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A Look Ahead: Arizona Fall League Roster Considerations

A Look Ahead: Arizona Fall League Roster Considerations
Chesny Young

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.

Jason Vosler / Photo by Stephanie Lynn

Jason Vosler / Photo by Stephanie Lynn

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.

Charcer Burks

Charcer Burks

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.

Jake Stinnett (photo by Stephanie Lynn @SRL590)

Jake Stinnett / Photo by Stephanie Lynn

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.

James Norwood (by Stephanie Lynn)

James Norwood / Photo by Stephanie Lynn

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.

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  • fb_avatar

    It will be interesting to see who the Cubs send. We can then see our
    "depleted" system and how well the players who are there do. We do have talent in our system but maybe not the apparent elite ones we've traded away. However, in 2014 Willson Contreras was exposed to the Rule 5 draft so the FO obviously didn't see him as integral to the system he would become within a year of it. So maybe we don't have the name players yet but they are there, just not identified right now.

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Exactly. There's still a lot of underlying talent left in the system. I'd love to see Jason Vosler make the AFL.

  • Dillon Maples should head the list of candidates.

  • In reply to Hagsag:

    It will probably depend on if and when they call him up to the majors. If he comes up and pitches well, he may be pitching in October for the Cubs, not the Solar Sox.

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    PJ Higgins has been an interesting guy to me. But his A+ season has not been particularly good offensively--and that might be euphemistic. His production dropped precipitously and a cursory look indicates that an extreme drop in BABIP (82 points lower than last year) is not unreasonbly involved in that, especially since his BB% and K% dropped.

    My question is whether he has just been particularly unlucky this season OR has he finally found a league where the pitchers, taking advantage of his lack of power, simply dared him to hit it and had the ability to put the ball in places he was able to do even less with--if that makes any sense? Or, put another way, was he an example of someone able to put up really good numbers at the low minor leagues but as he progressed he was likely to wilt against upper level pitching?

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    He is basically Chesny Young-lite at the plate. Same lack of power, although he has a slightly better eye than Young imo. But the real difference between the two is their ability to barrel up the ball. Young has very good bat control and hits a lot of hard ground balls and line drives to RF that find holes. Higgins does not make hard contact as often.

    Higgins is a nice athlete with just enough arm to be a solid catcher. he has a chance to become a backup that makes a lot of contact but likely won't do much damage as an offensive player. Defense will have to lead the way for him. He isn't going to be a guy that shuts down a running game so he needs to excel at handling a staff, calling a game, and pitch framing. If he does that he can carve out a role.

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    In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I have a reply eaten by the administrator.

    Thanks.

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    This is interesting but I want to make sure that I am understanding what you are saying. Not that you are unclear but sometimes my definitions of things can be different from others.

    It sounds like you are saying that he has a better eye at the plate than Young so he is more likely to maintain low K% and a high BB% when it comes down to eye at the plate pitches. And while young may lack XBH power he DOES barrel up the ball well so he'll hit the ball hard enough to get through on a ground ball where Higgins may hit a slower ground ball that might be fielded by the infield.

    You are not saying that he CURRENTLY has the defensive skills to be a back-up catcher (though you don't preclude that either) but IF they are developed to adequate quality he has a ceiling of a back up catcher with little power but the ability to put the bat on the ball and "take his chances" on the results.

    Finally, do you think his BABIP drop is due to bad luck, weak contact being fielded by fielders, pitchers able to "make their pitch" against him and not having to "respect" his power or some other factor(s).

    I truly don't want to nag you. I don't have much for visual evaluation skill and really value yours and others and want to get as firm of a picture as I can of the complete player and skillset (beyond what I can get from reading his stat line). Sorry if this post sounds like it is parroting what you said. Again, I just want to make sure that what I understand is what you meant. I was prepared to write him off as a guy who just plain would struggle against upper level pitching and would thereby be consigned to the long list of people who never made it to AA despite solid production in A-ball. What you are describing doesn't mean that it won't happen, but that I MIGHT have written him off to quickly.

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    In reply to Joel Mayer:

    This was in reply to Michael above.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    This is Higgins second full season as a catcher so he is still developing his skills behind the plate. He doesn't have a ton of experience back there so I would assume he still has work to do with calling games, handling the staff. His footwork and arm are pretty good (30% CS this year) and he receives the ball well (he doesn't fight it, like say Schwarber always did). He has soft hands.

    At the plate Higgins does not hit near as many line drives as Young. That is the main difference. Young should always posted better BABIP because of that. The really low BABIP by Higgins this year is likely an anomaly though. It will rebound eventually to more normal levels. I do think Higgins has a little bit better of an eye. He'll take more borderline pitches for balls, where as Young fights off a lot of those and looks to foul off and spoil those pitcher's pitches.

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    In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Thanks, Michael, for your patience and willingness to explain (again and again sometimes). I really appreciate the insights.

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