Meet the Mesa Solar Sox: Pitchers
This is the second of two articles highlighting the players who will be taking part in the 2016 Arizona Fall League, which began on Tuesday (Oct. 11). Today, the CCO looks at the pitchers the Cubs have assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox.
James Farris, RHP
While you may be hard pressed to find someone with a lot of information on relief pitcher James Farris, he may be one of the Cubs’ pitching prospects assigned to the AFL that is closest to the big league level.
Selected by the Cubs in the ninth round of the 2014 draft, the 24-year old has rapidly risen to the Double-A level. Farris split his 2015 season between Low-A South Bend and High-A Myrtle Beach, going only 2-8, but with nine saves, a 3.47 ERA and 1.393 WHIP with 56 strikeouts and 18 walks in 46.2 innings.
In 2016, Farris made a big made a big adjustment and lowered his ERA by nearly a run while slashing about one third off of his WHIP. Once again, the University of Arizona product split his season, this time playing both for the Pelicans and at Double-A Tennessee. For the year, Farris was 2-5, but with 13 saves, a 2.59 ERA and a 0.985 WHIP with 74 strikeouts and 17 walks in 66 innings.
Farris’ scouting reports says that he has a low-90s fastball with movement and deception that he can add or subtract to, along with a curve and his best pitch, his change-up. Farris seems to know how to get batters out.
While Farris still needs to work on his consistency, he has the WHIP, the strikeouts, and the save conversion you are looking for in a relief pitcher. With some possible bullpen openings in 2017, a good showing in the AFL could put Farris on the fast track for the majors.
Ryan McNeil, RHP
For those who like big comeback stories, be sure to watch for Ryan McNeil. As an 18-year old, the 2012 third round selection was a mainstay of the AZL Cubs’ rotation after signing. McNeil was only 1-0, but had a miniscule 1.35 ERA and a 1.450 WHIP in eight appearances (six starts) that included 18 strikeouts and 10 walks in 20 innings. McNeil was a big part of the A-Cubs’ playoff appearance.
After a Spring Training in which he looked poised to be named the Opening Day starter for the Short Season-A Boise Hawks, McNeil hurt his arm and needed Tommy John surgery, putting him out for the 2013 season. Attempting to come back in 2014, McNeil was on a severely limited pitch count and went 0-5 with an 8.44 ERA and 1.875 WHIP in eight appearances.
Two years after the surgery in 2015, McNeil was still not at full strength to start, but was capable of providing quality out of the bullpen for Low-A South Bend. McNeil was second on the team with 32 appearances, and went 3-3 with a 2.80 ERA and a 1.377 WHIP with 57 strikeouts and 24 walks in 61 innings.
Moving on to High-A Myrtle Beach this past season, the 22-year old emerged from a crowded bullpen scene to become the Pelicans’ closer and finish first in the Carolina League with 22 saves. McNeil was 1-1 with a 2.33 ERA and a 1.241 WHP with 61strikeouts and 21 walks in 54 innings.
Now injury-free for two years, McNeil has moved his heavy, sinking fastball to the mid-90s range to go along with a biting slider and a change-up. It has taken courage for McNeil to get back onto the field after a big setback at such an early age, something that he may be able to draw on in his present role.
Stephen Perakslis, RHP
One of the unknowns on the squad could have a big impact on 2017, as Stephen Perakslis is set to answer some questions.
After being selected in the 21st round of the 2012 draft, the product of the University of Maine put together two quality seasons to start his career. Perakslis was a combined 4-0 with two saves, a 3.42 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP with 26 strikeouts and six walks in 26.1 innings (16 appearances) playing for the AZL Cubs and Low-A Peoria in his first year. Perakslis became the de-facto closer for Low-A Kane County in 2013, as several other relievers could not fill the role. Perakslis went 1-3 with seven saves in 37 appearances, a 2.93 ERA and a 1.217 WHIP with 44 strikeouts and 20 walks in 58.1 innings.
