Frankie Scalzo, Jr. – Picture by Todd Johnson

On May 1, I will release my first All-Star team of the year. There are going to be a lot of familiar names and ia few guys who we might categorize as surprises. I think it’s a little too early to call them breakouts. I would argue that they would need a little bit more sustained success to be called breakout. In addition, to be a surprise they would also have to be someone we did not see coming or playing at a certain level. Even then, we can see a guy coming but we did not foresee the level at which they are performing.

So, with all those things in mind, let’s get to the biggest surprises of the season so far. Let’s do it by level. Today will be all Class A.

Myrtle Beach

I did not see the Pelicans having a potent offense as they do. I knew the pitching was going to struggle from time to time depending on the pitcher. But that’s just part of being low A. We were a little bit spoiled last year as that team 49 and 17 in the first half. This year‘s team is not going to do that, but there are several guys that are off to a really good start.

I thought that Cristian Hernandez would take a while to get going. It took like three games.  The fact that he’s hitting above .300 so far and sustaining that is a very good sign. I’m not really worried about him hittiingng home runs in Myrtle Beach, but he’s going to naturally do that as he continues to physically develop.

The biggest surprise has been the play of Jefferson Encarnacion. He came out of the gate really hot and has cooled off some so we’ll see if he can pick it back up here in the next week. At one point, he was hitting close to .500 but that has dropped way off. In addition, I am loving the fact that Reivaj Garcia is doing well as we’ve been waiting for him to relive the 2019 campaign in Mesa, where he just tore it up as a 17-year-old. 

The last guy that has looked really good is Rafael Morel and we know who he is the brother. Still, Rafael has to make it on his own merits. The potential is always been there for him to do well, and we are starting to see it all come together this year and it’s pretty exciting. What I tend to like is that it looks pretty sustainable. It doesn’t look like he’s just a flash in the pan and that he might be able to keep it up at this level a while.

It’s a little hard to look at pictchers right now mainly because they only play once or twice a week. So one good outing can skew the view so I’m going to wait for more data on Michael Arias and Kevin Valde. I really like what I’m seeing from Marino Santy, Brody McCullough, and the last outing from Nick Hull.

I didn’t expect to write so much about that collection of players, but there’s a lot of things that they have done to be considered surprising with the Pelicans.

South Bend

The fact that many of us saw Haydn McGeary as a breakout player this year is well documented. But I don’t think anybody saw him just tearing it up like he’s doing. We’re still going to see more of his power come out in the next month or so, but his ability to hit for average with authority has been quite surprising. I thought he might hit .280, maybe .290 if he was having a good year. I did not see the middle .300s at High-A.

It’s cool to see Bradlee Beesley thrive this year at South Bend. I love the fact that he has really stepped up his game this year and he looks to be like quite the leader and the table setter for the South Bend offense. He gets his hits, he takes his walks, he can play all three outfield spots, he’s an outstanding base runner, and he seems to be setting a precedent for how to be a professional for some of the younger players.

Casey Opitz has also been an amazing surprise this year as the catcher out of Arkansas has hit for average and for power this year. He is probably the most likely catcher to move up at any point in time in the first half.

When it comes to pitching, Brandon Birdsell and Connor Noland who are two draft picks that I thought would do well at South Bend just based on their college experience, I did not see thrm being this good! So far, Birdsell has an ERA of 1.35, while Noland has a 2.25 ERA.

Reliever Frankie Scalzo has been pretty close to dominant in relief. He has flashed a mid 90s fastball and a nice little breaking ball that allows him to go for a couple of innings at a crack, sometimes three, which is more than I thought he probably would 

When it comes to Kohl Franklin, he is on track o be the picther of the month so far. In both of his starts, he looks pretty close to unhittable and he’s flashing all the pitches he showed at Eugene plus a new slider. You can tell the slider still needs some work, but he’s put himself at the top of the list to head to Tennessee fairly quickly if a spot opens up a program.

 I didn’t see myself writing that much about the A affiliates. So, I’m going to come back tomorrow and talk about surprises at Tennessee and Iowa.