Meet the Mesa Solar Sox: Position Players and Coaches
This is the first of two articles highlighting the players who will be taking part in the 2016 Arizona Fall League, which begins on Oct. 11. Today, the CCO looks at the position players and coaches the Cubs have assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox.
Victor Caratini, C
The steamroller of talent will continue next season as the Cubs have another catching prospect ready to burst on the scene in Victor Caratini. Acquired from the Atlanta Braves in 2014 for INF/OF Emilio Bonifacio and LHP James Russell, the former second round pick started his professional career as an infielder. Converted to catcher by the Braves that season, Caratini spent the majority of his time for the remainder of the year becoming familiar with the pitching staff of the 2014 Midwest League Champions, the Kane County Cougars.
That experience would pay off in 2015, for as the primary catcher of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Caratini handled the Carolina League’s best pitching staff in securing a second straight championship. In his first full season behind the dish, Caratini focused on defense as he fielded a remarkable .992 while hitting .257/.342/.372/.714 with 31 doubles, a triple, four home runs and 53 RBI in 112 games.
More comfortable as a catcher in 2016, Caratini picked up his offense without letting his defense slack off. Finishing in the Southern League’s top 10 in average, on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS the 23-year old batted .291/.375/.405/.780 with 25 doubles, two triples, six home runs, 47 RBI and two stolen bases in 115 games. The switch-hitter was equally effective from both sides of the plate, hitting .342 right-handed and .271 as a lefty. Defensively, Caratini fielded .997 and had a respectable 26 percent caught stealing rate.
Caratini still needs a little tweaking on the finer points of catching, but a good showing in Arizona could put him on track for Wrigley Field mid-season 2017.
Ian Happ, 2B/OF
It was not a surprise to see the Cubs name 2015 first round pick Ian Happ to the AFL squad, but it will be curious to see what happens next. It was the intent of the Cubs to put the overall ninth selection at second base, but they allowed Happ to get comfortable as a professional by keeping him in the outfield after signing with the team. The result was a decent showing in 67 games between Short Season-A Eugene and Low-A South Bend. The switch-hitter batted .259/.356/.466/.822 with 17 doubles, four triples, nine home runs, 33 RBI and 10 stolen bases while committing only one error in 61 games in the outfield.
Happ moved on to the Fall Instructional League to get a crash course on fielding at second base, and his play at times this season reflected his unfamiliarity with the position. Assigned to High-A Myrtle Beach, Happ struggled a bit in his second month before catching fire in June and being promoted to Double-A Tennessee. However, after going 13-for-22 following the promotion, Happ batted at only a .230 clip for the rest of the season.
The overall numbers for the 22-year old were .279/.365/.445/.810 with 30 doubles, three triples, 15 home runs, 73 RBI and 16 stolen bases in 134 games. Happ’s splits were .255 right-handed with only three home runs, while he batted .288 with 12 home runs left-handed. Of greater concern was defense. In 92 games as a second baseman, Happ fielded a far below average of .969, looking awkward and at times uncomfortable. But the move also affected his defense in the outfield, which plummeted to .915 in 23 games.
With veteran Ben Zobrist having three years left on his contract, as well as the slick-fielding Javier Baez along with hitting and fielding machine Chesny Young all ahead of him, it will be interesting to see how long the second base experiment with Happ continues. Happ’s performance in Arizona will go a long way in determining that.
Eloy Jimenez, OF
There aren’t many more superlatives that can be heaped on Eloy Jimenez, as now the work starts. Jimenez was named the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Year, the Midwest League MVP and Prospect of the Year and Baseball America’s Low-A Player of the Year.
The 19-year old led the Midwest League with a .901 OPS, a slugging average of .532, and 40 doubles. Jimenez was second with 81 RBI, third with a batting average of .329, and tied for sixth with 14 home runs. The native of the Dominican Republic also had eight stolen bases, a .369 on-base percentage, 142 hits, 25 walks and 94 strikeouts in 432 at bats.
The weak part of Jimenez’s game at this point is defense, where the outfielder has all the tools of a dominant right fielder, yet struggled to play left field. According to observers close to the team, Jimenez needs more consistency in his play, added maturity, and the ability to deal with “small hurts.”
The selection of Jimenez is very curious by the front office, as Low-A players are rarely invited to the Arizona Fall League. Teams that do are usually looking to accelerate a player’s development in hopes of a quick promotion to the majors. Whether that is the plan for Jimenez will depend a lot on how he handles the level of competition.
Brian Lawrence, Pitching Coach
After working with some of the Cubs’ most exciting pitching prospects in 2016, Brian Lawrence now has a chance to coach some of the best prospects in the game.
Drafted in the 17th round by the San Diego Padres in 1998, the right-hander went 50-63 with a 4.19 ERA and 1.34 WHIP during a six-year big league career with the Padres and Mets. Lawrence last pitched in the big leagues in 2007 before spending four more years bouncing between the independent and affiliated minor leagues. In 2011, Lawrence retired as active player and was named the pitching coach for the Normal CornBelters of the Frontier League in 2012.
Lawrence’s first experience with an affiliated team came in as the pitching coach of Single-A Lake Elsinore in the Padres system in 2013. The Cubs hired Lawrence in 2014, serving in the same role with Short Season-A Boise. For the 2015 season, Lawrence moved up with the rest of his pitching staff to coach the South Bend Cubs. Lawrence moved back down in 2016 to become the pitching coach for Short Season-A Eugene.
Current Tennessee Smokie and 2015 AFL invitee David Garner credits Lawrence for teaching him how to pitch instead of just being a thrower. Garner explained that Brian Lawrence also taught him and his teammates “how to be professionals on and off the field.”
Since coming to the Cubs, Lawrence has worked with such pitching prospects as Dylan Cease, Trevor Clifton, Oscar De La Cruz, James Farris, Zach Hedges, Bryan Hudson, Ryan McNeil, Tyson Miller, Erling Moreno, Jose Paulino, Manuel Rondon, Jake Stinnett, and Ryan Williams.