Of the six farm teams in the United States, five are still in postseason contention as we head into the final week of the minor league season. Two teams are almost certainly in the playoffs, one team is in a battle that will likely go to the end, and two are barely alive and need more than a little luck to creep in the postseason. If you have ignored the minors all season, now is the time to pay attention. Playoff races are exciting at any level, and there are some good ones involving Cub organizations this year. That Northwest League race, in particular, should be well worth following this week.
But today the focus is turned south and east where the Dominican Summer League and Venezuelan Summer League are also wrapping up their seasons. After a survey of the standings we will start sifting through the stats and looking for prospects who could come out of the Caribbean and make a name for themselves in Arizona in the next year or two.
Iowa Cubs : 61-74
The Omaha Storm Chasers currently lead this division. Iowa is five games behind, but they are effectively out of time. Their elimination number is down to five as well, and they also trail Memphis. The Cubs are in a series with Memphis now, and Omaha comes to town at the conclusion of that set of games. It might be premature to say Iowa is out of it completely, but winning this division will not be easy. At this stage they really cannot afford to lose a game.
Tennessee Smokies : 36-25
The Smokies are about to clinch this thing. They are in first place with a commanding 7.5 game lead over second place Birmingham, and their magic number is down to two. They could lock up the division any day now. In terms of overall standings they trail Birmingham by two games and Mobile by three and a half. Birmingham is catchable, but given how well Mobile has been playing lately I do not see the Smokies clearing that milestone.
Daytona Cubs : 32-19
Daytona remains in first place with a six game lead, and their magic number is also six. When they can play they have a three game winning streak going, but a series of road rainouts has kept them off the field much of the week. Not only does Daytona control the division in the second half, they also have a commanding lead over the FSL North in terms of the overall standings. They trail Fort Myers for the overall league lead. Provided Daytona can get on the field, though, I think the Miracle can be caught.
Kane County Cougars : 22-38
Kane County has been eliminated. Now that that formality is out of the way the next goal is to climb out of the basement. They trail seventh place Burlington by two and a half games.
Boise Hawks : 18-12
The Hawks are now in a tie for first place place with Hillsboro, but Salem-Keizer is lurking just a game behind. I think we can expect this division to go right down to the wire, and that plays in the Hawks favor. They are a very good home team, and they finish the season with three against each of Salem-Keizer and Hillsboro. If they can survive this weekend’s series at Hillsboro, the Hawks could be in the drivers seat as we head into the final week.
Arizona AZL Cubs : 12-12
The AZL Cubs are on the brink of elimination. The Giants are again in first place, and the Cubs elimination number is one. Despite that the Cubs could still finish as high as second place in the division for the second half. In order to slip into the playoffs, though, they will need to catch the Angles in the overall standings; the Cubs trail the Angels by three games. It is not impossible that this team could reach the postseason, but it is unlikely.
The Next Wave
I am not sure of the value in trying to interpolate player ceilings and floors from DSL and VSL statistics. Because of the wide disparity in ages and situations in these leagues, even assembling a useful ranking list from those numbers would be a challenge. A great prospect may only be putting up mediocre numbers due to injuries or adjustments that are not well communicated by the teams, for example. For that reason I don’t think we can consider this list as the collection of all the top talent for the Cubs in Caribbean, but it is a list of many of the prospects with a very good chance to come to Arizona in the next year or so. Ultimately it is in Mesa that we will start to sort the good prospects from the rest of the rosters.
That said, there are some very attractive stat lines on this list. If the prospects are good as good as the number suggest, then the Cubs could have another wave of solid talent ready to come across the sea.
You will notice that I refer to WHIP for pitchers at this level far more often than I do at higher levels in the farm system. WHIP (Walks plus Hits divided Innings Pitched) is a tricky stat to work with because half of the equation is affected by the defense. A good pitcher on a bad defensive team will have a higher WHIP than talent alone would indicate. This deep in the minors, though, nearly all the defenses (especially infield defenses) are pretty bad. That factor is reduced in impact to some degree.
A WHIP around 1.000 or less is a pretty good indicator that the pitcher in question is worth some attention. I also pull out H/9 and BB/9 as well as the old standby K/BB to identify prospect worth monitoring, but at this level those stats appear to track well with WHIP, so I use WHIP as a summary stat. The more focused category breakdowns should be available on the Baseball Reference page that is linked from each player name.
Jose Paulino, LHP, DSL – 58 innings, 71 strikeouts. If that doesn’t get your attention I suggest you grab another cup of coffee. This 6’2″ 165 lbs lefty (that’s right, over six feet and still under 170 lbs; he has a lot of muscle to add in the next few years) also features a GO/AO of 1.97 (impressive), a WHIP of 1.017 (also impressive), and has allowed just one home run this season. This is Paulino’s second season in the DSL and he just turned 18 in April. I strongly suspect he will be in Mesa for his 19th birthday.