Building on that, Perakslis went 5-0 with three saves, a 3.93 ERA and a 1.311 WHIP with 55 strikeouts and 28 walks in 68.2 innings for the 2014 High-A Daytona Cubs. Perakslis was a key middle reliever for Daytona that season, setting up relievers Zack Godley and Andrew McKirahan as the D-Cubs attempted to defend their 2013 Florida State League Championship.
Promoted to Double-A Tennessee in 2015, Perakslis saw his season cut short in June when he was placed on the disabled list. Perakslis was 2-2 with a 4.22 ERA and a 1.219 WHIP with 16 strikeouts and eight walks in 21.1 in 14 appearances before going down to injury. It was learned at the end of the season that Perakslis had a blood clot under the upper rib of his right shoulder. Perakslis had surgery to remove the clot and the rib.
After rehabbing from the injury, Perakslis rejoined Tennessee for the 2016, which he would split between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. Perakslis also saw his role change, as he moved into the long reliever/spot starter position on the staff. In a season in which he started six games and finished three, the 25-year old was a combined 2-5 with a 3.60 ERA and a 1.227 WHIP with 58 strikeouts and 19 walks in a career high 75 innings.
The scouting report on Perakslis varies, as the story at the beginning of his career was that he combined a low-90s fastball with a curve and a slider. Other reports have Perakslis using both a two- and four-seam fastball along with a cutter, a split-fingered pitch and a knuckle-curve. Some even claim a fastball in the 97 mph range. Perakslis will be eligible for the 2016 Rule 5 Draft, so finding out just what the Cubs have is the main purpose of his AFL assignment.
Duane Underwood Jr., RHP
After five seasons, it now becomes decision time on well-publicized prospect Duane Underwood Jr. The Cubs have always been very cautious with their 2012 second round pick, and now some of that concern may be coming back to haunt them.
Drafted as a 17-year old, management only had Underwood Jr. pitch 8.2 innings in five appearances after signing, basically blowing through his first year. Assigned to Short Season-A Boise in 2013, Underwood was a modest 3-4 with a 4.97 ERA and a 1.638 WHIP with 36 strikeouts and 27 walks in 54.1 innings.
Underwood Jr. needed more time in Spring Training to get ready in 2014, joining Low-A Kane County in mid-April and starting 21 games. Underwood Jr. had a breakthrough season as he went 6-4 with a 2.50 ERA and a 1.202 WHIP with 84 strikeouts and 36 walks in 100.2 innings for the Midwest League Champions.
Poised to make a jump to superstar status in 2015, Underwood Jr. suffered a setback in 2015. Concentrating on being more of a pitcher and less of a thrower, Underwood Jr. had lowered his WHIP to around 1.000 with High-A Myrtle Beach before inflammation was discovered in his right elbow. Underwood Jr. did not need surgery and was placed on the shelf in July, returning to the Pelicans after a tune-up in the AZL in time for the playoffs. Underwood Jr. finished going 6-3 with a 2.58 ERA and a 1.036 ERA with 48 strikeouts and 24 walks in 73.1 innings as he started 14 times for Myrtle Beach.
With a promotion to Double-A Tennessee on the horizon, Underwood Jr. struggled with allergies in the 2016 Spring Training. Staying behind to deal with the allergies and to build arm strength, Underwood Jr. reported to the Smokies at the end of April. But something was not right as Underwood Jr. muddled through with a 0-5 record and a 4.91 ERA with a 1.653 WHIP before going on the DL again in July with recurring elbow problems. Starting back with the Rookie League and then three starts with Low-A South Bend, Underwood Jr. finished 2016 by returning to Myrtle Beach. Across four levels, Underwood was 0-6 with a 4.32 ERA and a 1.507 WHIP with 62 strikeouts and 35 walks in 73 innings for the year.
As far as his repertoire, the 22-year old has a mid- to upper-90s fastball characterized as “easy heat” due to his clean delivery. Underwood Jr. also has a curve and change which scouts feel can develop into plus pitches. But Underwood Jr. is now Rule 5 eligible, and the Cubs will have to place him on the 40-man roster to retain him, as any other tactic will certainly have him snapped up by another team. Whether the Cubs are willing to take that chance should be determined by his AFL performance.