Myrtle Beach Pelicans announced their 2014 opening day roster Wednesday, and once again the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Texas Rangers will boast several of the organizations top prospects.
In fact, four of the Rangers top six minor league prospects as ranked by Baseball America will start the season with the Pelicans, who also welcome in a new manager.
Joe Mikulik, a longtime manager of the Class A Asheville Tourists in the Colorado Rockies organization, takes over for former Pelicans manager Jason Wood, who moves up to Class AA Frisco.
Mikulik, who spent last season as a roving outfield instructor, will be tasked with developing a roster led by promising catcher Jorge Alfaro (Texas No. 2 prospect, according to Baseball America), outfielder Nick Williams (No. 4), third baseman Joey Gallo (No. 5) and right-handed pitcher Alex Chi-Chi Gonzalez (No. 6).
Were very excited about the players that are going there. Were excited about the staff, said Mike Daly, the Rangers senior director of minor league operations. ... Obviously what Joe did there in Asheville with the players that he influenced and developed for the Rockies, you cant question it. I know a couple guys personally who played for Joe and they still talk about what a positive experience it was, how much they learned from Joe and how much better they got.
This Myrtle Beach team, we think its an extremely talanted team were sending there, and someone of Joes caliber who has the experience and someone whos positively impacted so many players, we thought it was a real good fit.
Alfaro, a 20-year-old out of Colombia, is rated as the 54th overall best prospect by Baseball America, which notes his tools are second to none among minor league catchers. He spent most of last summer with Class A Hickory, where he batted .258 with 16 home runs, 22 doubles, 53 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. He played three games with the Pelicans last year, as well.
Gallo is another 20-year-old Rangers farmhand on the overall top-100 prospects list, checking in at No. 60. Baseball America says of the third baseman: No one in the minors can match Gallos raw power. He crushed 40 homers last season, 38 of those coming for Hickory, while totaling 88 RBIs.
Williams is ranked No. 97 on Baseball Americas overall list despite being placed higher than Gallo in the organizational rankings. The 20-year-old spent all of last season with Hickory, hitting 17 homers, 19 doubles and 12 triples while collecting 60 RBIs and 70 runs scored to go with a .293 average.
And Gonzalez is the Rangers 2013 first-round draft pick, selected 23rd overall out of Oral Roberts. Hes the top-ranked pitching prospect in the organization and started five games for the Pelicans late last season.
A couple other players on the opening day roster have received accolades from Baseball America as well, as outfielder Chris Garia is listed as the fastest baserunner in the Rangers organization, right-hander Keone Kela is considered to have the best fastball and Preston Beck is rated as the prospect with the best outfield arm in the system despite being listed on the roster as an infielder this year. Gallo (best power hitter and best infield arm) and Gonzalez (best slider and best control) are also on that list of organizational superlatives.
Meanwhile, fellow right-hander Cody Buckel, who was ranked among the Rangers top-eight prospects entering the last two seasons, is back with the Pelicans while looking to rejuvenate his stock after struggling with his control (35 walks and 25 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings) and confidence in eight games last year between the Rangers rookie-level team and Class AA Frisco. He had pitched for Myrtle Beach in 2012, posting a sterling 1.31 earned-run average in 13 starts while rising up the minor league prospect charts and will look to put his lost 2013 season behind him.
Cody has had a very positive camp, Daly said. He came in there and hes pitched well. Hes in a great spot from both on the field and off the field.
Overall, the roster features 13 players who have previously played for the Pelicans, including 12 familiar from last season.
Another interesting name on the roster is 23-year-old right-hander Jason Knapp, who is attempting a comeback after last pitching in the minor leagues in 2010. Knapp, a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008 was a key piece in the Phillies 2009 trade with the Cleveland Indians for ace pitcher Cliff Lee before soon being derailed by shoulder injuries. Hes never pitched above Class A ball and will work out of the bullpen to start the season.
Knapps got real good stuff and [when we had] the opportunity to sign him, we couldnt pass it up, Daly said. He had a real good camp. Just trying to find a good spot for him to get back into it, we felt Myrtle Beach and working with [Pelicans pitching coach] Steve Mintz was the right opportunity for him.
The Pelicans, who are seeking their fourth-straight postseason appearance, open their season April 3 with the start of a four-game homestand against Salem at TicketReturn.com Field.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.