Record: 82-57; 2nd Half Southern Division Champions; Carolina League Champions
After squeaking by the first half with a 36 and 34 record, the Pelicans looked like they were destined to go on a run. They led the league in pitching ERA but they’re hitting just had not clicked. Yasiel Balaguert was clearly the MVP in the first half as he hit nine home runs and drove in 46 to lead the team. Top prospects Gleyber Torres and Ian Happ struggled to hit in the middle of the lineup. In June, Happ began to turn it on and hit .600 over a two week period to end the month. He was quickly shipped off to AA Tennessee.
The Pelicans did well in July, but when Gleyber Torres and Rashad Crawford were traded in the Aroldis Chapman deal, some wondered where the Pelicans we’re going to get runs. Well, David Bote stepped right up and became the man for the second half of the year hitting over .350. Yasiel Balaguert, who hit .223 in the first half, hit .300 in the second half with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs.
Promotions from South Bend helped settle the lineup with Donnie Dewees, Bryant Flete, and Ian Rice. Rice’s power, along with Bote, provided some protection for Yasiel. The second half saw the Pelicans go 46-23.
All year long, the Pelicans had the best starting staff in the Carolina League. Zach Hedges and Trevor Clifton were both outstanding in the first half. Hedges would be promoted to AA Tennessee in July. Clifton stayed after a rough June, but righted the ship and had a dominant August and was the Pitcher of the Month in the Cubs’ system in August.
The bullpen took a while to round itself out. James Farris was promoted early, but Ryan McNeil stepped in and, in July and August, was almost unhittable. He wound up leading the Carolina League in saves. At one point in late August, Tommy Thorpe, Daury Torrez, Ryan McNeil, Daniel Lewis, and Tommy Nance had not given up a run for the month until the last week. That is some dominant pitching
In the playoffs, Trevor Clifton pitched a great game in game one to defeat Salem in a blowout. Although the Red Sox won game two, the Pelicans rebounded to win game three behind the pitching of Duane Underwood and the hitting of David Bote, who hit 556 for the 3 game series. A sad note was that MVP Yasiel Balaguert was injured. For the Mills Cup Championship series, the Pelicans called up Eloy Jimenez from South Bend after game one to take Yasiel’s place. James Pugliese’s 4.1 IP with 7 Ks held off the Hillcats in game 4 and the Pelicans earned their second Mills Cup in a row!
Team Leaders – Offense
Team Leaders – Pitching
|ERA (50 IP min)||Strikeouts||WHIP||Saves||Innings|
Yasiel Balaguert – 19 HRs, 96 RBIs, that’ll do, Yasiel, that’ll do.
Team Cy Young
Trevor Clifton – He led the team in strikeouts and was a dominant force in May and then again in August. At times, he was unhittable for long stretches. His changeup has really developed into a 2nd plus pitch over the course of the year. Throwing in the mid-90s, Clifton is beginning to look like a middle of the rotation starter. At worst, he’s going to be a high-powered arm out of the pen. I cannot wait to see what he can do at Tennessee in 2017
David Bote – He began the year as an organizational player and then turned into a star hitting over .350 in the second half. In the playoffs, he came up big including a 4 hit night in game one of the Mills Cup Championship Series.
Looking Ahead to 2017:
The Carolina League changes quite a bit next year. They go from an eight-team league into a ten team league. It is still a bit unsettled, but it looks like Kinston and Fayetteville will be the two affiliates for teams to be determined. This will change the number of times the Pelicans play every team in their division. So, instead of playing Carolina, Salem, and Winston-Salem 30+ times, that number shrinks to the mid-20s.
I’m not quite sure how long Eloy Jimenez is going to stay at Myrtle Beach next year. I have a feeling that the reigns will be off of him fairly quickly and that he could move up to Tennessee, say by June or July. But while he is there in Myrtle Beach, I am sure Pelicans fans will come to adore him the way that South Bend fans have come to adore him. I am not quite sure if Eddy Martinez is ready for that same kind of fast track. I think missing two years of playing ball or at least a year has affected his approach. There’s no doubt he’s excellent in the field and that he may have the best arm in the Cubs minor-league system. The second half at South Bend for him in 2016 was pretty good as he hit almost .280. I think it is his power that needs to improve. Once it does, he’s going to be just fine.
Matt Rose hit under 200 for the first month and a half at South Bend and was reassigned to Eugene. It was there that he rebuilt his game and his confidence and finished second in home runs in the system to only Yasiel Balaguert in 2016. I think Rose will spend the whole year at Myrtle Beach and I think Pelicans fans are like him too.
As for pitching, I’m not sure quite sure how it’s all going to shake down. I am not sure, either, who all is going to end up at Myrtle Beach. I think Ryan Kellogg makes it along with Casey Bloomquist, Oscar de la Cruz, and likely Adbert Alzolay, but after that, I am not quite sure. South Bend pitching kind of fell apart in the last month, especially the bullpen. Some of the pitchers mentioned above could start or relieve. Justin Steele, who improved much in the second half, could do both as well as Kyle Miller and Kyle Twomey. That’s a lot of versatile arms and lefties to boot.
Sleeper Prospect for 2017
As the Cubs third round pick in the 2016 draft, Tom Hatch did not pitch after he signed. Considering he already threw upwards of 130+ innings, that was a wise choice. With four pitches that he can throw for strikes, I am not quite sure where Hatch will play in 2017. I know it’s not going be Arizona or Eugene, and I don’t really think South Bend will be much of a test for him. I tend to lean towards Myrtle Beach. He is currently at fall instructs.
I think the people of Myrtle Beach have to be ecstatic with the product on the field for the Pelicans the last two years. And I think they’re gonna be ecstatic again next year, at least for the first half of the year. I don’t know how long some of the top position players will remain. While they are there, they should put on a fireworks show every night. The current players who will be at Tennessee next year should do well with the experience and develop that they made this year. They are an exciting group that I’ve been watching and listening to for the past three years at Boise, South Bend, and Myrtle Beach. Next year will be four at Tennessee. I look forward to it and the players I watched at South Bend this year will succeed at Myrtle Beach.