Myrtle Beach Pelicans

2017 Cards of the Year Have Several Classics

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By Todd Johnson

There was a lot of stiff competition to make this year’s Top 10 baseball card list. Two cards of the month didn’t make it. Some cards aged well over time. Others did not. I still think I could have argued for five cards to be the top card of the year. In fact, I changed the number one card five times over the past two days for a variety of reasons. As soon as I click publish, I will probably wish I could have changed it.

Honorable Mention

I just like this picture. I took this picture of Joe in Beloit. It was taken just before he eliminated his giant leg kick. Shortly thereafter, he began to hit much better in August.   

10-8

  

At number 10 for the year, Larry Kave took this excellent shot of Justin Steele. In addition to the colors and the action, I really like the sunlight illuminating the top half of the card. Rikk Carlson captured a series of lines and angles in a great picture of DJ Wilson at number 9. The Eugene Emeralds nailed this action shot of pitcher Ben Hecht in a great picture as he warmed up between innings.

7-5

 

Taken off his Instagram account, I just love the colors of Eddy Martinez as he jogs to wherever he is going. Number six is by the Eugene Register Guard and has infielder Jhonny Bethencourt leaping up in the air to grab a throw down to second base from the catcher. Needless to say, the runner was safe. September’s number one picture comes in at number five for the year. I love the color of the lettering on the Emeralds’ Friday night jerseys and the expression on Jose’s face as well as how everything meshes with the woodgrain texture..    

4-2 – Any of these could have been number one.

 

I think the Tennessee Smokies Charcer Burks’ card has aged very well over the year. What I like most about it is the smattering of blue throughout the card. In at number three, Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) nailed this photograph of DJ Wilson flying through the air with the greatest of ease. At number two, this card of Duane Underwood is another card that has aged well and I thought for a while it might be the best picture of the year as I just love the twilight experience in the card as well as how the red of Underwood’s hat matches the piping on the bottom of the card along with the trim on his uniform.    

#1

I hemmed and hawed in my own mind about the qualities of this card and the Underwood card above. I was actually smitten with this Albertos card caught by the Eugene Register Guard for several reasons. First, the action taking place in the cartoon is top notch. Second, the photograph encapsulates both objects in focus and out of focus which I think it adds to its enjoyment. Finally, the fact that this is a picture of Jose Alberto’s wearing Eugene’s throwback uniforms tops it off in my book. To be honest, I think it matters that it’s in a 1986 frame as that allows for the picture to be more of the star of the card then hiding behind the outline features of the card.

Over the next six months, there will be more cards made. Between now and the beginning of the spring training, I always tend to find just as many pictures in the off-season as I do in the regular season from the local newspapers of the prospects as they do write-ups and profiles. I won’t be having any special post for the winter cards, but I will add them to the Facebook account with its own photo album if you would like to see some of them. I will get started on them next weekend as I have about 10-15 pics waiting to be turned into cards.

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The Weekly – Tyler Alamo, Baseball America Lists, and a Busy Week Ahead

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Sometimes, the games don’t seem so important.

Cubs Prospect Tyler Alamo was one of those in attendance last week at the shooting in Las Vegas. Tim Huwe (@tim815) first reported on this a couple of days ago. Included in Tim’s article was a link to an interview where Alamo recounts the harrowing events of that night including the loss of his friends.

MiLB News
Felix Pena was DFA’d this week to make room for pitcher Luke Farrell, son of Red Sox Manager John Farrell and brother of South Bend Hitting Coach Jeremy Farrell. Farrell appeared in nine games for the Reds last summer and had a 2.61 ERA in 10.1 IP, all in relief.

At fall instructs, the Cubs prospects are playing sim games but with pitching machines. Although, Koji Uehara, on a rehab assignment, did face a few batters.

The Arizona Fall League begins play on Tuesday. The Mesa Solar Sox have 7 Cubs on the roster: Relievers Pedro Araujo and Jake Stinnett, starter Alec Mills, catcher Ian Rice, infielders David Bote and Jason Vosler, and outfielder Charcer Burks. Their schedule goes through mid-November. I will try and keep up with their performances every Sunday.

Baseball America Offseason Prospect Lists

Baseball America has been publishing their top 20 prospects in each minor league the past couple of weeks. In the first week, Victor Caratini made it in the Pacific Coast League. And last week, Adbert Alzolay made it for the Carolina League. This week saw a large number of prospects make it for the Midwest League and the Northwest League. The problem was not all the prospects are still with the franchise. In the Midwest League, Isaac Paredes came in at number nine and Dylan Cease at number 11. No current South Bend Cub made the list.

