Arizona Fall League Report: Week 1

The early offensive star of the Arizona Fall League season is a Cubs prospect. And it is probably the least talked about among the eight the club sent to Mesa. In fact, you may have even forgot he was there.

David Bote leads the league in all three triple slash categories (.556/.600/1.111), hits (10), TB (20) and HR (3). He has reached base multiple times in each of his first 5 games and collected at least 2 hits in 4 of them. Bote has quietly put together back-to-back strong seasons for the Cubs (.328/.399/.492 in 2016 and .272/.353/.438 in 2017). He may be hopelessly buried on the depth chart behind Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ, Tommy La Stella and possibly Chesny Young at second base but look for Bote to open next spring as the starter for Iowa at that spot and from there who knows if an opportunity will present itself.

After beginning the campaign hitless in his first 3 games, Jason Vosler collected his first hit yesterday. He is now 1 for 15 with 1 run scored and 1 run batted in. Vosler led the Cubs system in homers this season but has yet to go deep for Mesa.

Catcher Ian Rice has started two games, going 1 for 6, but he has shown off the two skills that make him an intriguing sleeper. First, he has taken a walk in both games, something he did to the tune of 15.2% during the regular season. And while he does not have a home run yet, his one hit was a double. Rice's .193 regular season ISO trailed only Victor Caratini in the Cubs system.

Charcer Burks has yet to appear in a game.

On the pitching side, the best performances have been turned in by the you would most expect. Adbert Alzolay has made 2 appearances out of the Mesa pen, going 2 innings each time, and he has yet to surrender a base runner. His 7 strikeouts put him 5th in the league. Alzolay is one of the Cubs top starting pitching prospects but if he should fail to establish himself in that role he has the stuff to become a shutdown reliever as a fallback. I know some people would deem that a disappointment, but in light of the bullpen's performance in the NLDS, I think most can see the value of an impact reliever.

Starting pitcher Alec Mills, who missed the majority of the 2017 season after coming over in an offseason trade from the Royals organization was the Mesa opening night starter. He pitched well the first two innings before having the wheels come off in the 3rd when he gave up 4 runs. Mills rebounded in his second start, allowing just 1 run on 4 hits over 4 innings, while generating a ton of ground balls. Mills join Jen-Ho Tseng, Duane Underwood, Jr. and recent waiver acquisition Luke Farrell as starting pitching options down in Iowa next season. In 72 innings in the PCL over the past 2 seasons Mills has posted an even 4.00 ERA, which is quite strong given the offensive nature of the league.

The Cubs have also sent a pair of relievers that need a strong 2018 season in order to establish themselves as potential bullpen candidates down the road. Pedro Araujo (2 IP, 2 H, ER, 3 K) was resigned to a successor contract last month after he established himself as one of the finest relievers in the Carolina League. He was a tad old for the league, and the club promoted several younger arms ahead of him throughout the season, so it is difficult to gauge where he stands in the organizational pecking order but the fact they brought him back and deemed him worthy of extra time against the top competition in the AFL shows they still feel there may be upside with the 6'3" righty from the Dominican Republic. Araujo figures to begin 2018 as a main cog in the Tennessee bullpen.

A pitcher likely to join him in the Smokies pen next season, former 2nd round pick Jake Stinnett (2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, BB, 2 K) missed the first half of 2017 but posted 27 Ks in 22.2 IP and a 1.19 ERA upon his return. His days as a starting pitcher appear over, which given that he will turn 26 next April seems to be a prudent move, as his development needs to be accelerated from this point on if he is to have a lengthy MLB career. The early returns from his move to the pen have been positive, but the Cubs org has a number of hard throwers that he will be have to beat out moving forward. It will likely come down to which of the relievers can master their command quickest.


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  • I just don't see it with Mills. If the Cubs need Mills in their rotation in 2018 and beyond, we are in serious trouble. I think Tseng has more upside just from his repertoire of pitches, so not sure where that leaves Mills. We really can't afford two borderline 5's in the rotation and I'm not sure he provides the so often called for "depth" in pitching.

