Meet the Mesa Solar Sox
Tomorrow is the opening of the Arizona Fall League, the annual showcase for each Major League team’s top prospects. Today, the CCO will be looking at the pitchers and position players the Cubs have assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox.
Albert Almora, OF
By now, most Cubs fans know the story of Albert Almora. Selected with the sixth pick in the 2012 draft, the high-schooler from Mater Academy in Hialeah, Florida was the first selection of newly hired President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod. After signing, Almora split time between the AZL Cubs and the Boise Hawks and hit .321/.331/.464/.795 with 12 doubles, one triple, two homers, 19 RBI, and five stolen bases in 33 games.
Expectations were quite high for the 19-year old coming into the 2013 season, but those were dashed when Almora broke a hamate bone in Spring Training. Instead of opening with the Kane County Cougars, Almora had surgery to remove the bone and had to spend recovery time in extended Spring Training. When Almora was able to finally join the Cougars, he wound up posting excellent numbers. Almora was .329/.376/.466/.842 with 17 doubles, four triples, three home runs, 23 RBI, four stolen bases and 39 runs scored in 61 games. However, Almora’s season was cut short when he suffered a hamstring pull, as he was sent home with 28 games left.
Almora was originally meant to be on the AFL taxi squad, eligible only on Wednesday and Saturday. But when Javier Baez decided he would not play, Almora was promoted to a full-time roster spot. It is the hope of the front office that Almora can make up some of his lost at-bats and be ready to possibly start 2014 with High-A Daytona.
Dallas Beeler, RHP
Flying a bit under the radar as far as pitching prospects has been Dallas Beeler, the Cubs 41st round pick in the 2010 draft. The Oral Roberts University product tossed 18 innings after he signed and went 0-3 in nine games, two starts, with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. In 18 1/3 innings between the AZL Cubs and Boise, Beeler struck out 18 batters while issuing only two walks. Beeler was on the fast track in 2011 after he went 1-1 with a 1.66 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 12 games, 11 starts, for Low-A Peoria that included 35 strikeouts in 43.1 innings. Jumped to Double-A Tennessee from Peoria, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound righty tossed 51.2 innings and struck out 33 batters while going 1-5 in nine starts with a 4.53 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. Beeler then spent all of 2012 with the Smokies and was 6-7 in 27 starts (136 innings) with a 4.24 ERA and 1.57 WHIP that included 70 strikeouts. Back in Tennessee for a third straight year in 2013, Beeler was posting his best numbers since the beginning of 2011. Beeler was 4-2 in nine starts with 35 strikeouts in 54.2 innings (3.13 ERA, 1.10 WHIP). Unfortunately, Beeler was sidelined with a torn tendon in his pitching hand.
Despite his large frame, Beeler is known as a control pitcher, with a low-90’s two-seam fastball, change, and curve. Beeler limits the amount of extra base hits he gives up (only 22 home runs in 304 career innings), and despite his low strikeout total has a better than 2:1 strikeout ratio. Beeler is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, so a good showing could lead to a place on the 40-man roster.
Kris Bryant, IF/OF
Due to a lengthy contract negotiation, 2013 first round draft pick Kris Bryant appeared in only 36 games. In order to make up the time he missed, Bryant was sent to the AFL to get more at bats and some exposure to positions other than his familiar third base.
After not playing baseball since June 2, Bryant was sent to Arizona to scrape off the rust in the rookie league. There seemed to be plenty of rust as Bryant managed only one hit and made three errors in two games. Nevertheless, Bryant was shipped off to Short-Season A Boise where he looked like a completely different player. Blasting a home run in his second at bat, Bryant batted .354/.416/.692/.1.108 with eight doubles, one triple, four home runs and 16 RBI in 18 games as the Hawks went 10-8 over that span.
Bryant was then skipped to High–A Daytona rather than spending any time at Low-A Kane County. As in his debut with Boise, Bryant homered in his first game with the D-Cubs and went on to hit .333/.387/.719/1.106 with five doubles, one triple, five homers and 14 RBI in 16 games. For the regular season, Bryant was a composite .336/.390/.688/1.078 with 14 doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 32 RBI. After booting three balls in rookie league, Bryant committed only three more errors the rest of the way, fielding .955 for Boise and .975 for Daytona.
Bryant’s performance against some of the best prospects in baseball will be telling. Whether Bryant jumps directly to Double-A Tennessee next season or needs to spend a few weeks back in Daytona may, in part, be determined by his success in the AFL.
