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.