Arizona Fall League Recap
The Arizona Fall League completed its regular season last Thursday and it ended up being a rough fall for the Mesa Solar Sox, the team the Cubs’ prospects are assigned to in the AFL. The Solar Sox finished dead last with a 10-20-2 record. While the Cubs’ prospects were not the lone cause for the dismal showing, none of them made a truly outstanding impression.
Here is a rundown of how each player in the Cubs’ system performed in the AFL this year. Matt Szczur, OF
The Good: Matt Szczur spent the majority of the time as Mesa’s leadoff hitter. Szczur finished the fall with a 264 batting average and a .368 on-base percentage. More importantly, Szczur walked more (14) than he struck out (10) and led the team with nine stolen bases.
The Bad: Matt Szczur had only five extra-base hits (two doubles, two triples and a home run) in 91 at bats, demonstrating a somewhat alarming lack of power. Observers also described Szczur’s defense as only “average”.
The Skinny: Matt Szczur seems to have shaken off the doldrums that led to a .210 batting average at Tennessee after his somewhat hasty promotion late last season. He has seemed to grasp the “grinder” approach at the plate that management is trying to instill. While he is one of the fastest players in baseball, his lack of power is concerning, especially for someone with his football background. Time will tell if he eventually develops into a Kenny Lofton-type of igniter or is more of a Reed Johnson.
Logan Watkins, IF
The Good: Added to the Solar Sox’s roster after an injury to Javier Baez, the organizational Minor League Player of the Year impressed observers with his fundamentally solid style of play. Logan Watkins displayed great functional speed, going from first-to-third and second-to-home several times. Watkins also posted a .375 on-base percentage with eight walks and three strikeouts in only 32 at bats.
The Bad: At times, Logan Watkins looked rusty as would be expected after being away for nearly two months. Watkins made a few bad throws and there was some talk of him having a sore arm.
The Skinny: Despite hitting only .219, Watkins acquitted himself as a player on the rise and seemed a great fit at the number two slot in the batting order. Watkins could have management thinking long and hard about the second base position this off-season.
Javier Baez, IF
The Good: Javier Baez played in only 14 of the Solar Sox’s 32 games, but they were eventful. Baez tied for the team lead with four home runs and was second on the team with 16 RBI. Baez also displayed a take-charge attitude at shortstop.
The Bad: Even with all of Baez’s offensive bravado, he still hit only .211 and struck out 14 times with only two walks (.250 OBP/.456 SLG). While some observers were lavish with their praise for his defense, he led the team with nine errors (seven at shortstop, two at third). Even more disturbing was the questions concerning his attitude and character reared their ugly head again. Reports indicated Baez was either “pouting” or “disinterested” when asked to play third base.
The Skinny: Javier Baez has undeniable bat speed and power potential, plus he is developing as a clutch hitter. He will need to curb his aggressiveness at the plate and increase his strike zone awareness if he is to have any success in Advanced-A ball, where he most likely will start next season. It appears that many are “whistling in a graveyard” regarding his defense.
Tony Zych, RHP
The Good: Tony Zych was tied for second on the team in both appearances (13) and games finished (8). Zych finished the fall with a 3.86 ERA while recording both a hold and a save.
The Bad: Tony Zych allowed 18 hits and two walks in 14 innings for an unimpressive WHIP of 1.43. Zych also struck out only four batters.
The Skinny: Scouts were impressed with the movement on Zych’s pitches, his deceptive delivery and, of course, his 100 MPH heater. However, those who feel he has closer potential have to take notice of his lack of strikeouts and high hit total. The people who feel Zych might contribute to the big league club this coming year may be the same who sang the praises of Rafael Dolis prior to last season.
Nick Struck, RHP
The Good: Nick Struck pitched more innings (16.1) than any non-starter on Mesa’s pitching staff.
The Bad: Struck finished second on the entire staff in home runs allowed (3) and his 5.51 ERA and 1.47 WHIP were indicative of his nearly 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio (11 strikeouts and 12 walks).
The Skinny: Nick Struck was sent to Arizona to work on a few tweaks that were made to his delivery during the season. Struck was not designated a starter in order for him to get as much work as possible. Struck seemed to struggle with an unfamiliar role in the bullpen and would alternate a good performance with a bad outing.
Kevin Rhoderick, RHP
The Good: Kevin Rhoderick was named as a replacement for the injured Zac Rosscup and emerged early as the team’s designated stopper. Roderick received little support for his efforts but had a successful fall. Rhoderick tied for the team lead in strikeouts among relievers (14) and finished second on the staff with a 0.96 WHIP.
The Bad: Rhoderick seemed to lose momentum during the team’s extended losing streak. It was reported that his slider lost some of its bite and he was hit pretty hard. Rhoderick did not make an appearance in Mesa’s last nine games.
The Skinny: Kevin Rhoderick reportedly has closer-like “stuff”. But as fans have seen with Carlos Marmol, that may not be enough when you’re best pitch isn’t working. Rhoderick will have to develop his secondary pitches further if he is to advance.
Rubi Silva, OF/IF
The Good: Rubi Silva was clearly the Solar Sox’s best defensive player. He recorded several outfield assists and appeared smooth both at second base and in the outfield. Silva also flashed some of his speed. Silva hit three triples and swiped three bases.
The Bad: Silva appeared to be overmatched by the level of pitching. Silva hit only .206 with a .260 OBP. In 86 at bats, Silva struck out 21 times and worked five walks.
The Skinny: Some are starting to whisper the word “bust” due to the million dollar contract signed by Silva two seasons ago. However, Rubi Silva has a track record of adjusting offensively each year. His speed, defense and ability to play multiple positions may make him an interesting reserve … that is, if he can hit well enough.
Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP
The Good: Dae-Eun Rhee was fourth among Solar Sox starters with 12 strikeouts in 18.2 innings.
The Bad: Rhee walked eight batters and was rocked for 26 hits and 13 earned runs in 18.2 innings (6.27 ERA/1.82 WHIP).
The Skinny: It was a surprise to many observers that Dae-Eun Rhee was named as the Cubs’ designated starter. Many thought that the organization would take advantage of the atmosphere surrounding the league and try Rhee as a reliever. With his performance, Rhee may be able to pass through the Rule 5 draft without being claimed.
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