Lendy Castillo, RHP
A former Rule 5 Draft pick, Lendy Castillo made the AFL squad after the Cubs decided to withdraw RHP Arodys Vizcaino.
Castillo spent the first three years of his career as an infielder in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. But a declining batting average and questionable defense led the organization to trying to salvage Castillo as a pitcher. In 2010, Castillo was sent all the way back to the Dominican Summer League and worked his way up the chain, pitching both in the rookie league and at Short-Season Williamsport (New York – Penn League). Castillo went a combined 3-2 with a 2.35 ERA, 1.154 WHIP and 65 strikeouts in 65 innings.
In 2011, Castillo went to Single-A Lakewood in the Southern Atlantic League where he pitched 46 innings, practically all in relief, and was 4-2 with 46 strikeouts, a 2.54 ERA, and 1.152 WHIP. As a fifth year minor-leaguer, Castillo was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft and was selected by the Cubs in the Major League phase. That meant that Castillo had to spend the 2012 on the Major League roster or be returned to the Phillies. Castillo demonstrated that he was not ready for the big time in 2012, as he had a 7.88 ERA with a 2.25 WHIP that included 13 strikeouts in 16 innings with the parent club. Castillo was placed on the disabled list and was able to rehab. While spending time with the AZL Cubs, Daytona, and Tennessee, Castillo sported a 0.90 ERA with a 0.950 WHIP in 20 innings.
How Castillo became a starter for Low–A Kane County to start the 2013 season is somewhat of a controversy. Depending on what story you want to believe, the Cubs were either overly optimistic about Castillo and decided to hold right handers Josh Conway and Ryan McNeil back, or injuries to those pitchers caused management to turn to Castillo out of need to fill the spot. Whatever the case, Castillo began last season with the Cougars and wasn’t too impressive. Castillo went 2-5 with a 6.58 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP (55 strikeouts in 64.1 innings). Nevertheless, Castillo was promoted to Daytona were he fared a little better. Castillo was 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP (21 strikeouts, seven walks in 20 innings) while pitching solely as a reliever.
Scouting reports say that Castillo has an “easy” fastball clocking in the 96-97 mph range. However, it is his secondary pitches that cause concern. The only other pitch Castillo has in his arsenal is a curve, which he cannot consistently throw for strikes. The AFL will be a good measure to see which pitcher Castillo is, the one who pitched at Daytona or the one we saw with Kane County.
Wes Darvill, IF
Added to the AFL taxi squad after IF Javier Baez decided he wanted to take the winter off, the 2009 fifth round pick has been a slow developing prospect that seemed to turn the corner after splitting his time between Kane County and Daytona last season. Wes Darvill was all of 17 years old when selected by the Cubs. He made his debut in 2009 in the Arizona Rookie League and hit .223/.295/.231/.525 with one double, 15 RBI and seven stolen bases in 34 games. Darvill returned to the AZL Cubs in 2010 and split time between with the Boise Hawks that season. Darvill finished the year a combined .227/.326/.247/.573 with four doubles, 13 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 57 games.
The 2011 season saw Darvill play solely with Boise and he improved to .256/.346/.318/.655 with 14 doubles, 12 RBI and seven steals, and more importantly, an improved .943 fielding average at shortstop. In 2012, Darvill was asked to “take one” for the organization and switch to third base, as third baseman Dustin Geiger was injured and management was reluctant to use Baez at third. Playing for Low-A Peoria, Darvill hit .224/.285/.306/.592 with 16 doubles, six triples, three home runs, 35 RBI, and six stolen bases.
Showing some physical maturity, Darvill improved significantly both offensively and defensively in 2013. The 22-year old hit a combined .267/.339/.380/.719 with 16 doubles, seven triples, three homers, 40 RBI and 11 stolen bases between Kane County and High-A Daytona. Always fundamentally sound defensively, Darvill set career highs in fielding, with a .984 average at second base, .977 at short, and 1.000 at third base this past season.
The front office is looking for more information on Darvill as part of the Arizona Fall League squad. What is uncertain is if 79 games at High-A Daytona is enough to promote Darvill to start the season. Darvill is also eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, and how to handle his status is also a question.
Matt Loosen, RHP
The Cubs’ front office will be keeping a close eye on Matt Loosen in this year’s Arizona Fall League as they try to determine what exactly they have in this inconsistent right-hander.
