The Cubs may yet clinch their third consecutive trip to the NLCS later today, but the rest of the baseball world doesn’t stop just for them – especially the Minor Leaguers.
And, so, it’s worth noting that the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League is kicking off today (did you know they were doing that start a runner on second base in extra-innings thing this year?), and the Cubs are once again sending some noteworthy youngsters to the top-prospect-heavy fall league:
Oscar De La CruzAdbert Alzolay
- Alec Mills
- Jake Stinnett
- Pedro Araujo
- Ian Rice
- Jason Vosler
- David Bote
- Charcer Burks
The headliner here would have been Oscar De La Cruz (No. 2 on the Top 40), but he’s been removed and replaced by Adbert Alzolay. De La Cruz has basically everything you want to see in a pitching prospect, with one big exception: staying on the mound. He has size, velocity, a good fastball, good command, and good breaking pitches. He can get ground balls. He can get strikeouts. And of all the Cubs’ pitching prospects, he should be the safest bet to establish himself at the front of a major league rotation. But he’ll have to find a way to stay healthy first.
In fact, that’s why he was supposed to be on the AFL roster in the first place … and it’s also why he isn’t anymore. De La Cruz missed most of the 2017 season, and needed some innings this fall to get back on track. But now, according to Carrie Muskat on Twitter, he’s been removed from the AFL so he can have more time to rehab from a minor pectoral injury. Sigh.
At least his replacement, Adbert Alzolay, is the next best thing – literally. We ranked Alzolay the Cubs third best prospect after De La Cruz (2nd) and Jose Albertos (1st): “Long term, I don’t think Alzolay has the highest ceiling of the Cubs top three prospects, but he does have a fairly high floor and a good shot of turning into a quality number three or four starter in a couple years.” The Cubs have had trouble churning out starting pitchers from their Minor League system, so one with a high ceiling is welcomed. Get at it, dude.
Alec Mills (No. 34 on the Top 40) is another ‘was injured and just needs innings’ case, like De La Cruz. Mills entered the season as a candidate to claim a back of the rotation slot for the Cubs’ as soon as next season, and he exits the season with exactly that same status. Mills will likely finish the regular season with fewer than thirty innings on the mound, but if he is healthy he could be a pitcher the Cubs take a long look at in spring training.
In Jake Stinnett (No. 36 on the Top 40) we have a, you guessed it, pitcher who just needs innings. Stinnett went on the disabled list in spring training and did not come off it until after the All Star break. The Cubs also moved him to the bullpen, and then to Double A where he has thrived. Control and consistency have been the factors holding Stinnett back the past couple of seasons, and I suspect while in Arizona he’ll continue to work on those two areas. He’ll also probably continue to pitch out of the bullpen.
I don’t think Stinnett is a threat to challenge for a Major League job in the spring, but if he stays healthy and continues to pitch well in relief, he could be in Wrigley by the end of next season. He is Rule 5 eligible, though, so he could be auditioning for a roster slot with the Cubs as well as for teams who may want to try to stash him at the back of a bullpen as soon as next year.
Pedro Araujo has been healthy, and I am honestly surprised to see him on the AFL list. Araujo has pitched well for Myrtle Beach and Tennessee this year, very well actually, with a High A K/9 of 11.53 and an xFIP of 2.94, but he has also pitched a lot. He has already tossed 63.2 innings in 43 games, and both those numbers are career highs.
On the other hand, Araujo, who is Rule 5 eligible, has had so much success the Cubs’ are likely contemplating adding him to the 40 man roster with the idea of him pitching in the major league bullpen in the later part of next season or sometime the season after. For Araujo, this AFL stint may not be about getting extra innings so much as giving a chance for the Cubs’ front office to take a closer look at him prior to making roster decision in advance of the Rule 5 draft.
Ian Rice (No. 8 on the Top 40), Tennessee’s primary catcher this year, had something of a breakout season. His high walk rate, and good power propelled him up the Cubs’ prospect rankings, but I think it is his glove that may be sending him to Arizona. Rice could be a offensive minded major league backup catcher as soon as next season, but I’m not sure his glove is as advanced as his bat. That said, Rice could be a guy that allows the Cubs to contemplate moving Victor Caratini with some level of confidence that they still have a young backup catcher in house and nearly ready.
Jason Vosler (No. 16 on the Top 40), Tennessee’s third baseman, also had a breakout season with plenty of walks and power, and he is also drawing more prospect attention as a result. Vosler is Rule 5 eligible, so for him this trip to Arizona is probably as much about giving the front office a chance to take a closer look as it is working on his glove and positional versatility. He isn’t going to take third base away from Kris Bryant any time soon, but his left handed bat could be an asset off the bench for the Cubs one day.
David Bote is another Rule 5 eligible infielder who has played very well for Tennessee this year. Primarily a second baseman, Bote has hit a career high 14 homers for the Smokies this year, and that sort of power from a middle infielder is going to draw a bit of attention when the Rule 5 draft rolls around.
And then we have Charcer Burks (No. 13 on the Top 40). Burks is also Rule 5 eligible, but he has a clearer path to a job in Chicago than do either of Vosler or Bote. Burks is a Gold Glove winning left fielder who has posted double digits in home runs and steals each of the last two seasons. It isn’t hard to imagine Burks establishing a role with the Cubs as a defensive fourth outfielder and right handed bat off the bench in the coming years, and I suspect the front office will be watching his Arizona performance with that thought in mind.
Then again, Burks could be of interest to other teams due to his glove, and not just as a Rule 5 pick. Thanks to their bats and their ability to play on the infield, the same could be said of Vosler and Bote. I don’t think any of those guys carry a trade as the primary piece, but any of them (particularly Burks due to his excellent glove) could be a key secondary guy in a number of deals.
There will be no shortage of scouts in Arizona watching for players who could be moved in winter trades, and given that the Cubs need to add a ton of pitching this winter they will no doubt be active on the winter trade market.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.