Roster selections for the upcoming Arizona Fall League will be announced later this month. For those in the area interested in checking out any of the action the schedule was released two weeks ago. Play begins October 10th. Once again, the Cubs will be among the teams stocking the roster of the Mesa Solar Sox (along with Detroit, Houston, Oakland, and Washington). Home games for the team will take place at the Cubs spring residence, Sloan Park.
All players on the AA and AAA rosters, with contracts for next season, are eligible. The club can also assign up to two players from A+ and another two from lower levels should they so choose. Last season the Cubs sent top prospects Eloy Jimenez, Ian Happ and Victor Caratini as their three position player representatives. Starter Duane Underwood, Jr. and relievers James Farris, Ryan McNeil and Steven Perakslis were chosen as their four pitchers.
Don't expect to see such big names going this October, at least among the position players. Leading candidates include utility man Chesny Young, third baseman Jason Vosler and outfielder Charcer Burks. All three will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time this offseason and the Cubs will be forced to make decisions regarding whether each is worthy of addition to the 40 man roster. Clubs often use the AFL as a final look at borderline players such as these before making the decision to protect or leave them exposed in the Rule 5 Draft.
Young has valuable defensive versatility that makes him the most likely candidate for inclusion on both the 40 man and Mesa rosters. Vosler has developed some surprising power this season, but is limited to the corner infield spots defensively, which Jeimer Candelario recently discovered is not conducive to a future on the big league roster in the near future. If they want to experiment with Vosler at other positions, the AFL would be a prime opportunity. Burks finds himself in similarly precarious circumstances. Albert Almora and Mark Zagunis are highly regarded young players already established ahead of him on the depth chart filling a similar role. The fact that Zagunis survived the trade deadline still with the Cubs organization was a surprise to me and may force the club into a tough decision on whether there is still room for Burks moving forward. A trade including one of the two players is still possible.
Other candidates include catchers Ian Rice and P.J. Higgins, UT Zack Short, 2B David Bote and Vimael Machin, as well as OF Eddy Martinez. If the club chooses to resign CF Trey Martin and C Taylor Davis (both scheduled to be Minor League Free Agents) they will also be eligible to participate.
The intriguing roster candidates abound among the eligible pitchers. Arms that missed time during the season due to injury are often cconsidered, health dependent, in order to make up for lost time. Alec Mills, Oscar De La Cruz and Jake Stinnett fit these circumstances. Adbert Alzolay is on pace to set a career high in innings pitched by roughly 10-15, but if they feel that they want to better prepare Alzolay to challenge for a rotation spot either next spring or later in the 2018 season, they could choose to extend him further in the AFL. Trevor Clifton, another 40 man roster decision along with Alzolay, has seen his season implode in the second half. If the Cubs identify a mechanical or other issue that requires repetition to resolve, they could ask Clifton to regroup in the AFL, but rest and side work seems more likely at this point.
Dillon Maples, Craig Brooks, James Norwood, Brad Markey, Jose Paulino and David Garner are top relief prospects eligible for the Rule 5 draft and the club may want additional looks at them against top competition before making the decision on whether to add any of them to the 40 man roster this offseason. Four relievers, Justin Hancock, Daury Torrez, Pedro Araujo and James Pugliese are scheduled to be Minor League Free Agents following the season and if the club wants to extend a successor contract to bring them back next season, they will also become eligible for the AFL. The club may also look challenge the more advanced pitchers from their 2016 draft class (Thomas Hatch, Michael Rucker, Dakota Mekkes) after they dominated A ball hitters this season as well.