It’s pretty clear that the Myrtle Beach Pelicans roster is the most unsettled affiliate roster heading into the 2023 season. The main reason for that is the Cubs just did not have a lot of players that stood out from their peers last summer in the Arizona Complex League. You can also add in the fact that the Cubs selected 15 pitchers in the MLB Draft and signed 1 nondrafted free agent pitcher. As a result, the Pelicans are going to get a couple looks in the sneak peek series when it comes to their roster.
Today’s sneak peek, though, is all about the starting pitching rotation.
Phase 1: The Draft Picks
Most of the Cubs 2022 Draft picks should see Myrtle Beach at some point this year but that’s more a question of when rather than if.
It is unclear at this point whether experienced college arms like Cade Horton, Brandon Birdsell, and Connor Noland will start the year at Myrtle Beach or at South Bend. Horton will be 21-years-old all season and probably could start in Myrtle Beach because of said age. Then again, how Horton does in spring training will likely dictate his destination. If his new pitches/grips click, we might forget about him being a Pelican.
For Birdsell and Noland, they will be 23 all year and are likely better suited to start in South Bend. I really like what all three bring to the table.
Other top end 2022 draft picks like Jackson Ferris, Brody McCullough, Nick Hull, and non-drafted free agent Grant Kipp are likely to be in the Carolina League to start the year. As well, Drew Gray should be coming back in short stints, which would necessitate a piggyback starter like Kipp or McCullough to get a lot of work in until Gray is stretched out. For me, the two guys who I want to see the most are Ferris and Gray. The former teammates at IMG Academy in Florida could be an amazing duo of the future and I’m excited to see what they can do.
There’s just not a lot of certainty of who will be there.
High school guys like Nazier Mule, Luis Rujano, and Mason McGwire could be here later in the year. It is unclear how Will Frisch, JP Wheat, and Branden Noriega are going to be used. Both Wheat and Frisch underwent TJS last year while Noriega could be a reliever.
In the olden days, this is where Eugene would’ve come in handy as it provided a pitstop for some players, who were not quite advanced enough for class A but too advanced for rookie league. I could see all the high school pitchers mentioned above playing at a short season squad rather than Myrtle Beach to start the year. More than likely, those pitchers will end up in extended spring training until needed or ready.
Phase 2: The Returning Pitchers
The only starting pitcher who ended the year on the Pelicans’ roster that is destined to be in South Bend is Tyler Santana. That means that 2020 fifth round pick Koen Moreno should be back in Myrtle Beach. It was cool to see him get some work in last year, but his pitches were not fooling anybody. Hopefully, now that he’s fully healthy, the Cubs can get Moreno to improve this winter rather than rehabbing. As a result, Moreno could begin to work on his arsenal and velocity.
As for Sam Thoresen, he missed the better part of a year and a half and he looked a little wild coming back from Tommy John after impressing in the first two months of 2021. Whether Thoresen’s in the rotation or not is another story and the same holds true for Moreno.
Phase 3: The Wild Cards (Literally and Figuratively)
*Luis Aquino, Carlos Garcia, Kenyi Perez, Michael Arias, and Kevin Valdez
All five of these guys are young and athletic pitchers who have a really live arms that need a lot of work in terms of gaining command and control over what they can throw. Garcia is probably the most polished, but he just finished sitting out 2022 for a drug suspension. But at 21, Garcia might slide in perfectly when the Cubs deem he is ready. Aquino was taken in the Rule Five Draft and he might be a guy who could come out of the pen and throw in the upper 90s, or the Cubs could try him out as a starter. Kenyi Perez has some vicious stuff, but I don’t think he knows where it’s going quite yet. When it’s in the zone, it’s almost unhittable. Michael Arias is a former shortstop who was a favorite of Arizona Phil of the Cub Reporter and Kevin Valdez got the rare mid-year promotion from the Dominican to Mesa and he’s probably going to end up in extended spring training to start the year.
I would not be surprised to see all of these “wild cards” held back in Mesa to start the year until the Cubs have a better idea of just exactly what to do with them.
Odds are the Cubs are going to give the college guys the opportunity to start first. Whether that is a successful strategy remains to be seen because some of these arms that the Cubs have in the “wild card” group don’t grow on trees. These are young kids that can throw hard and they need experience. The more “experienced” guys are going to have to go out and produce to keep those spots.