The Arizona Fall League is the preeminent prospect league after the regular season, and it was set to be a supreme showcase for the Chicago Cubs, with each of The Big Four – Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Albert Almora -participating, plus long-awaited pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino. A long regular season and playoffs took Baez out of the picture, and a continued, protracted recovery from Tommy John (and bone spur) surgery took Vizcaino out.
Still, it was a rich group that the Cubs sent to Arizona this year, and they all performed fairly well. Let’s update where things stand with the eight prospects, whose participation in the league I previewed here.
- Albert Almora – The Cubs’ top pick in 2012, Almora came into the AFL looking for some extra games and at bats, having lost a handful to various injuries throughout the 2013 campaign. Almora picked up those games (21) and at bats (75), and performed extremely well at the plate in the field. Despite being the second youngest player in the league (just a few days older than the youngest, and playing against relative professional veterans two and three years his senior), Almora hit .307/.342/.480. Despite his youth, starting 2014 at High-A now seems fairly likely.
- 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. For Beeler, 24, the AFL was as much about making up some of the lost innings as it was about checking him out before he becomes eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year. Beeler performed reasonably well in the hitter-friendly league, posting a 2.49 ERA over 21.2 innings (not including his fantastic five inning start in the Championship Game on Saturday). He struck out just nine, however, and walked five. Beeler has always been something of a “pitch to contact” pitcher with a nice sinker, who doesn’t give up homers. The lack of an ability to consistently miss bats, however, limits his upside. Is he a guy you absolutely have to add to the 40-man? I’m not so sure. His style doesn’t project as a quality bullpen stash for a team grabbing him in the Rule 5, and the Cubs do have a fair bit of upper level starting pitching depth of his caliber. I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s added, or if he’s not.
- 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 continued playing third base in the AFL (making many believe he can stick there, but small sample and all that), and continued mashing. His .364/.457/.727 line was good enough to nab league MVP honors, and he figures to start the 2014 season at AA Tennessee. Maybe someone will finally challenge him.
- Lendy Castillo – The Cubs’ Rule 5 (and stash) pick for the 2012 season, Castillo – who took Vizcaino’s AFL roster spot – had a forgettable season in 2012 before rebounding somewhat at the lowest levels this year. His AFL performance was mixed, with a 1.79 ERA over 10.1 innings with 7 strikeouts, and … 12 walks. Castillo will be Rule 5 eligible this year, and will almost certainly not be added to the 40-man roster. He wouldn’t seem a legitimate threat to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft, though he does offer velocity.
- 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 (as he further evinced in the AFL, with a .171/.237/.286 line over 11 games), but he walks a bit and doesn’t strike out too much. A future as a bench guy is not out of the question, but I strongly doubt he’s added to the 40-man roster at this point, or selected in the Rule 5 Draft.
- Matt Loosen – One of the toughest decisions ahead of the Rule 5 Draft. Loosen 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. 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). In the AFL, Loosen put up a 3.29 ERA over 13.2 innings. In true Loosen form, he struck out 14 (awesome) but walked 6 (not so good). Will he be added to the 40-man roster? I doubt this made the decision in either direction. It would be interesting to see what he could do in short bursts out of the bullpen, because he’s obviously got the stuff.
- 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. Rivero got in another 11 innings of work in the AFL, striking out 9 and walking 5. He had a 4.91 ERA. Rivero, 25, will probably start the season at AAA Iowa, though he could in a little more time at AA. He’s on the radar for the bullpen in the bigs at some point in 2014, though.
- 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), and his 2013 season was over barely halfway through it. Fortunately, Soler made up some of that time in the AFL, adding 20 games and 85 at bats. In them, he hit .271/.311/.376, and was reportedly not running as well as he did pre-injury. Soler, himself, suggested at least once that he wasn’t quite back to 100% yet, and his coaches suggested that he just needed time to get back into baseball shape. Other scouts said Soler looked huge (in a good way), and their impression of him going forward remained unchanged. He’s a top prospect. It’s conceivable that Soler starts 2014 back at High-A for a little bit, but AA seems more likely.