Myrtle Beach Pelicans primed to explode on offense as season begins

ablondin@thesunnews.comApril 2, 2014 

Myrtle Beach Pelicans' manager Joe Mikulik (left) with Joey Gallo during a combination of practice and media day at TicketReturn.com Field Pelicans Ballpark in Myrtle Beach on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. Opening night is Thursday with a 7:05 p.m. game time. Promotional events include magnet schedule giveaways, $1 beer from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., a pre-game autograph session and a post-game fireworks show. The ballpark is located off 21st Avenue North and Grissom Parkway.

BY JANET BLACKMON MORGAN — jblackmon@thesunnews.com Buy Photo

  • Opening series

    Who | Salem Red Sox at Myrtle Beach Pelicans

    Where | TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark

    Series schedule | Thursday (7:05 p.m.), Friday (7:05 p.m.), Saturday (7:05 p.m.), Sunday (3:05 p.m.)

    Radio | 1450-AM

First-year Myrtle Beach Pelicans manager Joe Mikulik can’t tell you what his team’s record will be this year.

But he feels pretty confident in predicting that many of the players that produce that record will be playing in Major League Baseball in the near future.

The Texas Rangers have stacked their Advanced Single-A affiliate in the Carolina League with the majority of the organization’s top prospects, particularly on offense.

“I’m telling you, you’re going to see a lot of players here playing in the big leagues,” said Mikulik, whose team opens the season with a four-game homestand against the Salem (Va.) Red Sox beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday night.

“Regardless of wins and losses here, you’re going to see some guys playing in the big leagues – pitching staff and position players. It’s just a matter of time. They just have to get more at-bats, more innings and keep learning how to play the game.”

The Pelicans are beginning the season with perhaps their best offensive team on paper in team history.

Three of the top five Rangers prospects among position players are Pelicans to begin the 2014 season.

Third baseman Joey Gallo is the Rangers’ No. 4 prospect according to Baseball America and led minor league baseball in home runs last year with 40 to become the first teenager since Dick Simpson in 1962 to hit 40 homers in a minor league season.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro is the Rangers’ No. 2 prospect and No. 54 in all of minor league baseball according to Baseball America. In 113 games between Myrtle Beach, Hickory and the Arizona League Rangers, Alfaro hit 18 homers and collected 61 RBIs.

Outfielder Nick Williams showed his potential by clubbing home runs in each of his first two at-bats in the spring training Cactus League, the second tying the game in the ninth inning of an eventual win over the Oakland A’s.

“We’ve got a really talented team here and it’s good to get out of spring training and get the games going that actually count now,” said Gallo, who was tabbed by Baseball America as the “Best Power Hitter” and “Best Infield Arm” among Rangers farmhands. “We’re pretty balanced. We have a few guys returning and a few new guys. We’ve got a lot of good pitchers and we can swing it a little bit too.”

The starting pitching staff is led by righthander Alex “Chi-Chi” Gonzalez, the Rangers’ top pitching prospect at No. 6 in the organization. The 2013 first-round selection out of Oral Roberts started five games with the Pelicans late in 2013 and has the “Best Slider” and “Best Control” in the organization, according to Baseball America.

Myrtle Beach’s Keone Kela has the “Best Fastball,” and Jose Leclerc also makes the jump to Myrtle Beach this season after posting 77 strikeouts in 59 innings last year. Both are among the Rangers’ top-20 prospects.

The Pelicans are seeking their fourth consecutive postseason appearance and return 13 players with previous experience in Myrtle Beach.

Cody Buckel is among that group. He pitched for the Pelicans in 2012 on his way to earning the Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award, and returns following a disappointing 2013 season.

“Our expectations are high,” Mikulik said. “The Texas Rangers have put a great group here of talent, a good young group of exciting players. We understand the type of players we have here.

“… We’ve obviously seen some players come through Myrtle Beach and are in the big leagues now, but I think on this year’s roster there should be quite a few. It should be fun.”

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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