With several key pieces returning from last year’s Carolina League Mills Cup Championship team, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are loaded with talent.
The Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Chicago Cubs will look to pick up right where it left off as the season begins Thursday.
The Pelicans’ Opening Day roster – released Monday – features two of the Cubs’ top 3 prospects, and starters Jonathan Martinez and Daury Torrez, who were two of the league’s top pitchers last season, are among 13 players who return from last year’s championship team.
It’s going to be a different team than last year as far as a skillset, but I definitely think it’s going to be an exciting team to watch.
Pelicans play-by-play announcer and media relations manager Scott Kornberg
“There’s a lot of great players coming back from last year,” Pelicans play-by-play announcer and media relations manager Scott Kornberg said. “There’s a lot of talented guys. Speaking of talent, there’s a lot of new guys on the roster that bring a lot to the table. It’s going to be a different team than last year as far as a skillset, but I definitely think it’s going to be an exciting team to watch.”
Gleyber Torres – the Cubs’ No. 1 prospect, according to Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com – helped lead Myrtle Beach to its championship after being promoted just eight days before the playoffs began. Torres batted .287 and had three home runs, 64 RBIs and 54 runs scored in 126 games between the Pelicans and Low-A South Bend (Ind.).
Torres is also considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball and is ranked No. 28 on MLBPipeline.com’s Top 100 prospect list.
“I haven’t actually seen him play in person, but in doing research on him – I expect him to be a smooth, fun guy to watch. He’s a tremendous player and he’s still learning as he goes, but he’s a guy that led his team in 10 different categories at 18 years old, which is unheard of,” Kornberg said of Torres. “There’s truly only a couple of things he still needs to work on, and there’s a reason he’s a top 30 prospect or so, in all of baseball.”
Ian Happ – Chicago’s No. 3 prospect, according to Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com – joins the team as newcomer. He was drafted by the Cubs in the first round (ninth overall) in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player draft and batted .259, hit nine home runs, had 33 RBIs and scored 50 runs in 67 games as he split time between South Bend and Class A short season affiliate Eugene (Ore.) last season.
“I’m definitely excited about seeing [Torres] and Happ, they should live up to [the hype],” Kornberg said.
Martinez – who led the Carolina League in ERA last year – and Torrez – who racked up 10 wins for the team last season – will lead the Pelicans pitching staff, which is coming off a year in which it led the Carolina League in ERA (3.01) and WHIP (1.16) and was second in saves (43) and third in shutouts (13).
Martinez spent all of season in Myrtle Beach and compiled a 9-2 record, had a 2.56 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 116 innings pitched (21 starts).
Torrez also pitched exclusively for the Pelicans last year, and had a 10-6 record, 3.75 ERA and struck out 86 in 134 1/3 innings (23 starts).
Sidearm hurler David Berg will help lead Myrtle Beach’s bullpen. He was drafted out of UCLA by the Cubs in the sixth round of last year’s draft and is considered one of the best closers in NCAA Division I history. Berg was part of the Pelicans’ championship run and had a stellar 1.40 ERA, struck out 14 and had five saves in 19 1/3 innings between Eugene (two games) and Myrtle Beach (16 games).
The team also features pitchers Trevor Clifton, the Cubs’ No. 18 prospect, according to Baseball America, and Jake Stinnett (No. 21, Baseball America).
Along with several newcomers, pitchers James Farris, Tyler Ihrig and James Pugliese, infielders Daniel Lockhart and Jason Vosler, outfielders Trey Martin, Jeffrey Baez and Shawon Dunston Jr. and catcher Cael Brockmeyer will all start the season after spending a portion of last year with the Pelicans.
First-year Pelicans manager Buddy Bailey – who has 36 years experience in baseball (28 as manager) and has won over 1,500 games – will take over for former manager Mark Johnson, who was promoted to manage Double-A Tennessee after one season in Myrtle Beach.
Meanwhile, Anderson Tavarez will be team’s pitching coach and is in his first year with the Pelicans, while former MLB player Mariano Duncan – a two-time World Series champion – is the only coach returning from last year and will serve as Bailey’s hitting coach.
Kornberg already has a sense that Bailey will be a great fit for the Pelicans, which has an average roster age of 23.
“I’ve met Buddy a few times and talked to him a few times. He’s a minor league lifer and, from that perspective, he’s really perfect for this club,” Kornberg said. “Just looking at what he’s done with the Cubs alone – he’s helped some great players like Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber, Kyle Hendricks and plenty other great players get to that next level with the Cubs.
“[Bailey] really helps out his players and is big on their routines, because when the game comes around they’ll be prepared. He’s an old school guy and he allows them their freedom, just as long as they’re ready to play every day. He really loves pregame preparation and gets his players ready for not only here at Myrtle Beach, but once they have it down – they continue to have it as they move through the organization. He’s a big reason why some of these guys continue to be successful.”