At some point in the next week or two, the Arizona Fall League rosters will be announced. I have been told behind the scenes that players are being asked if they’d be willing to participate, and teams are working to compile sensible rosters.
I thought it would be fun to consider, if it were up to me: which prospects would I ask to head to Mesa?
A refresher on the AFL: the league is a 6-team development-focused league that will play this year between late September and late October. Each team is a compilation of 7-9 prospects from five different organizations. The Cubs share the Mesa Solar Sox with the Indians, Tigers, Angels, and A’s.
The league is usually about AA equivalent, with a little more talent and a little less refinement than traditional Double-A baseball. The Cubs will generally choose players that need additional playing time, be it they lost some due to injury or a jobshare, or someone that needs to work on something specific developmentally (especially if they’re Rule 5-eligible and on the fence).
Here’s who I would pick, and why:
Why: You probably hadn’t realized this, but among Cubs minor leaguers with 200 full-season plate appearances, Balego has the second-best wRC+ in the system (behind only Robel Garcia). A year ago, Balego was failing in a conversion to catcher, not hitting a lick. He was probably the very last position player assigned to Myrtle Beach. But he’s unexpectedly been the team’s best hitter, and I’d like to see more. He’s 24 and in A-ball, so the ball needs to get rolling. He’s a strong corner infielder, and some time spent focusing more on power development – outside of the confines of Myrtle Beach’s pitching-friendly environment – could be good for a system bereft of power.
Why: This really could be any of the relievers in Myrtle Beach having a lot of success: Camargo, Ryan Lawlor, Manuel Rodriguez, Garrett Kelly. Whomever the Cubs deem most in need of development, while still having a puncher’s chance at reaching the bigs, should get the spot. I think Rodriguez is probably the best relief prospect of the group, but I don’t know that he needs the extra workload. While Camargo is also at a career-high in innings right now, he was previously a starter, and I think could be stretched for 10-20 more.
Why: The 2016 sixth-round pick returned from Tommy John surgery in late June, and has pitched really well, compiling a 42.2 K% between rehab in the AZL and his assignment to Myrtle Beach. Hockin doesn’t have big fastball velocity (low 90s), but hitters don’t see the breaking ball at all. The former Cal State Fullerton reliever will turn 25 in October, so he needs the innings to keep the development moving.
Why: Hudson was looking really solid in April after some offseason enhancements, and on April 29, pitched his last game for more than three months. Hudson has recently been rehabbing in Arizona, pitching both in relief and as a starter. Most people I’ve spoken with believe it’s an eventual certainty that Hudson, the tall third-round pick in 2015, ends up in the bullpen. I would use the AFL to see what he looks like in that role. Reason to believe his insane groundball rate would make for a great fit.
Why: Handled with kid gloves since his first-round selection, I really want to see Little challenged with an AFL assignment. It’s the choice I’m the most passionate about, bar none. The 23-year-old southpaw missed the season’s first two-and-a-half months with a lat injury, and with South Bend in July flashed the best stuff of his professional career. The AFL would be the most difficult environment that Little has played, but he has the talent to answer the call.
Why: There are some Major League skills here, and Myers in 26, so it’s time to squeeze everything out of him that can be squeezed. He’s one of the best outfield defenders in the system, and he’s 55-for-73 on the basepaths as a professional (15-for-19 this year). He can hit lefties a little bit. Myers doesn’t walk at all, and so maybe you could tie his entire experience into adding a little more patience. Iowa bench spots will be available next year, and if Myers played great, perhaps he could win one.
Why: The AFL used to begin later, and because of it, soon-to-be minor league free agents were not eligible. That changes this year, and will be a unique opportunity for some guys to make a name for themselves. Pereda is someone I could see helped by the experience. The Cubs will probably decide to bring back Pereda or Taylor Davis to be the Iowa Cubs catcher next year. Going to Arizona and showing there’s actually some power in his bat would help Pereda win the job.
Why: It’s been a really disappointing season for Young, who was tabbed by many as a breakout prospect that would become the Cubs best corner hitting prospect. Instead, Young’s inability to draw walks stagnated his offense in the first half. Young’s walk rate is a much better 8.5% in the second half, and I’d love for him to try and build on this development in Arizona. Plus, the opportunity to play in a better hitting environment might give more confidence in his power game. It’s in there.
BONUS: ZACK SHORT, TAXI SQUAD
Why: Important thing here – I’d be sending Zack to the AFL to play center field. The taxi squad is a group of players that is eligible only twice per week, and is there to work with coaches behind the scenes. Short did lose a significant amount of time this season from a hand injury, but he’s refined a level beyond this league. I’d be more interested to use the opportunity to build his versatility, as I think he could play a competent CF if provided the reps. I don’t think this will happen, but it’s my pet idea.