The Major League season is wrapping up, with the Cubs clinching a second consecutive National League Central title against their bitter rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. But even as we turn our focus over to the Postseason, we still have some time to take a look back at the season the minor league teams had in 2017. We have already covered the ups and downs of the Iowa Cubs and interesting season for the Tennessee Smokies, so today we keep moving down the ladder as we look at the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
The Pelicans made yet another run to the Carolina League postseason, their seventh consecutive trip, and third as a member of the Cubs organization. Myrtle Beach is quickly turning into the Cubs most successful organizations in terms of team success, and they saw their fair share of interesting storylines when it came to the players that took the field on the Atlantic coast.
One of the minor league stories of the year came from the slight of stature Short. The former 17th round draft pick out of Sacred Heart has done a whole lot of hitting during his time as a member of the Cubs and is following in Mark Zagunis’ footsteps as being Mr. OBP. Spending half of his season in South Bend before getting the call to Myrtle Beach, Short paired his ability to get on base (14.4% BB rate and .383 OBP) with speed (18 SB) and power (13 HR). With his performance, he was able to put himself into the conversation of top prospects in the system. Expect him to get his shot at the upper minors next season.
Steele was due for a breakout season and we finally got one in 2017. After dropping off the radar due to a poor 2016, he posted a 2.92 ERA and 3.92 FIP this season to go along with a drop in his walk rate down to 8.3%. With his new found focus on hitting his spots and inducing weak contact instead of generating strikeouts, he should find himself pitching his way up the system a little quicker than what he has in his first three seasons of professional ball. Unfortunately, toward the end of the season, Steele went down with an elbow injury which eventually lead to a successful Tommy John surgery. I would be surprised to see him pitch much, if at all, next season and then come back strong in 2019.
The pitching version of Zack Short, Robinson started the year in South Bend before absolutely killing it and earning himself a call up one level to Myrtle Beach. Initially used as a reliever/swingman, he quickly cemented his role in the rotation and became in my eyes the runner-up for Cubs Minor League pitcher of the year. Between both leagues, Robinson pitched to a 2.21 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP. With Myrtle Beach he found his FIP all the way down at 2.87. A pitcher that doesn’t rely on high velocity, he often pitches to contact with his sinker.
Mekkes spent the entire season as a multi-inning reliever and his large frame and quirky delivery allowed him to be one of the better relievers in minor league baseball during his time in South Bend and Myrtle Beach. He used his filthy sinker to pitch to a 0.98 season ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in 2017 while striking out 39.5% of batters in South Bend and 26.5% in High-A. In his 73.1 innings he only allowed one home run. Expect Mekkes to get rushed up through the system pretty quickly.
A highly touted prospect when he was signed as an international free agent, Martinez has been less than stellar in his time as a professional with the Cubs.This season Martinez was unable to use his 5-tool talents in game scenarios. He ended the season with a slash line of .244/.297/.366/.663 in 502 plate appearances. That resulted in a 87 wRC+ and a year spent entirely in High-A after he was expected to move up the system to at least Tennessee.
Oscar De La Cruz
The immensely talented De La Cruz finds himself on the disappointment portion of this article due to his inability to stay on the field. His results when he was on the field were actually fairly good with his 3.46 ERA, 4.20 FIP, and 1.24 WHIP but in only 54.2 innings pitched. The problem is that De La Cruz had yet another season shortened by injury and if failing to prove to the front office that he will be a starting pitcher that can potentially throw 150+ innings for a big league team. He will need to stay healthy next season in order to keep finding himself on lists with the top prospects in the system.
After a successful 2016 that put Sepulveda on the radar for prospect huggers, he was not able to follow it up with a successful season at the keystone for Myrtle Beach. Still only 20 years old, Sepulveda has time but he was not able to contribute to more wins for the Pelicans in 2017 with his abysmal .196/.272/.214/.486 slash line. That same slash line contributed to his 43 wRC+ and will probably lead to him being a candidate for a repeat player in Myrtle Beach in 2018.
Who to look out for next season
The statistics for this season were rather misleading for Hatch as his ERA (4.04) was significantly higher than his FIP (2.98). Over the course of the year he proved that he could be the real deal as a middle of the rotation starter one day. Next season he should see Tennessee in just his second professional season. We will be on the lookout for if his 2017 was no fluke and he can continue to rise up the ranks.
After a hot start to his career in 2016, Giambrone came back down to earth this year. With another stage of a crowded middle infield for the Cubs system, Giambrone will have to prove that he can stick around in the upper minors. While he isn’t the top prospect that gets talked about too often, Giambrone faces a crucial stage in his career next season as being an organization guy that can stick around for years to come.