The Seven Chicago Cubs Prospects for the Arizona Fall League Have Been Selected (UPDATE: Make That Six)
UPDATE: As fearfully discussed below, Cubs catching prospect Miguel Amaya is *NOT* on the official Mesa Solar Sox roster. We just have to hope that it’s not because the ankle injury is VERY severe, and instead is just a matter of him being delayed. You can see he still shows up on the roster page, which means he definitely WAS going to be on the team, but that was only recently changed for today’s announcement. Ugh.
We’ll see if word comes down about how bad the injury is, and if the plan is for him to simply join the AFL when he’s ready. The alternative could be more rest for now, and then winter ball, but I’m flying blind here about just how about the injury is.
*original post follows*
Each year, after the minor league seasons end, there is a prospect league in Arizona for additional high-end competition and player development. The Arizona Fall League is maybe an opportunity for players to face better hitters/pitchers than they faced during the regular season, or maybe an opportunity to make up for time lost to injury, or maybe a final chance for an organization to evaluate prospects ahead of the 40-man rostering decisions in November.
The AFL, which kicks off October 3 and concludes with a championship on November 12, permits organizations to send up to seven prospects to play on combined teams – the Chicago Cubs’ prospects play on the Mesa Solar Sox.
Thanks to Marquee’s Lance Brozdowski, we now know the seven Cubs prospects heading to the AFL:
Going in reverse order there, as Brozdowski notes, we already knew about the three position prospects. Brennen Davis is going to get more reps, since he missed so much of the year with his back procedure. Matt Mervis is going so he can keep working against high-level pitching competition in advance of possibly making the jump to MLB next year.
And Miguel Amaya was to not only make up lost at bats, but he was going to be catching for the first time since his Tommy John surgery last year. To that end, the timing of the ankle injury is extremely unfortunate, and we can only hope it isn’t too severe. If not, then it’s possible we’d still see him play in the AFL, even if maybe not right away. If that timing doesn’t work out, you could see the Cubs seek to send a different position prospect instead, and/or you could see the Cubs try to get Miguel Amaya game action in a professional winter league later on in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela or Puerto Rico. Two years ago, Amaya played in the Puerto Rican Winter League, for what that’s worth. That league kicks off on November 4.
As for the four pitchers going to the AFL, it’s a mix we’ve seen before (legit big league relief prospects), but it’s kinda fascinating because NONE are Rule 5 eligible this year. There is no extra evaluation going on – just pure player development.
Zac Leigh, 24, is one of the biggest breakout relief prospects in the system, having been a 16th round pick just last year, and then exploding almost right away in the Cubs organization as a reliever. He’s pitched at High-A and Double-A this year, posting a combined 2.76 ERA over 32.2 innings, with a 35.5% K rate and 10.9% BB rate. His stuff profiles as big-league-caliber, and clearly the Cubs want to get him more innings in advance of 2023, when he might already be on the radar as an up-down guy.
Riley Martin, 24, helped the South Bend Cubs win their opening playoff game last night, and has been succeeding there for the Cubs most of the season as a multi-inning reliever. The 2021 6th round lefty (senior sign) started out at High-A Myrtle Beach this year, but his results were over-the-top ridiculous. With South Bend, it’s been more of a challenge, though he’s got a 2.55 ERA going back to the start of June (30.7% K rate, 13.2% BB). Last night’s was just his second single-inning appearance of the year, so he’s truly been a multi-inning guy. Already up to 88.2 innings on the year, Martin is kinda getting a minor league starter’s workload without being a starter. Curious what the Cubs have in mind for him long-term, but he feels a little further away than Leigh.
Bailey Horn, 24, was the Cubs’ return in the Ryan Tepera trade in 2021, having been a 5th round pick of the White Sox in 2020. The Cubs almost immediately converted him to relief, and he’s had one of the most extreme years you’ll see: he’ll go three outings of absolute dominance and near perfection, and then he’ll have an outing where he cannot find the strike zone at all. If you talk to folks who just evaluate the pitches, it’s big league stuff. But the control and consistency still have a long way to go, and at 48.0 innings on the year between High-A and Double-A, there’s room for him to do more work down in Arizona and hopefully put himself on the radar as an up-down guy as soon as next year.
Sheldon Reed, 25, has thrown just 38.2 innings this year, mostly at High-A, and the Cubs obviously just want him to get more work in. An undrafted signing out of that abbreviated 2020 draft, Reed showed enough last year as one of those older-but-lower-level pure relief prospects to be on the radar this year, and then he’s showed enough good stuff this year to stay on the radar. His ERA at South Bend is over five, but there were some early blowups when he first arrived. Since the start of July, the ERA is 4.24, with a 32.9% K rate and 11.8% BB rate.
On the whole, these are all older relief-only guys who have been able to succeed at the lower levels, and their selection to the AFL means that the Cubs see enough in the stuff that they can project as possible future big league relievers. That’s no small feat, as we’ve discussed before: the guys who get moved to relief at the lowest levels, especially at older ages, pretty much have to look ridiculous in order to climb the ladder, where they will be competing for roster space with younger starting pitching prospects who finally have to make the transition to the bullpen.
Or at least, that’s generally been the model for where some of your useful young relievers wind up coming from in the big leagues (guys who started up until Double-A/Triple-A, and just couldn’t maintain it enough against better bats to stay in the rotation, like Michael Rucker and Erich Uelmen, for example). But the Cubs seem to be increasingly pushing these relief-only types with noticeable success (Brandon Hughes, Jeremiah Estrada, Ethan Roberts, and Manny Rodriguez were all homegrown relief-only prospects who’ve seen big league time this year). I wonder if there are some new-ish scouting and development dynamics at play that we’ll see more clearly in the years to come.