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Cubs load up Pelicans initial roster with top prospects

Nine of Cubs' Top 30 prospects to begin the year in Myrtle Beach
April 5, 2015

(Click here to see a PDF of the initial Pelicans roster)

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (APRIL 6, 2015) - With Opening Night only three days away, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, are excited to announce a prospect-packed initial roster for the 2015 season. In the first year in the Cubs system, the Pelicans will begin the year with an incredibly diverse roster that includes nine players in the Cubs Top 30 prospects according to both MLBPipeline.com's Prospect Watch and Baseball America, as the team aims for a fifth straight postseason appearance.

The balanced roster has five position players from MLB.com and Baseball America's Top 30 Cubs prospects and four pitchers from the same lists. Making the abundance of talent of this year's roster even more remarkable is that the Chicago Cubs farm system has been widely regarded the best in baseball. The system received top marks from ESPN's Keith Law, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, the Sporting News, Minor League Ball, and the MiLBY's.

2015 Pelicans Roster (MLBPipeline.com / Baseball America Top 30 Cubs Prospect Ranking):

Pitchers (14): RHPs Paul Blackburn (No. 27/No. 18), Matt Brazis, Josh Conway, Jonathan Martinez, Juan Paniagua, Starling Peralta, James Pugliese, Tayler Scott, Tyler Skulina, Daury Torrez (25/30), Jen-Ho Tseng (11/11), and Duane Underwood (8/10); LHPs Gerardo Concepcion and Michael Heesch.

Catchers (3): Victor Caratini (19/13), Ben Carhart, Alberto Mineo

Infielders (6): Jeimer Candelario (15/24), Wesley Darvill, Andrew Ely, Daniel Lockhart, Carlos Penalver, and Jacob Rogers.

Outfielders (4): Shawon Dunston Jr., Jacob Hannemann (22/17), Billy McKinney (9/6), and Mark Zagunis (18/15).

Leading the group is Baseball America's minor league Manager of the Year and eight-year big league catcher Mark Johnson, who spent the last two seasons managing the Class-A Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League.

Last season, Johnson's club went an MiLB-best 91-49 and swept through the Midwest League playoffs with a 7-0 record on the way to a Midwest League championship. The new Pelicans skipper will have 19 of the players from that team with him on Opening Night: Blackburn, Candelario, Caratini, Carhart, Concepcion, Dunston Jr., Hannemann, Heesch, Lockhart, Martinez, Paniagua, Penalver, Pugliese, Rogers, Skulina, Torrez, Tseng, Underwood, and Zagunis.

The mostly highly-touted prospect, outfielder Billy McKinney, is one of four players on the Pelicans roster who was acquired by the Cubs via trade. McKinney, ranked the No. 83 prospect in baseball by Baseball America and No. 81 by Baseball Prospectus, was drafted 24th overall in the 2013 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics. The 20-year-old hit .264 with 11 homers last season, split between Class A-Advanced Stockton (Athletics) and Daytona (Cubs). He excelled after coming over in a trade with Addison Russell and Dan Straily in exchange for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. With Daytona, McKinney hit .301 in 51 games. Brazis, Caratini, and Martinez, like McKinney, came to the Cubs in a trade.

Mark Zagunis comes to the Grand Strand off of an outstanding 2014. The catcher and outfielder was named a Baseball America Northwest League All-Star Selection, hitting .299 and posting a .429 on-base percentage in 41 games before his promotion to Class-A Kane County. Zagunis also made the Northwest League All-Star game. Paul Blackburn is the other Midseason All-Star selection from last year; he made the Midwest League All-Star roster.

Jen-Ho Tseng and Duane Underwood fronted the Cougars pitching staff last year, a group that had the best ERA in the Midwest League. Both posted sub-3.00 ERAs; Tseng, 20, was 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA in his first pro year, while Underwood, also 20, posted a 2.50 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 100 2/3 innings.

Pitcher Josh Conway will have the opportunity to pitch in familiar confines. The Smithsburg, Maryland, native played his college ball at Coastal Carolina University where he earned Second-Team All-Big South honors in 2012 before going down with an injury. The 23-year-old skips the Class-A level after posting an outstanding 2014 season in his first pro year since undergoing "Tommy John" surgery. With the Class A-Short Season Boise Hawks a year ago, Conway went 0-1 in 13 starts with a 1.96 ERA. He was a star in college, with the 10th-best ERA in CCU history (2.68). He is the eighth-highest draft selection in the history of Chanticleers baseball.

