Myrtle Beach Pelicans

Young from top to bottom, Myrtle Beach Pelicans open season in front of a packed house

Myrtle Beach Pelicans catcher Miguel Amaya awaits the ball as a runner slides into home plate in the Pelicans’ opening day game against the Lynchburg Hillcats Thursday evening in Myrtle Beach. Lynchburg won 14-5 in front of a sellout crowd of 6,599 at Pelicans Ballpark.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans catcher Miguel Amaya awaits the ball as a runner slides into home plate in the Pelicans’ opening day game against the Lynchburg Hillcats Thursday evening in Myrtle Beach. Lynchburg won 14-5 in front of a sellout crowd of 6,599 at Pelicans Ballpark. jbell@thesunnews.com

The crowd was impressive. The performance was not.

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans celebrated opening day of their 21st season with a sellout crowd of 6,599 on a comfortable evening at Pelicans Ballpark.

But the Chicago Cubs’ Advanced Class A affiliate suffered a sloppy 14-5 defeat to the Lynchburg Hillcats of the Cleveland Indians organization.

“You’re going to have a few of those every year,” new Pelicans manager Steve Lerud said. “Maybe there were some jitters or whatever it was, but hopefully they got it all out of their system tonight and we can move on [Friday].”

The Pelicans should get their share of wins this season. They have three of the Cubs’ top 10 prospects, according to either Baseball America or MLB.com.

Catcher Miguel Amaya is No. 1 (MLB.com) and hit .256 in Low-A South Bend last year. Righthanded pitcher Paul Richan is No. 7 (Baseball America) and shortstop Aramis Ademan is No. 6 (MLB.com).

Amaya went 1-for-3 with a two-run double to right-center field before being lifted in the eighth for a pinch hitter, and Ademan went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

“I think we have a really good mix of some younger guys, even younger guys that are repeating the level and are still young for the level,” Lerud said. “That’s still a good thing I think. Hopefully they can make the adjustments necessary to get out of here and keep moving up.

“We’ve got some pretty highly regarded guys on this team within the organization and within baseball in general, and our job is to make sure we get them tools out of them and have them perform at the level they’re expected to.”

Those young players will learn this season along with Lerud, who is in just his second year as a minor league manager after 13 minor league seasons and nine Major League Baseball games as a catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies.

At 34, Lerud is just eight years older than his oldest player, catcher Tyler Payne, and is no more than 10 years older than six other Pelicans.

“I think the way I relate to them might be a little different than maybe some of the older coaches just because I’ve been in their shoes not so long ago,” Lerud said. “I understand what they’re going through right now and their mentality of trying to get to the big leagues.”

Lerud was one of a few coaches within the Cubs’ organization who applied this past offseason for a catching coordinator position that was given to double-A manager Mark Johnson, resulting in the shuffling of the remaining minor league head coaches.

Jimmy Gonzalez was moved from Myrtle Beach to double-A Tennessee and Lerud was moved up two levels from Class A short-season Eugene (Oregon) – where his team won the league title – to Myrtle Beach.

“It was a welcomed promotion for me. It wasn’t something I was anticipating but something I felt ready for,” said Lerud, who played for Lynchburg in 2007-08.

“The expectation is to get these guys out of here. Obviously being involved in player development that’s the most important goal is to produce players that can go and contribute in Chicago. That’s our biggest goal here right now. If we have a whole new team here in a couple months that means we all did our jobs.”

Lerud had an inauspicious beginning Thursday to his tenure in Myrtle Beach.

After the Pelicans scored nine runs in an exhibition win over the Charleston RiverDogs on Tuesday, Lynchburg starter Justin Garza held them without a hit through his five innings of work, striking out four and walking two.

Garza, 25, a former Team USA pitcher who was converted to a starter last season, battled injuries last year but had a 2.04 ERA without a walk in his final five starts.

Conversely, Pelicans starter Alex Lange, 23, was touched up for six runs – four earned – on seven hits and three walks with two strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings. Lynchburg continued to batter the Pelicans bullpen, finishing with 17 hits and six walks.

The Cubs have high hopes for Lange, their first round pick (30th overall) in the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft out of LSU. He is ranked their No. 12/14 prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America and finished sixth in the Carolina League in ERA (3.74) last season in 23 starts for the Pelicans.

It was a rough night as well for Pelicans third baseman Wladimir Galindo, a 22-year-old from Venezuela who returned to Myrtle Beach after batting .216 last season.

Galindo made three of the Pelicans’ four errors in the game and went 0-for-3 at the plate with a walk.

The Pelicans and Lerud again try to pick up their first win of the season at 7:05 p.m. Friday on TicketReturn.com Field in the second game of a four-game series with Lynchburg.

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Alan Blondin covers golf, Coastal Carolina athletics and numerous other sports-related topics that warrant coverage. Well-versed in all things Myrtle Beach, Horry County and the Grand Strand, the Northeastern University journalism school valedictorian has been a sports reporter at The Sun News since 1993, earning eight top-10 Associated Press Sports Editors national writing awards and 18 top-three S.C. Press Association writing awards since 2007.

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