When the Texas Rangers decided not to renew their PDC with the Carolina League’s Myrtle Beach Pelicans after the 2014 season, the CL franchise was left looking for a new parent club. It did not take long for the Pelicans to get that new ML affiliate-in fact, they got one of the most storied franchises in ML history, the Chicago Cubs.
Yes, the same Chicago Cubs who are often referred to as the “Lovable Losers”, the same team that has the longest pennant drought in baseball today-no NL pennant since 1945, no World Series championship since 1908.
The Chicago Cubs, a truly iconic franchise, signed a 2-year PDC (through 2016) with a franchise that is based in a rather iconic city itself. Myrtle Beach gets numerous rewards for being a great family vacation destination, and baseball fans and those who flock to the “Grand Strand” for summer vacations will see future Wrigley mainstays.
The inaugural season of the Cubs at the Strand was a smashing success, as the Pelicans won the franchise’s first Mills Cup since 2000. While a slew of Cubs prospects played here, giving the Wrigley faithful hope for the future, leading the charge were a pair of former Virginia Teach Hokies, P Brad Markey and OF Mark Zagunis.
Markey, drafted in the 19th round of the 2014 draft out of VT, worked his way up to Myrtle Beack approximately a year later, and he delivered in a huge way. As a Pelican, he went 7-0 with a 1.15 ERA in 9 games (8 starts). In the Mills Cup finals, he started Game 2, and pitched 7 hitless innings. Remember this name, Cubs fans!
Earlier in the same 2014 draft, in the 3rd round, the Cubs drafted a decent bat out of VT, Zagunis. After 57 games with 3 different affiliates in ’14-during which time he batted .288 with a .420 OB%, Zagunis was assigned to Myrtle Beach for 2015, and he came through. In 115 games, Zagunis batted .271 with a .406 OB%. He finished the season in the Top 10 in the Carolina League in OB%, hits, and RBIs. MLBPipeline.com, which ranks the Top 30 prospects in each system, had him at 18th in the Cubs system entering 2015-when the 2015 minor league season ended, he shot up 9 spots to 9th place, essentially forcing himself into the radar of Cubs management!
Brad Markey. Mark Zagunis. 2 former Hokies. 2 future Cubs.
Despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, the Oakland Athletics always find a way to be competitive every year. Not necessarily contenders and playoff-bound, but competitive. Shrewd and creative moves by GM Billy Beane have allowed the Athletics to be legitimate contenders.
While they remain competitive at the big league level, the farm system is doing it’s job of getting big leaguers ready. As we come up on the end of the minor league season, all of the leagues are starting to announce end-of-season awards. The Texas League, the Double-A affiliate, announced it’s postseason all-star team, and 3/4 of the starting infield were prospects from Oakland’s Double-A affiliate, Midland.
One of those selected was SS Chad Pinder (Poquoson/Virginia Tech), who has emerged as Oakland’s No. 7 prospect, via MLBPipeline.com. Pinder not only made the team, but he also took home Texas League Player of the Year honors.
Pinder, a 2013 draft choice of the Oakland Athletics, has skyrocketed through the system. In 2014, he batted .288 with 13 HR and 55 RBIs and was selected an organizational all-star. This year, in the Texas League, he was one of 8 Midland players to go to the mid-season all-star game, and is among the league leaders in batting, HR, and RBIs.
Pinder will be 24 on Opening Day 2016.
Joe Saunders (Springfield/Virginia Tech) won 17 games with the Angels in 2008 and made the AL All-Star Team, and won 16 games the following season. But he has fallen on considerable hard times since. He has not posted an above-.500 record since. He has bounced around from Anaheim to Arizona, to Baltimore, to Seattle, to Texas, and finished the 2014 season back in Baltimore, where he pitched 6 games in relief and posted a horrendous ERA over 13.
During his 2013 run in Seattle, he started 32 games and posted an ERA of 5.26, but did manage to win 11 games, an accomplishment that Mariners brass took note of, as they have now signed him to a minor league contract for the 2015 season. The Mariners are expecting huge things in 2015 after falling one game short of the Wildcard in ’14, and their starting rotation for Opening Day is set, so Saunders will go in to camp with a chance to compete for the second lefty spot in the bullpen.
Continuing our series in looking at future Virginia stars, lets take a turn head to the West Coast and the Bay Area-specifically, the Oakland Athletics.
In recent years, baseball has become relevant again in Oakland, as the Athletics are perennial playoff contenders. This is happening despite a very small budget, which is further hampered by the struggles to get a new stadium to replace the O.co Coliseum, a source of migraines for the powers that be in Oakland.
The Athletics have not won a World Series title since 1989, but not for lack of trying, as they have made the playoffs 8 times since the turn of the century, and the last three years straight. Fueling this surge has been a farm system that is producing productive players that are helping the Athletics become perennial postseason contestants.
Another name that is sure to be headed to Oakland in the near future is 2B Chad Pinder.
A Richmond-native, Pinder was drafted in the 2013 draft, 71st overall (CBB) by Oakland after wrapping up a run at Virginia Tech where he earned numerous ACC honors for both his athletic as well as his academic abilities. He signed with Oakland in time to get into some short-season NYP league action. Playing for the Vermont Lake Monsters, Pinder batted .200 in 42 games, hitting 3 homers, driving in 8 runs, and posting a .286 OB%. For 2014, he was moved up to High-A Stockton, for his first full season of action, and he flourished. Pinder hit .288 with 13 HR and 55 RBIs, and posted a .336 OB%, as well as stealing 12 bases. Pinder was rewarded for his exploits by being named an Oakland organizational all-star.
Stay tuned to see where he is assigned for 2015. By Opening Day, ’15, Pinder will be 23.
Chad Pinder, a rising star with the Oakland Athletics. By the time he reaches the big leagues, which could be in just a couple of years, will it be at O.co?