The 2013 Arizona Fall League kicks off today in, well, Arizona. The league annual features a host of the top prospects in baseball, and the Chicago Cubs’ contingent is no exception.
Although the Cubs’ group took a hit when Javier Baez was excused from participating (not in the pejorative sense), and Arodys Vizcaino was shifted to the Instructional League, it’s still a sparkling crew, among the best in baseball:
- Albert Almora – The Cubs’ top pick in 2012, Almora hit extremely well in his debut at low-A Kane County this year … when he was on the field. Almora battled a variety of seemingly unrelated and un-serious injuries this year that collectively cost him about half a season. He plays fantastic defense in center field, and is expected to move up relatively quickly in the Cubs’ system over the coming years. A strong showing in the AFL – where Almora is a few days short of being the youngest player in the entire league – could give the Cubs even more confidence in starting Almora out at High-A next year, with an eye toward a midseason promotion to AA.
- Dallas Beeler – A right-handed starting pitcher, Beeler was a fast-riser in 2011, his first full year after being drafted in 2010 as a Tommy John recoveree. He wasn’t quite as effective in 2012, and he had an injured tendon in his hand this year, which limited him to just nine starts. Getting Beeler, 24, in the AFL is likely as much about making up some of the lost innings as it is about checking him out before he becomes eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year. Even if he pitches well, I’d doubt Beeler will be added to the 40-man roster.
- Kris Bryant – The Cubs’ top pick in 2013, Bryant tore up the Northwest League and then the Florida State League while playing third base. He’ll play there some more in the AFL, but he might get a look in the outfield. That’ll keep his bat in the lineup, and it’ll also give the Cubs an eye on his abilities out there as they plan for the future.
- Lendy Castillo – The Cubs’ Rule 5 (and stash) pick for the 2012 season, Castillo – who took Vizcaino’s roster spot – had a forgettable season in 2012 before rebounding somewhat at the lowest levels this year. Remember, Castillo hadn’t pitched above A-ball when the Cubs took him in the Rule 5 Draft. He had a whole lot of development left ahead of him, and he may have turned a corner this year when he was shifted to the bullpen. He had 21 Ks and 7 BBs in 20 High-A innings this year, all in relief. His stats at Kane County, when he was starting … eh. You can forget those. Castillo, like Beeler, is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year.
- Wes Darvill – Another fill-in (Darvill took Baez’s spot), and another Rule 5-eligible player, Darvill is a utility type who just turned 22 and can play in the middle infield. He’s a light-hitting type, but he walks a bit and doesn’t strike out too much. There’s clearly some evaluation going on with Darvill for the Cubs, though he will be a member of the taxi squad, and thus eligible to play only twice a week.
- Matt Loosen – No-hitter, no-hitter, no-hitter! Ok, the 24-year-old righty did a lot more than “just” throw a no-hitter this year. He dominated at the High-A level, but struggled with control when he got a shot at AA. Loosen has always been able to strike guys out, but as he’s climbed the ladder, his walk rate has climbed right along with him. A legitimate starting pitching prospect, the Cubs almost certainly want to get a close look at Loosen before he becomes Rule 5-eligible this Winter. There’s a chance he could show them enough to be placed on the 40-man roster, but, with the influx of pitching talent over the past two years, it doesn’t seem as likely as it once did. The good news is that Loosen’s worst struggles at AA came early in the year. He was demoted to High-A, where he was fantastic, and then was re-promoted to AA. He pitched better at AA late in the year than he ever had before at the level, but it’s all relative (the ERA was still approaching 5 and the walk rate was not where it needs to be).
- Armando Rivero – A signee out of Cuba in the offseason (for a healthy $3.1 million), Rivero got a late start this year, and managed just 30.1 innings. In them, though, he struck out 45 batters across stints at Low-A, High-A, and AA, with his best performances coming later in the year at the higher levels. The AFL for Rivero is all about getting in additional innings against top-level competitors, and seeing how close he could be to helping out the big league bullpen. He’s on the radar for 2014.
- Jorge Soler – Unfortunately, Soler injured his leg in Spring Training (though we didn’t hear about it), and a foul ball off his shin mid-season left him with a stress fracture (that may or may not have been there all year) that ended his season before it really got going. Soler hit well enough at High-A to leave you optimistic about what’s to come, but the AFL will be a nice opportunity for him to make up some at bats. Between the injury this year and the defection process over the preceding two years, Soler has barely played any actual, organized baseball in the last few years. With a good AFL showing and a healthy offseason, Soler could start next year at AA.
The AFL runs through mid-November, and should give us a fair bit of prospecting stuff to discuss, particularly as Almora and Soler get in some long-awaited post-injury action.