Card made from a photo by Jared Ravich
For the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs hit the motherlode. Jose Albertos was ranked number four, Aramis Ademan came in at number eight, and Miguel Amaya was number 16. None of those three selections were surprising. However, at number nine, pitcher Javier Assad was a stunning selection as BA’s Michael Lananna praised Assad’s improving arsenal.

On Thursday, the Arizona League post was published. It’s not surprising that Nelson Velasquez was on the list. However, he was ranked at number 20. He is still a bit raw, but he still does have a lot of upside and room for improvement in his game.

The DSL list should be published this next week. It will be interesting to see if any young Cubs make it.

I think what the six lists do show is that the Cubs are not devoid of talent. There may not be a lot of prospects at the top of each league, but the Cubs do have several players who could be on their way up the lists.

Top 20 Chat Post

There was an interesting question in the Northwest League chat that accompanied the post. A Cub fan from Pasadena California asked about whether the Cubs should be concerned about Brendon Little’s performance in the Northwest League. Here is the response to that question:

Michael Lananna: Mildly concerned, but  don’t press the panic button yet. He’s the same guy. His control was erratic throughout his college career, and that’s still going to remain his biggest hurdle to the next level. This summer was just a small snapshot of that, and I’m sure the Cubs will work with him on his strike throwing going forward. He’s still an exciting left handed arm with power stuff.

Coming Up This Week at Cubs Central

I have three posts scheduled to be published in between playoff recaps over the next five days. The Cards of the Year post should be out Monday. Later in the week, Shohei Otani and his impending free agency gets previewed. Part 2 of the State of the Cubs MiLB System will hit the Internet as well at some point in the next five days.

A Mock Draft Already?
Baseball America also posted their first mock draft for 2018. I was surprised to see that they had the Cubs selecting wiry high school pitcher Cole Wilcox at 24 considering that OF Travis Swaggerty from South Alabama was taken at number 25, I would’ve preferred the Cubs have gone with the college outfielder rather than the high school pitcher. Then again, it was only a mock draft but it is interesting to see where players are falling now and then compare that to a few months from now.

 

Cubs Breakout Players of the Second Half Get It Done Down the Stretch

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By Todd Johnson

While the first half breakout list tends to be players from South Bend and Myrtle Beach, the second half list is usually players from Mesa, Eugene, and maybe South Bend or Beach. There were a few prospects who had good seasons that we did see coming like Miguel Amaya, Aramis Ademan, and Jose Albertos. There were several players who put together good stretches together during the second half. Altogether, it was difficult picking out the winners.

Breakout Hitter of the Second Half

This was a tough call. Austin Upshaw was a player that I really liked from South Bend who hit almost .290 each month after being drafted this summer. Austin Filiere of Eugene hit .287 in the fourth spot with over a .400 OBP hitting cleanup along with five home runs. Andruw Monasterio came close to the definition of a breakout hitter along with Luis Ayala of South Bend. Monasterio hit .290+ in August while Ayala got his average up to .366 in July and .293 for the second half.

But if I’m gonna pick just one guy, it has to be Nelson Velasquez of Mesa whom the Cubs drafted in the fifth round this year. In August, he hit almost .300 and clubbed 6 home runs for the Mesa Cubs in the Arizona Rookie League leading them to a second half division title. In the playoffs, he hit 2 more homers and drove in 9. The sad thing about Nelson is we don’t have as many eyes on him after the death of John Arguello. Still, Nelson progressed each month since signing his pro contract. He is just 18 years old and I am really looking forward to him playing next year at Eugene and/or South Bend.   

Breakout Starting Pitcher of the Second Half

This one wasn’t really as tough as the hitter category. It basically came down to two players. Runner-up Jesus Tejada had an outstanding August for the Cubs’ Dominican Summer League 1 team. He threw a no-hitter and struck out 19 batters in consecutive games.

But for me, the biggest surprise was the performance of Duncan Robinson at Myrtle Beach. While Michael Rucker stole the show there in June, Robinson got off to a rough start in his July debut and then seemed to improve at every opportunity throughout the summer. I liked the fact that he kept improving by adding a cutter to his repertoire. Another thing I liked was that Robinson did not seem to tire as the season progressed. He had a 2.37 ERA in 10 second half starts while striking out 37 in 49.1 IP. I am really looking forward to him pitching next year at AA Tennessee.

