The Myrtle Beach Pelicans begin their 20th season Thursday night against the Frederick Keys, hoping to keep a perfect playoff streak intact as a Chicago Cubs farm team.
The Class High-A Pelicans are entering their fourth year in the Cubs farm system, and Myrtle Beach’s success has coincided with Chicago’s success.
The Cubs have played in three consecutive National League Championship Series and won a World Series over the past three years, while over that same time the Pelicans have won two Carolina League titles and made the playoffs last year for the third consecutive season.
“It’s a mix of youth, some returning guys and hopefully we blend together as a team and everybody gets better and hopefully all 25 of them get out of here by the end of the year and move up,” Pelicans third-year manager Buddy Bailey said.
Myrtle Beach will begin the season with seven consecutive home games, beginning with four games against the Keys of the Baltimore Orioles organization, followed by three against the Winston-Salem Dash of the Chicago White Sox organization.
“It’s fun to get back to something you’ve always grown up playing and been around for your whole life,” said catcher Tyler Pearson, 25, who battled through an injury last season to bat .257 over 35 games and has spent parts of the past two seasons in Myrtle Beach. "It’s always a fun day to come out and start everything back up and get back into the swing of things.”
The Pelicans have tabbed Keegan Thompson as their opening day starter. Thompson, 23, is a 2017 Cubs third-round draft pick out of Auburn who pitched in rookie ball in Eugene, Ore., late last summer and is skipping Low A ball.
“I’ll have some butterflies out there for the first batter or so, but it’s just very humbling and I’m honored to be able to get the opening day start here,” Thompson said. “I’ll go out there and do the best I can to give the team a chance to win.”
The Pelicans have three position players ranked among the Cubs’ top 25 prospects according to Baseball America in Aramis Ademan, Wladimir Galindo and D.J. Wilson, but the strength of the team may be on the mound.
Alex Lange, a 2017 first round draft pick out of LSU who is also skipping the Cubs’ Low-A team in South Bend, Ind., threw five strong innings Tuesday in a 6-4 exhibition-game win over the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs.
Including left-handed pitcher Bryan Hudson, a third-round pick in 2015, the Pelicans have three starting pitchers who rank among the Cubs’ top 25 prospects.
“We definitely have a couple new guys that are new to the staff and have really good, electric stuff,” Pearson said. “It is exciting to see those kind of guys and be able to work with those guys and catch those guys. I’m looking forward to seeing what those guys do. We have a really good staff and it’s going to be a good year on the mound for us.”
Bailey is in his third year with the Pelicans and 30th year as a minor league manager, and he retains pitching coach Anderson Tavarez for a third year and Ty Wright, who moves into the hitting coach role after being a Pelicans assistant coach in 2017.
“I like Myrtle Beach. I’ve been here a couple years, got some people around town who have turned into friends, there are actually people from Virginia where I’m from who have been living here for years that I know," Bailey said. "I know my way around, travel is not that bad, the fans are really good here and it’s a nice baseball park to come into work every day, so I’m happy to be back.”
The job of the coaching staff is to develop players for the organization, but . . . “it’s a fine line,” Bailey said. “I think though if you’re really developing players and they’re actually getting better you probably qualify (for the playoffs) just because they are getting better. But somewhere in there you have to instill team values because team chemistry is so important to winning. I know our big-league club not only has good players but has good chemistry and that’s part of the objective too, is trying to help them become good players on the field and good teammates too.”
As the Pelicans try to keep their success with the Cubs going, Thompson said he and his teammates appreciate being part of Chicago's organization. “It’s a great organization,” he said. “They take care of us really well. I know other spots aren’t quite as lucky and I’m just trying to take full advantage of that.”