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Midseason report: Pitching-heavy Myrtle Beach Pelicans need bats

The Pelicans had one of their worst first-half records in team history.

But Myrtle Beach has shown reasons for optimism for the season's second half. The quest to turn the season around begins today when the Birds begin a three-game series at Potomac.

Like all great midterms, it's a chance not only for evaluation, but also to look ahead to what fans should expect in the second half.

Offense

Myrtle Beach has some parts in play that weren't here in April.

Expected big-time contributors Gerry Rodriguez (PED suspension) and Gerardo Avila (release) found themselves exiting Myrtle Beach for the wrong reasons. That opened doors for the Jones triumvirate - Mike, Travis and Mycal - as well as L.V. Ware and Dan Nelson.

It turned out to be a blessing, at least for the immediacy of wins and losses. Rodriguez and Avila were each batting under .240 when their time ended. Mycal Jones (.409 in Myrtle Beach), Travis Jones (.274) and L.V. Ware (.256, 15 runs) proved they were going to contribute right away.

There are still some holes in a lineup that produced a slew of Carolina League first-half lows: batting average, runs scored, doubles, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

The biggest letdown to this point may be the offense of Cole Miles. The speedster was taken out of his spot as the leadoff hitter just before the all-star break after batting .247 during the first half. Worse, there are 33 players in the league with better on-base percentages than Miles (.327).

Manager Rocket Wheeler would surely like better production out of the top of the order. That may have led to the decision to move Miles down in the order. Wheeler was noncommittal on whether the move was going to be permanent.

Miles' potential return to the top is strengthened by two facts: First, he was dinged up earlier in the year and spent time on the disabled list; Second, he's already proved he can rebound from slumps in this pitching-heavy league.

For different reasons, catcher Matt Kennelly (.221 batting average) is also allowed more time than most players with his offensive credentials. His work developing Myrtle Beach pitchers is more important than anything he does at the plate.

That same courtesy wasn't extended to a handful of other now-former Pelicans. Poor hitting earned Ryan Barba, Shayne Moody and Chris Shehan their release.

Their replacements have already made an impact, but it's still too early to tell what it will mean in the second half.

OVERALL GRADE: C-

Pitching

Kent Willis probably won't get as much credit as he deserves this season, but he certainly has earned his paycheck. The pitching coach inherited a group with a lot of potential but also in need of a lot of work to tap into that talent.

J.J. Hoover might be the best example.

The 6-foot-3 right-hander allowed at least six earned runs in two of his first five starts. That included an April 22 start against Frederick in which he was bounced early after giving up 11 hits and eight runs.

By May 7, his ERA had ballooned to 6.35.

After that start, Willis and Hoover went to work. The pitcher began working on hand placement and pace, and within a month, he was an All-Star-caliber pitcher. His ERA has been as low at 3.18 and he will enter the second half with a respectable 4.14 clip.

The staff was also bolstered early by starter Randall Delgado. His Zack Greinke-like numbers (2-5, 2.41 ERA), display both his abilities and the frustration that comes with an unproductive offense.

Rightfully, he earned a spot on the California-Carolina League All-Star roster.

When the Braves promoted Julio Teheran on May 14, you could see the pieces for the Pelicans staff coming together in a hurry. Teheran's 1.38 ERA would lead the league if he had more appearances, and his 49-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio is daunting for opposing hitters.

Add in Angelo Paulino, and the Pelicans now have a staff capable of giving this team a leg up on most opponents, even with the recent promotion of Benino Prunedo to AA Mississippi.

Had it clicked earlier in the year, the Birds may have avoided such a disappointing first half. The current rotation could be the best in the league by the time the season is over - as long as promotions don't take away all of its punch.

OVERALL GRADE: B+

What to watch for

A little less than a year ago, Pelicans stars Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman were promoted to Double-A Mississippi a week after the all-star break. Could it happen again this year?

If so, pitchers would be the likely candidates.

Delgado is more than effective nearly every time he takes the mound. His ERA was second in the Carolina League among starting pitchers and it's clear he has what it takes to move up the ranks.

Next in line could be one of the newest Pelicans, fellow hurler Teheran, who was selected to the Futures Game on Tuesday.

Although he hasn't been in Myrtle Beach long, he's flashed some brilliance in a short period of time. The best thing Pelicans fans can hope for in terms of seeing Teheran around BB&T for the rest of the season is that the Braves may want to get a longer look at the phenom at this level.

Rushing the 19-year-old Teheran also doesn't make much sense, and with Wheeler and Willis, he has a pair of coaches who can continue to help him grow his game.

The other interesting development could be the potential return of the three players - Rodriguez, Amadeo Zazueta and Yoel Campusano - who tested positive for amphetamines in May. Would the Braves organization want to immediately send them back to Myrtle Beach?

Signs point to no, but fans won't know for sure until after their 50-game suspensions are completed.

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