In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club. While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great Minor League careers or, in some cases, just one incredible season that went down as “a year for the ages.” Here is a look at five of the best Black baseball players ever to suit up for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
It was a fast rise through the Minor Leagues for outfielder Jason Heyward, reaching the Atlanta Braves before his 21st birthday. However, the Georgia prep star did spend parts of two seasons in Myrtle Beach.
Heyward was promoted to the Pelicans on August 25, 2008, where he appeared in seven games at the end of the season. He returned to Myrtle Beach in 2009 where he smacked 10 home runs in 49 games, earning a promotion to Double-A Mississippi before debuting with Atlanta in 2010.
Heyward quickly earned his spot in right field, playing in 681 games over five seasons. He posted a .781 OPS and won over fans with his spectacular defense and hometown charm.
In an effort to rebuild the farm system, Atlanta traded Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins on November 17, 2014.
The change of scenery proved to be no issue for Heyward, who put together an outstanding season with the 2015 Cardinals, earning his third Gold Glove Award and leading St. Louis to a 100-win season and their third straight division title.
Following the season, the 26-year-old signed an 8-year, $184 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, the largest position-player contract of the 2015-16 offseason and 14th-largest in baseball history at the time. Heyward’s move to Chicago brings his Pelicans connection full circle, as he re-entered the team’s parent organization.
In the very first season of an eight-year contract with the Chicago Cubs, Heyward helped the North Siders win their first World Series since 1908. The Georgia native delivered an infamous speech with the score tied in Game 7’s rain delay that helped the Cubs regain their focus before coming out and winning the title in the 10th inning.
Myrtle Beach has seen many top prospects throughout the years, including several first round draft picks. Among them is Lewis Brinson, the Texas Rangers’ 2012 first round draft pick. Brinson began his professional career with the Hickory Crawdads in 2013. He returned to Low-A Hickory in 2014 for 43 games before being called up to High-A Myrtle Beach. During his time with the Pelicans, Brinson
2015 saw Brinson continue to climb the MiLB ladder, starting the year High Dessert before being promoted to AA Frisco, and then finishing the season with the AAA Round Rock Express. Over the course of his impressive nine-year career in the minors, Brinson posted a slash line of .283/.351/.497.
On June 11, 2017 Brinson made his MLB debut with the Milwaukee Brewers. The following season Brinson was traded to Miami where he spent the next 4 seasons including a post-season run in 2020.
Duane Underwood Jr.
Duane Underwood Jr., the Cubs’ second round draft pick in 2012, began his professional career right out of high school. A few short years later, the right-hander from Raleigh, NC landed at the beach and started his journey with the Pelicans.
During his two seasons with the Birds, his regular season work included 78 innings pitched, a 6-3 record, and a 2.54 ERA. Underwood Jr. was also an essential member of the Pelicans back-to-back Mills Cup Championship teams.
On Monday, June 25, 2018 Underwood Jr. made his MLB debut with the Chicago Cubs. Although the Cubs came up one run short of the Dodgers that day, Underwood Jr. pitched four solid innings. As reported by CUBS HQ, “Other than the solo home run issued to Hernandez in the bottom of the second inning, Underwood Jr. was almost flawless, getting out of the inning with just 13 pitches. He repeated himself in the third inning with 13 pitches and got through the fourth inning with only ten tosses, having retired the last six batters that he faced.”
Underwood Jr.’s MLB career to date includes time with the Cubs and the Pirates. He’s pitched in 73 games, has a 3-4 record, an ERA of 4.62, and a WHIP of 1.43.
The Chapin, SC native began his professional baseball career 1997 and made his MLB debut with the Toronto Blue Jays on April 6, 2000. In 2003, after a few seasons of teetering between MLB and AAA, Wise became a free agent and was signed by the Braves.
The 2004 season kicked off with him suiting up for the Braves’ Low-A affiliate. Five games later he promoted to High-A. Myrtle Beach was another quick stop or Dewayne Wise. After just 4 games with the Pelicans, Wise jumped to AAA with the Richmond Braves before returning to “the show” that season in Atlanta.
Wise’s 17-year professional baseball included time with 18 minor league teams and 11 years in majors. Throughout his MLB career, Wise played for the Toronto Blue Jays, the Atlanta Braves, the Cincinnati Red, the Chicago White Sox, the Florida Marlins, and the New York Yankees. He played in 575 MLB games with 1,184 plate appearances, and a slash line of .228/.264/.381.
Another of the many first round draft picks to dawn the Pelicans’ blue and yellow include Chicago native Ed Howard. Before he became the first shortstop selected in the 2020 MLB Draft, Howard threw the final pitch of the U.S. Championship Game in the 2014 Little League World Series for Jackie Robinson West. From a young age, the Evergreen Park, IL native was put in the spotlight.
Howard was the highest-drafted high school signing by the Cubs when they selected him 16th overall in last season’s draft since Albert Almora Jr. in 2012. Howard’s bat exploded in his junior year at Mt. Carmel High School when he hit .419, with 36 hits and 29 RBIs, only to have his senior year canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless, the Cubs had seen enough from his little league days to several prospect camps along the way to select the then 18-year-old with their first-round pick.
Normally, a prospect taken that high would head straight to a lower division of the minors. But with the 2020 Minor League Baseball season being canceled, Howard had to rely on self-improvement through his own techniques. 2021 was the first opportunity in more than a year for Howard, and many others, to compete at a professional level. Making the jump to from high school to a pro career is tough enough without losing valuable play time to develop your skill set and gain experience.
For his summer on the Grand Strand, Howard said he’s mainly just focused on getting more experience on the field. “It’s really just straight development for me,” stated Howard. “Not a lot of goals right now, just continuing to play games and get experience.”
When the books closed on the 2021 season Howard recorded 326 plate appearances, a .225 average, and quite possibly the most memorable home run of the season. Spoiler alert on the video below…it ricocheted off of the video board!
While many will say that he still has some work to do at the plate, his fielding ability is what stood out most during his first year as a pro. Howard made several defensive plays that instantaneously confirmed his first round draft pick status. He is one of the game’s rising stars and we’re proud to say that it all started in Myrtle Beach.