In addition to ranking nine of the Pelicans in their Top 30 Cubs prospects, Baseball America also lauded a handful of Pelicans players with "Best Tools" labels. Caratini is the "Best Defensive Catcher" in the system according to the 2015 Prospect Handbook. They tabbed Hannemann as the "Fastest Baserunner" in the system, Penalver as the "Best Defensive Infielder," Tseng with the "Best Control" and "Best Changeup," Underwood with "Best Fastball," and Zagunis with "Best Strike Zone Discipline." They also list Juan Paniagua as the top "Sleeper" prospect in the system and Ely as the "Best Defensive Player" from the Cubs 2014 draft class.

Additional notes from year's initial roster:

  • In addition to Conway, the roster features another South Carolina collegiate: LHP Michael Heesch, who played his college ball at the University of South Carolina Beaufort.
  • Three players have Triple-A experience (Heesch, Lockhart, and Ely) and two have Double-A experience (Darvill and Brazis). Mineo has the lowest level of experience, having never played above the Rookie level.
  • Two players on the roster were first round draft picks: Blackburn (56th overall, 2012) and McKinney (24th overall, 2013). Rogers is the lowest draft selection on the roster, having been taken in the 40th round in 2012.
  • Ely and Zagunis are the newest to professional baseball, having been drafted just last June in the 32nd and 3rd rounds respectively.
  • The average age of the Pelicans players is 22.74. Rogers is the oldest player, turning 26 in August. Tseng is the youngest player, not turning 21 until October.
  • Concepcion, Hannemann, and Lockhart played in the Arizona Fall League for the Mesa Solar Sox in 2014. Darvill played for the same club in 2013.
  • The Pelicans roster contains players from eight different countries (US, Canada, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, South Africa, Taiwan, and Venezuela) and 11 different US states and territories (California, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, and Texas). Strength coach Jason Morriss is from Australia.
  • RHP Jen-Ho Tseng is the first Taiwanese-born player in Pelicans history, while C Alberto Mineo is the first Italian-born player in the 17-year team history.
  • Of the hitters, Alberto, Darvill, Dunston Jr., Ely, Hannemann, Lockhart, McKinney, and Rogers all hit left-handed. Caratini and Candelario are both switch hitters. Of the position players, only Carhart, Penalver, and Zagunis bat exclusively right-handed.  
  • Concepcion and Heesch are the only left-handers on the pitching staff.

Joining Johnson on the coaching staff is pitching coach David Rosario, hitting coach Mariano Duncan, assistant coach Chris Gutierrez, trainer Peter Fagan, and strength and conditioning coach Jason Morriss.

Rosario begins his eleventh year in the Cubs system and served with Johnson last season at Kane County. Duncan returns for his third season as the Cubs' Class A-Advanced hitting coach. The 12-year major league veteran (1985-87, 1989-97) finished third in the 1985 National League Rookie of the Year voting with the Dodgers and won two World Series Championships, the first with Cincinnati (1990) and the second with New York (AL) (1996). Gutierrez played nine seasons in the minor leagues with the Blue Jays (2005-09), Angels (2009), Dodgers (2010) and Marlins (2011-13) organizations, reaching as high as Triple-A. Fagan brings 31 years of baseball experience to the staff, and Morriss begins his third campaign with the Cubs and fifth in baseball.

The current Pelicans roster has 27 players. Roster moves will be made prior to Opening Day to bring the Pelicans active roster to 25 players, the Carolina League limit.

The Pelicans season begins on Thursday, April 9, when the Birds host the Wilmington Blue Rocks for a 7:05 p.m. scheduled first pitch from TicketReturn.Com Field at Pelicans Ballpark. The game can be heard live on 1450 WRNN-AM ESPN Myrtle Beach, on the TuneIn Radio App, and via the MiLB First Pitch App, beginning with the Hampton Inn Pregame Show at 6:45 p.m. The game will also air along with live streaming video on MiLB.tv (subscription required).

Season Seats, Mini Plans, Flex Books, and single game tickets for the 2015 season are on sale now. For information on tickets to see the Pelicans in 2015, please call (843) 918-6000, e-mail [email protected], visit www.MyrtleBeachPelicans.com, or visit the Pelicans box office, which is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.