    Starters are far more valuable than relievers, so my hope is for Alzolay to stick in the rotation. His 7 K's in 4 innings is very impressive thus far.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I see him more as a middle relief option than as a starter. Tseng is definitely a better option at this point if they need a full time starter, but as a fill in in case of a short term injury? Mills has enough to fill that role. He is depth, not a long term solution. He never really had a chance to establish himself this year due to the injury. I want to see how he comes out of next spring training.

    Of course starters are more valuable, but shutdown relievers can still have a big impact and I think there is too much "oh, he is a bust because he didn't become a starter" thinking that permeates in fan circles.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Yep, shut down relievers are a must. I wouldn't think of Alzolay as a bust. I just want to see one of our MILB pitchers become a TOR type.

    Great video on Alzolay too. Kid looks really good pounding the zone in that 1 inning of work.

  • He is some video of Alzolay from last week:

  • Good to hear that Stinnett is doing well again. Thought he had some potential as a starter,... but if he 'just' becomes a leverage RP type - that's still not a bad thing. Inexpensive BP arms are always useful.

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    I'm looking for Maples to be a big part of our bullpen next year. Also, even though not named, I'm hoping that Thomas Hatch can become more consistent in his starts and could be a part of our 2018 season. Good upkeep Michael. I certainly enjoy seeing where our good prospects are and how they're doing.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    They need Maples. While I'm concerned that he will likely have the same inconsistency issues as Edwards, he can also be just as dominant when he is on.

    I think Hatch works his way up to Iowa in second half. Both he and Alzolay could even contribute in Chicago by season's end. Between Maples, Tseng, Alzolay, Hatch, Underwood, and maybe guys like Brooks and Mekkes I think you will see the Cubs get an injection of young depth heading down the stretch into the postseason in 2018. Obviously not all would make the PS roster, but they can contribute in September.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I know seeing them blow the occasional game is disconcerting, but at some point you just need to trust Edwards and Maples to work their way out of jams. Yes, they may walk the bases loaded sometimes but even when they do they have the stuff to escape those jams with limited or no damage. We saw it with Marmol. When he was in his prime he got himself out of almost every jam he got himself into. You can't just yank these guys out every time they walk the first batter.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Mitch Williams also.

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    I also think that the pitchers drafted this year, among them Little and Lange could be available in the second half as at the least bullpen arms. It seems like we have the talent and hopefully the coaches, to see what develops next year.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    2nd half of '18? I would say there is no chance of that. '19? Perhaps.

    I still think we will look back and say why didn't they draft Nate Pearson in a couple of years.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Lange........maybe. And that is a stretch. I think he'll open at Myrtle Beach and could see Tennessee in the second half if all goes well. And from AA, anything can happen, but I think there is enough talent ahead of him in the pipeline that there will be no need to rush him from there.

    Little looked really uncomfortable in Eugene to close the year. He needs time. Probably begins the year in South Bend. If he finishes in Myrtle Beach I'll be happy.

  • I was literally telling a co worker yesterday alzolay will probably pitching out the Cubs pen in the '18 postseason, we were talking about how inconsistent the pen had been since July and especially in the postseason

  • Much as I agree about shut down bullpen arms, Alzolay is one of the few mid-upper minors starters who are MLB caliber that had a good year. Gotta keep him in rotation and have other guys (Stinnett, Underwood, maybe now de la Cruz because he's made of glass) step into those bullpen roles. Maybe put Alzolay in ML pen to get his feet wet at the level, and then move him to rotation, like what happened with Samardzija or (ugh) Wainwright.

    I think with lots of 40 man spots opening this offseason, Cubs should scour waiver wire hard and throw as much as they can at the wall again and see if anything sticks. Eventually it will yield an arm or two.

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