Good morning! Tomorrow starts another Arizona Fall League, which will kick off Cubs Den’s exclusive coverage of the off-season leagues. Today, we preview the position players assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox.
Trent Giambrone, INF/OF
For those who enjoyed the seemingly out-of-nowhere rise of David Bote, they will no doubt try to draw comparisons of him to Trent Giambrone. But once you get past the idea that both are primarily second basemen that have played other positions, the comparisons end.
Unlike Bote, the 24-year old Giambrone has enjoyed a rapid ascension through the Cubs system following his selection in the 25th round of the 2016 draft. After signing, Giambrone posted an .837 OPS in 51 games as he assisted Short Season-A Eugene in securing the Northwest League championship. Giambrone was then jumped to Advanced-A Myrtle Beach in 2017, where he was pressed into service as a shortstop for the first half of the year while posting a .242/.297/.348/.644 line with 12 home runs, 44 RBI, and 7 stolen bases.
Promoted to Double-A Tennessee this past season, Giambrone saw a bump in both his power and speed numbers by swatting 17 homers and stealing 26 bases. While showing even production throughout the season, Giambrone only had a slight increase in his offensive line to .251/.333/.440/.772 as he lined up a five defensive positions.
Therein lies the other difference with Bote. At only 5’8”, 175-pounds, Giambrone is limited in how effective he can be at third base, first base and outfield on any regular basis. As a middle infielder, Giambrone has only posted average numbers at second base while lacking the range to play shortstop regularly. But by getting the most out of what he has, Giambrone has demonstrated the determination that plays well on major league rosters.
PJ Higgins, C/INF
From the very beginning, PJ Higgins was a project for the Cubs’ front office. Selected in the 12th round of the 2015 draft as a middle infielder, the product of Old Dominion University was placed into the organization’s catcher conversion program in the ensuing Fall Instructional League.
Higgins took to the position change well, and along with playing first base, went .283/.389/.355/.744 with 40 RBI in 121 games for Low-A South Bend in 2015. The next stop was Myrtle Beach for Higgins. However, things did not go as smoothly.
For the 2016 season, Higgins battled injuries and a lack of offensive production, as he hit only .237/.327/.298/.625 with 4 home runs and 23 RBI in 98 games. The good news was that Higgins actually improved defensively as he fielded .991 with a 31% caught stealing rate as he played exclusively behind the plate.
The 2018 season saw Higgins role expanding, as he returned for another stint with the Pelicans. Higgins moved back to the infield on occasion, lining up at both third and first base while remaining top notch as a backstop. There was also an offensive upturn for the 25-year old, as a .289 average with 3 home runs and 37 RBI in 69 games bought him a promotion to Tennessee in early July. Higgins regressed some offensively with the jump, but remained rock solid on defense to end up at .271/.353/.366/.719 with 22 doubles, 4 homers, and 52 RBI in 110 games.
As a catcher, Higgins has great athleticism and good pop times, along with a true arm. With his ability to back up other positions, Higgins can become a plus reserve with starter potential if he is able to straighten out his offense.
Nico Hoerner, INF
The Cubs will not be looking to find out exactly what they have in Nico Hoerner like they are in other prospects assigned to the AFL. What they will be looking at is how far will Hoerner be able to advance in the coming year.
Selected with the 24th choice in the 2018 draft, the 21-year old Hoerner demonstrated the same type of ability that allowed other Cub first round selections Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Ian Happ to breeze through the lower minor leagues.
Hoerner pushed through three levels in just 14 games, batting .327/.450/.571/1.021 with 2 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs, 6 RBI, and 6 stolen bases. Hoerner also showed outstanding range and athleticism at shortstop.
A wrist injury in his non-throwing arm put Hoerner on the shelf for the rest of the regular season. His performance in the AFL will most likely determine where in the minors Hoerner begins the 2019 season.
Jhonny Pereda, C/1B
One of the more unassuming prospects in the Cubs’ minor leagues, Jhonny Pereda burst onto the scene this past season.
Part of the 2012 international signing class, Pereda spent two years in the now defunct Venezuelan Summer League, posting a .221 batting average but demonstrating strong catching skills. Pereda came stateside in 2015 and once again, spent two years in the Arizona Rookie League. After playing only 11 games in 2015, Pereda showed the first glimpses of his potential in 2016 as he hit .289/.376/.406/.782 with 2 homers and 23 RBI in 41 games.
The Cubs then jumped Pereda a level in 2017 and assigned him to South Bend. The result was mixed, as Pereda batted .249/.335/.290/.625 with 13 doubles and 29 RBI in 92 games. Pereda also played more first base, taking to the position well.
The expectations were not very high as he was assigned to Myrtle Beach this past season, but Pereda was able to tap into his natural power. With 8 home runs, Pereda hit three more that he had in his entire career. Pereda also had 12 doubles, 2 triples, 57 RBI, and a .272/.347/.363/.710 line. Pereda returned to strictly catching and had another strong defensive showing.
Pereda has strong defensive skills, posting a .986 career fielding average with a 39% caught stealing rate as a catcher, while fielding .995 at first base. At 22 -years old, it’s too soon to call Pereda a late blooming prospect. But in his sixth professional season, Pereda may be finally coming into his own.
DJ Wilson, OF
For a young player, Daryl “DJ” Wilson has a lot to prove going into the Arizona Fall League.
A fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft, Wilson was considered to be a five-tool player coming out of Canton (OH) South High School. After inking a deal with the Cubs, Wilson went on to bat .266/.322/.354/.676 with 5 stolen bases in 22 games of the Arizona Rookie League.
Still a teenager at the time, Wilson got off to a slow start batting lead-off for Short Season-A Eugene in 2016. A drop in the batting order led to a .313 average in the second half of the season for Wilson to finish with a .257/.320/.371/.691 line with 3 home runs, 29 RBI and 21 stolen bases in 64 games.
In 2017 with Low-A South Bend, Wilson once again began slowly when he suffered a freak ankle injury that sidelined him for about a third of the season. Wilson came back for 49 games in the second half to hit .229/.309/.419/.729 with 16 doubles, 8 triples, 9 home runs, 45 RBI, and 15 stolen bases for the year.
Injuries again took their toll on the 5’8”, 177-pounder in 2018 as he only played 64 games and posted a .219 average with a single home run and 13 RBI.
Considered a solid defender with an elite throwing arm, the 21-year old sometimes takes too many chances in the outfield. For the most part, Wilson is an explosive athlete with a rare power/speed combination who can be special if he able to tap into his potential.
Note: Reports from John Arguello and Michael Ernst contributed to this article.