Breakout Reliever of the Second Half

I think Dakota Mekkes stole the show in the first half. The second half winner is not gonna be that much of a surprise. South Bend reliever Jhon Romero is one who I did not see coming. He throws in the mid 90s with a wicked breaking ball.  Another surprise was Tyler Peyton of South Bend who had a 1.29 ERA just in August. One reliever I did see coming was Pedro Araujo for Myrtle Beach. With an ERA under 2, he basically owned the closer role and the Carolina League in the second half.

But when it comes right down to who was the biggest surprise or break out, it’s Dillon Maples. He progressed through four levels of the system at the age of 25. He has always had wicked stuff from the time he was drafted in 2011 but had injuries and confidence issues along the way. This year, the worm turned for him. With a wicked slider/curve and a fastball that approached 100 miles an hour, he was almost impossible to hit at every level. On September 1, he was called up to Chicago. In his first appearance, he walked one and struck out one.


When it comes to next year, I am not quite sure what to expect when it comes to possible breakout prospects. I am thinking Jonathan Sierra, but he most likely won’t begin play until the second half at Eugene. The same is true for pitcher Jesus Tejada.

More than likely, the first half breakouts for 2018 will come from either South Bend or Myrtle Beach. Hopefully, DJ Wilson, Kevonte Mitchell, or Joe Martarano can put it together for half a season. Or, it could even be one of this year’s draft picks or International players who steal the show – literally – like Fernando Kelli who had 58 SBs in 2017. When it comes to pitching, this year proved that opportunities will present themselves for pitchers to step up and become essential players. You never know who will get the chance.

 

The Weekly: MiLB Playoff Action Update

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By Todd Johnson

It has been a “heckuva” ride this week as Mesa won four out of five games including the best-of-three championship series against the Giants. I was quite surprised to see Mesa go on the run winning 13 out of 15 games. In the first half, it was brutal to check their daily box score. They were 9-19 in the first half. There was no indication that this team could go on such a run. There were some roster moves made in early August that I thought could stabilize the team as a couple of pitchers came up from the DSL along with hitter Luis Hidalgo. I didn’t think they would be that stabilizing.   

Needless to say, covering the lower minors next year is going to be very exciting. Nelson Velazquez pounded the ball in the playoffs with 2 HRs along with fellow 18-year-olds Jonathan Sierra and Luis Vazquez. 2B Delvin Zinn hit .500 for the playoffs with a .632 OBP. Most of the players on the Mesa team will be at Eugene next summer with a few at South Bend. I’m excited to watch them every day next year on MiLB.TV. 

As for the Eugene Emeralds, they played the Vancouver Canadians in game one of a best-of-five series last night. Keegan Thompson got the start for the Ems and he gave up two runs in three innings. In the bottom of the third, the Ems took a 4-2 lead thanks in part to two walks and a HBP. After that, the Ems had 3 errors and a wild pitch just in the fifth inning that they could not overcome. Vancouver scored four to take a 6-4 lead. Each team would tack on one more run as the Canadians won 7-5. Brendon Little pitches tonight for Eugene at 7 Central.

I’m pretty hopeful that Eugene can get their back-to-back championship  trophies. They now have their work cut out for them. They have the pitching, hitting, and the speed to do it. The questions this year have  been their defense, especially up the middle, and their lack of consistency both on the mound and at the plate. I have no doubts about their talent, whatsoever. Some nights, they just struggle because that’s baseball and they are very young.

And finally, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ season ended in a strange set of circumstances. Hurricane Irma forced the cancellation of the Mills Cup championship. Two teams would be declared co-champions based on the division series. The Pelicans were supposed to play a best of five series against Down East, the Rangers affiliate in the Carolina League. That was shortened to a best of three series. Myrtle Beach only pushed two runs across the plate, and, as a result, they lost two games to none.

When it comes to Cubs Central…
I began to plan out what the off-season is going to involve on this site. Over the winter, I’m going to have a weekly series beginning after Thanksgiving. It is going to be called “Leveling Up.” It is going to look at several high-profile prospects moving up the system and what they need to do at the next level. DJ Wilson is going to be the first prospect profiled and will be followed by Zack Short and Eddy Martinez.

My Other Writing This Week on the Web
I did some year-end affiliate reviews this week and they are up and posted at Cubs Insider. Click on the links below.
Iowa Review
Tennessee Review
South Bend Review
Jared Young Profile

Card of the Week

Photo by Stephanie Lynn.  

 

MiLB Playoff Action: Pelicans Bow Out – Only One Team Left

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By Todd Johnson

Pelicans

It was a complicated day.