Adbert Alzolay, RHP, VSL – Alzolay, who turned 18 in March, is in his first season with the Cubs. He doesn’t have the dominate strikeout numbers of Paulino, but 61 K in 67 isn’t bad. More impressive is his hits per nine innings of just 6.6. Over 67 innings this guy has allowed just 49 hits, and that in turn has allowed him to post a miniscule WHIP of 0.881.
Pedro Araujo, RHP, DSL – This guy does not have as many innings as the first two on this list, but I like what he has done so far. Through 25.2 innings (primarily in relief) Araujo has struck out 31, walked just 3, and given up a grand total of 15 hits. That leads to ridiculous numbers like a K/9 of 10.7, a K/BB of 9.00, and a WHIP of 0.662. Araujo turned 20 in July is playing his third year in the Dominican. That is an oddly long stay in this league, but his numbers this year are much better than he has posted in past seasons. That improvement should be enough to give him a shot in Arizona.
Greyfer Eregua, RHP, VSL – I’ve written about Eregua before, and not just because he has one of the best names in the farm system. He is a smaller right hander (5′ 11″) who is in his second season and will turn 20 in October, but he is showing some of the best control at this level. Thanks to just 3 walks and 42 strikeouts over 43.1 innings, he has an absurd K/BB of 14.00.
Jose Zapata, RHP, DSL – Zapata is a bit of a mystery man right now. Neither MLB.com nor Baseball Reference have a height or weight on him. What we do know is that he just turned 20 in July, this is first season with the Cubs, and it is hard to get a hit off him. His WHIP of 0.818 breaks down into a H/9 of just 5.9 and a BB/9 of 1.5. He is a very good ground ball pitcher as well, posting a GO/AO of 1.71 on the season.
Dalfis Ortiz, 2B, DSL – It wouldn’t be a Cubs’ prospect list if it didn’t have at least one good hitting middle infielder, and Ortiz already fits that description. Ortiz is on the older side for the league (he turned 21 in February), and this is his second season. His first season was not terribly impressive as he finished with an OPS of .707. So far this year that number is .922. Through 205 trips to the plate he has walked 25 times against 22 strikeouts, hit a homer and 9 triples, and stole 14 bases in 21 chances. And on top of that, he’s a switch hitter. He has struggled some against lefties, but that just masks that fact this his OPS against right handers is a stunning 1.013. The age will be a concern to some, but it is hard to pass up a chance to see how that bat will translate stateside.
Delbis Arcila, OF, VSL – Arcila is a bit of a strange case. He just turned 20 in April making on the old side for the league, and with three years in the Caribbean he is as close to a veteran as we are likely to see. His numbers from previous seasons have not been that impressive, but the 10 home runs and OPS of .927 from this campaign deserve some notice. Strike outs could be a problem for this lefty slugger going forward (62 in 277 PA is high at this low level), but his walks will help that somewhat. Despite his unusually long wait for a trip to Mesa, I suspect his performance this year will result in that ticket.
Jenner Emeterio, OF, DSL – In his second season, Emeterio, who turned 20 in March, makes this list for two reasons. First, he has walked 46 times against 41 strikeouts in 247 trips to the plate, and second, he has 36 steals. His non-existent power has led to a pedestrian OPS of .706 despite a very strong OBP of .406, but at 6’1″ and a 170 lbs there may be some more power to come as he picks up weight and muscle. If not he will have to make his way into the USA with his speed, walks, and (hopefully) defense.
Eufran Vargas, C, VSL – Vargas is in his second year with the Cubs and just turned 19 in July. He appears to have missed a large chunk of the season (injury I think) but he has played well when on the field. In 50 trips to the plate he has an OPS of .997 to go with his 7 walks and 10 strikeouts. There is a sample size alert on this one, but the difference between his stats this year and last is so pronounced that I strongly suspect the improvement is not all the result of an anomalous hot streak. If he is for real he could soon become one of the better hitting catching prospects in the system.
Roney Alcala, C/3B, DSL – Alcala is in his second season with the Cubs and just turned 19 in February. He began the season in Venezuela and was moved to the Dominican Republic at the end of July. His DSL numbers are low, but in the VSL he was beating up opposing pitching to the tune of a .930 OPS with 9 home runs and 5 steals. Listed as a catcher, he has actually spent most of his time at third base or in the outfield. Those are likely the positions he will continue to play when he moves to Arizona.
Bryant Flete, SS, DSL – A smaller left handed hitter, Flete turned 20 in February and is in his second season. He also began the year with Venezuela and was recently moved to the Dominican. For the season Flete has walked 45 times against 44 strikeouts in 318 trips to the plate. His OPS of .728 is brought down by a lack of power, but a 146 lb shortstop is not generally expected to hit for power. He does have 17 steals, but it took him 31 tries to collect them.