A quick 48-hour trip to Arizona allowed me to attend one AFL game this week, which is both less than I hoped for and more than I expected when the fall season began.
I also got to Sloan Park for batting practice on Monday, chatted with four of the Cubs prospects on the Solar Sox, and did manage to come away with enough notes for a post …
- Owen Caissie was one of the heroes of the game I saw, the lone Mesa player with two hits. He also hit the longest home run I saw in batting practice, a ball that very nearly cleared the grass berm in right field. Power is coming.
- I was impressed with Caissie’s adjustments in the game on both hits, the first coming off a lefty that had started his outing by setting down the first 14 hitters he faced. After making an out in his first plate appearance, Caissie shortened up and found a way to drive a runner in with a single. The second was a pitcher with a plus fastball that seemed capable of overpowering Caissie early in the at-bat, but with two strikes, Caissie sat back on a fringy breaking ball and hammered it to right for a double.
- I didn’t get a chance to see Matt Mervis play, but I did talk with him for awhile during batting practice and asked how the heck this is possible:
- I’d paraphrase Matt by just saying that at each level, he faced fewer fastballs, and so his swing decisions had to change as a result. Triple-A offered him a great opportunity to deal with being pitched backwards, and he feasted on changeups.
- In person, by the way, Mervis is an absolute house. He’s talked in recent interviews and podcasts about how he doesn’t go to the plate looking to hit for power, but I’ll say, with the broadest shoulders on the field, you can see how power is just a byproduct of a good swing decision and a great early contact point.
- Monday offered an up-close look at relief prospect Zac Leigh, who got a save in an inning of work you can watch in its entirety below. I was surprised how slight Leigh was in person, he seemed shorter than the six-feet he’s listed at, which helps explain the low release height that’s always brought up as one of his strengths. The slider is a true plus frisbee in person, a pitch that I think could handle an even heavier usage profile, maybe up in the 50-60% range. If he can increase mass enough to get that velocity up to about 94-97, a pitch that does show some cut-ride action, I think he’s a big leaguer.
- I learned on this trip that an agreement was reached with Yonathan Perlaza to return to the organization for 2023 (he was eligible for minor league free agency). This isn’t a huge surprise, as Perlaza was one of the prospects invited to Wrigley Field for a visit in September after hitting .281/.388/.539 in his final 114 Double-A games. I don’t have the details on that agreement — it could take a few different forms given his Rule 5 eligibility — but good news nonetheless. The Alexander Canario injury makes Perlaza even more important as Major League depth, and as a switch-hitting corner outfielder, I think we should think of him as Ian Happ depth, specifically.
- A few stray notes on non-Cubs prospects: so fun to see A’s prospect Mason Miller sit 98-101 for three electric innings, with pretty good secondaries to boot. Miller somehow was just 20th in the A’s last prospect update at MLB Pipeline, which just speaks to how incredible professional pitching has become in the last five years … Jasson Dominguez is nicknamed The Martian, but I was a bit surprised that his physicality didn’t jump off the page in person. He’s big and impressive, but not a monster … It’s wild how easy it looks for Cardinals top prospect Jordan Walker, which is bad news for us Cubs fans. It doesn’t look like he swings very hard and then, boom, 110+ mph exit velocities just explode off the bat … I don’t know if the Blue Jays are facing a 40-man crunch this winter, but if so, someone should look at trying to acquire Addison Barger. He really jumped out to me in person, where I could see how he generates the leverage that led to 28 home runs in 2022, and he showed plus actions at shortstop.
- So impressive how the Cubs two left-handed pitchers, Riley Martin and Bailey Horn, are carving in the AFL. Horn still has not allowed a run yet, with just four hits allowed in 10.2 innings of work. I spoke to Martin for a few minutes on Monday, who is excited about the development of his slider since coming into the organization. He has struck out 11 hitters in 8.2 innings, and I think has pretty much locked up a spot in Double-A to start next season. Both pitchers absolutely belong on your Major League radar.
- No sign of Brennen Davis, who was not listed on the Solar Sox roster sheet that was available to media. I would suspect he’s done for the season.
- BJ Murray is not injured, despite playing in just five games so far, as he’s on the taxi squad and participating in drills. I did see Murray homer from the right side in batting practice, which made me realize the extreme power platoon split he showed this year: 119 ISO as a LHB, 255 ISO as a RHB.
- I hear the prospect camp that the Cubs have put a lot of time and dollars of investment into this offseason begins next week for some of the invitees. Most of the Cubs’ top 40 prospects will be in attendance in some form or fashion in the next six weeks, though Mervis will not participate, as he’ll be given the opportunity to rest once the AFL season is over.