In our first segment on Fall Instructs Tuesday I discussed briefly the changes, not just in the coverage we will be able to provide, but in the approach that the Cubs organization will be taking as well. The largest change is that there will be no formal games against other organizations, only sim games. For further details and a breakdown of the catchers participating in Mesa this fall, check out the article here. For further detail and to check out the entire roster of players and staff, AZ Phil has full list published. Today we will move on to the corner infielders.
Given the number of slick fielding middle infielders, especially second baseman, throughout the system I am listing Austin Upshaw among the first baseman. It isn't that Upshaw is not capable of handling second or third base if needed it is simply that I project him to receive the majority of his playing time in 2018, and potentially beyond, at that position. I do have questions about his range at second and think he may be best suited as a corner guy anyway but his versatility will help him as he advances through the system as we all know the emphasis this organization places on being able to handle multiple positions. Regardless, Upshaw will most likely make it or not based on his bat. I won't dig too deep into Upshaw here as he was the most advanced and most talked about position player from the recent draft class. Tom put together a nice post regarding him just a couple of weeks ago if you want to check that out.
Two players at the position that are sort of polar opposites are Joe Martarano and Gustavo Polanco. Martarano is of course a former middle linebacker at Boise State that finally gave up football in order to focus all of his attention on baseball for the first time this season. He is a powerful and surprising quick athlete but his baseball skills, both defensively (at 1B/LF) and at the plate are still unrefined. Meanwhile, Polanco is a former catcher with a strong arm but limited athleticism that gets by on his advanced hit tool that allows him to adjust and barrel up balls with regularity. He is the epitome of a free swinger that looks to hit a line drive somewhere in the park on every pitch he sees. It means his offensive game is limited both in terms of OBP and power as he rarely gets a great pitch to hit given pitchers don't need to challenge him much. His feel for the barrel allows him to succeed against lower level pitching due to the number of mistake pitches he sees but without a drastic shift in approach he will likely struggle moving forward. Martarano on the other hand is hopefully just scratching the surface. He has not managed to tap into his raw power in game situations yet and while he flashed a good approach at Eugene he struggled against the more advanced pitching he faced upon his promotion to the MWL, though it should be noted he did finish the year on the upswing. Martarano is the type of athlete that it is good to keep around and continue to work with in case he ever does tap into potential fully.
Luis Hidalgo is another intriguing name. Twenty-one years old and only recently making the move stateside after three and a half years in the VSL and DSL leagues is not normally the type of resume you would associate with an intriguing prospect but Hidalgo may just be a late bloomer. A high profile signing in the 2013 IFA class his career got off to a great start (.318/.370/.430) in 2014 down in Venezuela but injuries the following two years led to his offensive output dropping of a cliff and his defensive profile limited to 1B. But Hidalgo responded in a big way at the plate in 2017. He put up some of the best numbers in the DSL (.353/.419/.521) to earn a promotion to Arizona where he continued to produce (.339/.359/.516) and helped lead a late season surge for the club that carried them all the way to the AZL championship. If Hidalgo is able to carry over this breakout into next spring he would seem a good candidate to skip the NWL and potentially open 2018 as the first baseman for the South Bend Cubs.
The final player participating at this position is Gioskar Amaya. Long a favorite of mine, though his sleeper prospect status has long evaporated, Amaya missed all of 2017 with a knee injury so this will be the first action he sees. At this point Amaya is nothing but an org player, but a potentially useful one that is capable of filling in at multiple positions, including catcher, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he finds a job with the organization once he hangs up his cleats.
Alongside Austin Upshaw the next most talked about position player from the 2017 draft class would have to be MIT alum Austin Filiere. Filiere eliminated all doubts regarding his collegiate success coming against Division III opposition by displaying good pop in the wood bat Cape Cod League in 2016. Blessed not just with above average power but a good eye as well Filiere was able to step right into the Eugene lineup after the draft and soon cemented himself as the club's cleanup hitter. His power (20 XBH in 43 G) and patience (14.7% BB rate) were regularly put on display but a few concerns also cropped up in my viewings of him. The least concerning at this point is the 14 errors he committed in his 37 games at third base. A shortstop in college this was his first full time taste at the hot corner and so a rough first go is not alarming in my eye. He flashed the necessary tools to handle the position, including a quick first step and strong arm. The facet of his game that does raise a red flag with me is the amount of swing and miss in his game. While his 25.8% K rate is not shockingly high, his 12.8% SwStr% was exceeded only by Joe Martarano in his brief time with South Bend among the prospects I tracked in 2017. While he rarely chases pitches outside the zone given his strong plate discipline, when he does it is a real struggle for him to adjust his swing path and make contact. Even inside the zone Filiere swings through more pitches than you would like to see. Again, this is just his first taste of pro ball and a limited sample size, it is also a massive step up in terms of competition so I am in no way writing him off as a prospect as there are intriguing aspects to his game but it is an aspect of his game that I will be monitoring moving forward. Hopefully there are adjustments he can make and with additional experience Filiere can emerge as more well rounded power hitting corner infielder as opposed to just a three true outcomes hitter.
A player that John wasn't able to get much of a look at this spring and then didn't play real well once games began in the AZL is Fidel Mejia. The 2017 numbers don't tell the whole story with Mejia however as he was an effective hitter as a 16 and 17-year old in the DSL the previous two years that the organization was willing to challenge with an assignment stateside this season as an 18-year old. A switch hitter with a loose, athletic frame that John projected could add strength in the coming years it appears that Mejia still is waiting for that particular growth to come around as he has yet to hit a home run in his three years of pro ball. But as he is still a teenager there is plenty of time for that physical development to progress. it is possible that Mejia could return to the AZL squad next season, but given the number of promising infielders that will scratching and clawing for playing time with both the AZL and Eugene squads next year, including the two guys we'll discuss next, Mejia likely needs to show some progress soon or he may see himself getting lost in the shuffle.
Two very interesting prospects that competed in EXST and made a positive impression on John prior to being sent down to compete in the DSL this year have returned. They are Christopher Morel and Orian Nunez. Morel is the bigger, stronger, faster but less advanced of the two having missed all of 2016 in a freak household accident where he walked through a glass door that lacerated his arm badly enough that it required surgery. He used the opportunity to add weight to his frame and is now larger than his listed 140 pounds from the time of his signing in the Cubs massive 2015 IFA class. He created some buzz at instructs last fall thanks to his surprising bat speed, strength and athleticism that is not necessarily what you would expect from his still lanky frame. It took him a while to get going once the DSL season opened, but as an 18-year old who hadn't competed in a game setting in over a year that shouldn't be held against him. Eventually he showed all the attributes that had scouts excited including very good contact skills (13.8% K rate), good power (7 HR) and speed as well (23/33 SB). Also encouraging was his 13.1% BB rate that nearly matched his strikeout rate which is impressive for an inexperienced teenager in pro ball regardless the level of competition. I have him listed as a third baseman because that is where John projected him to play in the future, but Morel did in fact play SS all season in the DSL, and the door is not thought to be closed on him at the position.
Speaking of good contact skills, the prospect that posted the lowest K rate of any of the players that I tracked in the system this season was in fact Orian Nunez. His 7.8% K rate is pretty astounding as again we are talking about a teenager. Nunez is known as a grinder that lacks the physical projection of many of the players on this list but is a player that just knows how to hit. he was the most effective hitter for the DSL Cubs2 team throughout the year as he bounced between shortstop, second and third base defensively. With the reports of his limited athleticism even as a teenager I am listing him among the third basemen for now, but if in fact he can handle either or both middle infield spots moving forward it would be a tremendous boon to his chances.