It's been fun to follow the fall league this year with 3 of the Cubs top 4 prospects playing for the Mesa Solar Sox. Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Albert Almora are all drawing national attention and raves from prospect experts such as Jason Parks, Jim Callis, Keith Law, and Jonathan Mayo.
There's another player that intrigues me is 6'5" RHP Dallas Beeler. He's a bit of a sleeper in that he doesn't have the same pedigree as the other 3 players we mentioned He was a 41st round draft choice out of Oral Roberts in 2010, though part of that was because he had just undergone Tommy John surgery. The Cubs saw potential despite his less than stellar numbers. They signed him to a slightly overslot bonus rather than risking him returning to school and raising his stock once he was fully healthy.
It turned out to be a wise investment. Beeler immediately impressed upon joining the Cubs, putting up a 2.95 ERA after being drafted and then dominated in Peoria, posting a 1.66 ERA with just 6 walks and 35 strikeouts in 43.1 innings before receiving a promotion to AA Tennessee in his first full season.
But the ascent has slowed down as Beeler remains at Tennessee two years later. He had an off year in 2012 and then struggled to stay healthy last season with a finger injury. I asked Mick Gillespie, the Smokies announcer, about the injury and whether he had any lingering elbow issues from the TJ surgery,
From what I understand he just had an issue with a finger ligament but it wasn't something that would be a long term problem. Probably could have been pitching for the Smokies again late last season. He doesn't have any elbow or arm issues.
In fact, Gillespie believes Beeler can be an innings horse.
He certainly appeared to be healthy in his first AZL stint, showing good velocity with all his pitches. Beeler is the kind of pitcher this organization likes. He's tall and gets good plane on his delivery, pounding the lower part of the zone with a hard two seamer that has been clocked at 91-94 mph and a hard slider (some call it a cutter) in the 87 mph range in his first outing.
Despite the tall frame and a strong arm, Beeler isn't a strikeout pitcher. However, in 54 innings last year in AA, he had an incredible 3.67 GO/AO ratio and allowed hitters to hit just .214. According to Gillespie,
Dallas gets a lot of weak ground balls. When he says ahead in the count he is very tough. What I really liked about him this year before the season ending trip to the DL was his ability to reach back and find power when he needed an out. He was doing great with the "pitch to contact" but then could use the power of his big frame when necessary.
One thing Beeker may need to work on is getting better separation with his pitches. Beeler's splitter/changeup was 85, just 7-8 mph difference from his fastball and just a couple ticks slower than the slider. But even if he doesn't, he wouldn't be the first pitcher to make an impact with hard stuff across the board.
The biggest thing I think he needed to improve on was something he did much better last year...Pitching with runners on base and two outs. He had so many outings the last few years where he was one or two pitches or an out or so away from a great start. Then would give up a hit, wild pitch or walk and ruin it. It cost Beeler wins but in 2013 I noticed a marked improvement. That has to continue.
He's not a heralded name but Beeler is a guy the Cubs have worked closely with the past two offseasons. He may not have been a bonus baby, but the Cubs have certainly invested a lot of development time in the tall RHP. That tells me they believe he has potential to contribute at the MLB level, perhaps as soon as this upcoming season.
Beeler understands that he's been given a great opportunity and takes his lack of high draft pick status in stride.
"The way I thought of it was 'I'm not getting drafted as a number, I'm getting drafted to have an opportunity to play. I'm happy that I signed in the 41st round. I'd rather be the underdog than be that guy that's in a high place and comes down. I'd rather be the guy that comes from behind, but shines through and everyone says 'Oh my God, he's the 41st round pick, but he's here."
And that's the other thing about Beeler. The Cubs liked his makeup from day one. He's a competitor and has some fire on the mound, but most importantly he's very coachable. He balances the two traits well and talks about some of his experiences with Jeff Fassero, the pitching with whom he has worked since the beginning of 2012,
"We get into arguments on the mound," Beeler said, "He'll say this, and I'll say 'Well, I dont want to do that.' But he's one of those guys you can come to a common ground with and realize why he's wanting you to do that."
When I asked Gillespie about him, he added,
Dallas is a very good guy. An awesome teammate that supports the other guys on the team. While on the DL he was still a team leader and cheerleader.
Beeler may not get the publicity that some of his AZL teammates do, but his combination of stuff, competitiveness, and mental makeup give him a solid chance of teaming up with them once again someday in Wrigley Field.
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