On Monday afternoon the Cubs AA and AAA teams traveled to Tempe to take on the Angels affiliates. Adbert Alzolay made his 2018 debut and according to an Angels blogger on hand Alzolay was his usual mid-90s with a plus curve. I have no reports regarding how he looked, but Thomas Hatch also made his first appearance of the spring.
The Cubs brought the pair of right handers to big league camp, Alzolay because of his presence on the 40-man roster and Hatch on a non-roster invite, but it was clear early on that it was meant more as an introductory experience. Both pitched more innings last season than they ever had before and I believe the plan was always to bring them along slowly this spring. They took a different approach with Oscar De La Cruz, who is at a similar level of development but missed significant time last year. He was given a handful of opportunities in Major League games, likely as a way to catch up a bit on the experience he missed out on in the AFL and fall instructs in 2017.
Meanwhile, on the backfields in Mesa on John Arguello Way, Pedro Strop also made his first appearance on Monday, pitching for the South Bend squad. Strop had been held back by a calf strain throughout the spring, but AZ Phil reports he looked to be in top form as he blew away four of the five batters he faced on just 18 pitchers (16 strikes). His fellow bullpen mates Brandon Morrow and Brian Duensing also got in some work during the game.
A few prospects also turned in performances of note so far this week. Returning from a broken leg suffered last season, third baseman Wladimir Galindo pounded out three hits for Myrtle Beach on Monday, while De La Cruz combined with lefties Jose Paulino and Wyatt Short to hold the opposition to just one run on ten hits and two walks. The highlight from Tuesday was a mammoth grand slam off the bat of Kevonte Mitchell as part of a nine-run 5th inning that sparked Myrtle Beach to victory. Erich Uelmen pitched four dominant innings for the South Bend squad, striking out five and inducing six ground outs against zero recorded in the air. I am excited to see how both of those players progress throughout 2018. They have the potential to surprise a lot of people.
We also received our first description of recent international signing Alexander Guerra. The catcher is a Cuban defector the Cubs signed in late October. He debuted in the Serie Nacional as a 17-year old back in 2015. After struggling at the dish his first year, he posted much stronger numbers in 2016, slashing 267/375/465 with 6 HR in 33 games. Now 20 years old, he sat out all of 2017. According to AZ Phil:
"Alexander Guerra is fairly polished both at bat and behind the plate and he has some HR power (at least he shows it in BP) and what looks (to me) like above-average exit velocity off the bat in games, but he probably could stand to lose a few pounds. I would be surprised if he weighs less than 275. He is a load. He makes Rene Rivera look thin."