Hurricane Irma played havoc with the Carolina League playoffs. The League cancelled the playoffs and decided to declare Co-Champions in advance of the storm. Instead of playing for the Mills Cup, the divisional playoffs would continue and rather than it be a best of five, it morphed into a best of three. It was to all end on Friday night and a doubleheader would be played in Myrtle Beach if needed.

The Pelicans lost game one of the series on Thursday night as they only managed to score one run. Heading into Friday’s action, they would have to win 2 games that night in order to retain at least a share of their title. The bats, like they have struggled to do in the second half of the year, failed to push across runs. They left 7 men on base and went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position. As a result, the Pelicans lost 2-1 and their season is now complete.

Once the playoffs are complete next week, I will begin posting a yearly review of each Cub affiliate.

Meanwhile, Out in Eugene…

The Emeralds will defend their title, starting tonight, in a best of five series against Vancouver. The Ems have not announced their pitching rotation as of yet. There are no days off in between games, but the first two  games are in Eugene and the final three are in Vancouver. The two teams have already played 10 games against each other this year with the Ems going 4-6. All games took place in the first half. Both teams have changed quite a bit since then.

I will be back with “The Weekly” tomorrow and that will include a recap of tonight’s game.

MiLB Playoff Action: Mesa Wins Championship and Eugene Advances to Second in a Row

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by Todd Johnson

Card made from a Photo by John Arguello

The Mesa Cubs won the Arizona Rookie League Championship last night with an awesome display of hitting! The first four hitters (Jose Gutierrez, Carlos Sepulveda, Jonathan Sierra, and Nelson Velazquez) in the lineup each drove in two runs as the Cubs scored runs in bunches to defeat the Giants 13-3 and win the series two games to one. Delvin Zinn scored three times and Luis Vazquez scored twice while going 4 for 5. Jeffrey Passantino, Eugenio Palma, and Ivan Medina held the Giants scoreless over the last five innings to secure the win! This is the Cubs’ first rookie league title since 2002.

Meanwhile in Hillsboro…
The Emeralds got on the board early against the Hops in game two of their series thanks in part to a Brandon Hughes home run to take a 3-0 lead. The Hops came right back to tie at three apiece. Each team would tack on another run with the Hops tying it in the bottom of the eighth. In the top of the ninth, the Ems blew it open by scoring six runs to win 10-4. Chris Singleton had a bases clearing double that put the game out of reach. The Emeralds will now face Vancouver in the championship. No dates have been announced as of yet.

In the Carolina League
Things did not go well for Myrtle Beach in their quest to go back-to-back-to-back. The Wood Ducks scored three runs on 5 hits in the fourth to take a 4-0 lead and held on to defeat the Pelicans 4-1. The Pelicans only managed four hits. The Pelicans and Wood Ducks will play two tonight in order to avoid Hurricane Irma in the best of five series.

MiLB Playoff Action – Ems Take the Lead while Mesa Loses a Tough One

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By Todd Johnson

Nelson Velazquez is turning into a world beater, however it wasn’t enough last night. Velazquez had a triple and drove in three runs to give the Mesa Cubs a brief lead in Game 2 of the best of three AZL Championship Series. However, the Cubs lost in Game 2 to the Giants 6-5. It was a seesaw game with the Cubs scoring two in the first, thanks in part to a Jose Gutierrez home run. The Giants came back and scored four in the fourth before Nelson’s fifth inning triple gave the Cubs the lead 5-4. The Giants came back and tied it and then went on to win it in the ninth on an error. Tonight is the final game as it looks like Emilio Ferrebus should take the mound for the Cubs.

Meanwhile in Eugene…

Smoke from the wildfires finally lifted enough for the Ems and the Hillsboro Hops to get game 1 in. Jose Albertos started for Eugene and went 5.2 innings. He gave up two runs, one on a homer, but looked sharp after the first inning. He didn’t throw his curve much, but his change was a thing of beauty.

Relievers Elvis Diaz and Jake Steffens shut down the Hops after Albertos left the game. Jhonny Bethencourt scored scored two runs and Gustavo Polanco drove in Michael Cruz with the winning run in the eighth inning for a 3-2 victory.

The Ems travel To Hillsboro to finish out the best-of-three series. Jesus Camargo is slated to start game 2.

Pelicans Rained Out

Myrtle Beach was rained out and they will resume their semi-final Mills Cup series tonight, weather permitting. Michael Rucker is still slated to pitch for the Pelicans against Down East, a Rangers’ affiliate.