The Cubs concentrated heavily on pitching in the 2010 draft, signing 19 of the 31 they selected. Seven of those pitchers are still with the organization, including Loosen, the 23rd selection in that year’s draft. Taken out of Jacksonville University, Loosen got off to a fast start after signing and went a combined 2-3 in 14 games, seven starts, between the AZL Cubs and Boise with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP (40 strikeouts in 44.1 innings). Loosen climbed the ladder even more in 2011 and moved from Low-A Peoria to High-A Daytona to Double-A Tennessee and posted a 3.55 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP that included 74 strikeouts in 78.2 innings for the season. Loosen spent the 2012 season with the Daytona Cubs and went 11-5 in 23 starts with a 4.07 ERA. However, Loosen did post a 1.15 WHIP with 110 strikeouts in 112.2 innings.
Big things were expected for the 24-year old in 2013, but he was held back in extended Spring Training. The official explanation was that Loosen needed to rebuild his arm strength, but Loosen didn’t look like the same pitcher when he joined Tennessee in mid-April. Loosen went 1-2 with a 7.46 ERA in nine appearances (seven starts). Loosen was sent back down to Daytona where he was more dominant. Loosen was 5-2 in nine starts with a 1.83, a 0.94 WHIP, and 56 strikeouts in 54 innings. And on July 8, Loosen tossed a no-hitter in a D-Cubs’ uniform. He was then promoted back up to Tennessee where he went 2-1 with a 4.66 ERA the rest of the way.
Loosen doesn’t have any outstanding pitches with a low-90’s fastball along with a curve, slider, and change. What makes Loosen effective is his command. When he has it, he’s a lot like the CCO’s 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Kyle Hendricks. Whether Loosen can “have it” consistently is what he will have to prove.
Armando Rivero, RHP
Of all the prospects attending the Arizona Fall League for the Cubs, Armando Rivero may be the one closest to appearing at Wrigley Field.
Officially signed by the Cubs on March 18, the Cuban national was the closer for Industriales in Havana, the same team that current Cubs minor-leaguer Gerardo Concepcion pitched for. There was some question as to Rivero’s age, but when his age was officially reported at 25, he was no longer subject to the international bonus pool. Rivero reported to extended Spring Training then sent to Low-A Kane County when camp broke. With the Cougars, Rivero was given a bit of a baptism as he posted a 5.40 ERA with a 1.58 WHIP that included 28 strikeouts in 18.1 innings over 11 games. Rivero showed improvement during his next two stops in the Cubs’ system. Rivero posted a 2.70 ERA with a 0.90 WHIP that included five strikeouts in 3.1 innings for Daytona. Rivero ended the season with Tennessee and appeared in six games while striking out 12 in 8.1 innings (2.08 ERA and 1.27 WHIP).
Most reports say that Rivero’s bread-and-butter pitch is a two-seam fastball that is in the low-90’s and tops out at 96 mph with late drop. He needs to work on his secondary pitches, but his repertoire includes a slider and a curve. If he is effective, a non-roster invite to Spring Training with the parent club may be in the cards.
Jorge Soler, OF
The first major signing by Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer regime, Jorge Soler had a tumultuous first full season this past year.
The 21-year old first caught the scouts’ eyes when he represented Cuba in the 2010 World Junior Baseball Championship. Soler batted .304/.500/.522/1.022 as his team won the bronze medal. After defecting from Cuba, Soler signed a nine-year, $30 million contract with the Cubs on July 11, 2012. He went to the Arizona Rookie League where he batted .241/.328/.389/.717 with two doubles, two homers and 10 RBI in 14 games. Soler then finished the season with Low-A Peoria and hit .338/.398/.513/.910 with five doubles, three home runs, 15 RBI and four stolen bases in 20 games.
There was some question as to whether Soler should return to Low-A to start the 2013 season, but an impressive performance in big league camp punched his ticket to High-A Daytona. There, trouble started almost as their season began. Soler ended up being suspended after a bench-clearing incident where Soler approached the opposing team’s dugout with a bat. After putting that behind him, Soler went on to hit .281/.343/.467/.810 with 13 doubles, one triple, eight home runs and 35 RBI in 55 games. However, Soler was sidelined in late June with a stress fracture in his left tibia and spent the remainder of the season on the disabled list.
Doctors have cleared Soler to play in the AFL, where he will try to make up valuable developmental time. The organization is expected to use his time in Arizona as one of the ways to evaluate whether he needs more time with Daytona, or can start 2014 with Double-A Tennessee.