Of the 270-plus players in the Cubs minor league system, only 81 descended on the Valley of the Sun to begin the annual ritual known as Fall Instructional League. Just as they have in previous years, the Cubs split their prospects into three segments. There are seven players who will participate in the advanced Arizona Fall League for the Mesa Solar Sox. Seventeen more will be part of a co-op team with the Angels. And the last collection of prospects will play intrasquad games on the back fields.
Here are the rosters for each of those groups and some things to evaluate concerning the prospects. Rosters are courtesy of The Cub Reporter.
* = Left handed
# = Switch hitter
Arizona Fall League
PITCHERS: Ryan McNeil, Duane Underwood Jr, Steve Perakslis, James Farris
POS. PLAYERS: #Ian Happ – 2B, #Victor Caratini – C, Eloy Jimenez – OF
The Arizona Fall League is known for its elite competition as most of the top prospects in AA and high-A are assigned to these squads. The Cubs also included Eloy Jimenez, who played all season at low-A before making an appearance in the Carolina League championship for Myrtle Beach. While it will be interesting to see how all seven of these players do, my interest lies in who will do well enough to earn a 40-man roster spot so they will not be lost in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. Happ, Farris, and Jimenez are not eligible, but the other four prospects are.
When it comes to my personal preference, Duane Underwood is the player to watch. There are a lot of questions to answer about his health and what type of pitcher he will be going forward. Is he going to be a starter or a reliever? In 2016, Underwood had two extended stints on the DL. After his first one, he came back throwing in the upper 90’s, but his ERA blew up to five-plus. He showed much more promise and control after his second stint, throwing in the mid-to-upper 90’s while on rehab assignments in South Bend and Myrtle Beach. In his 19.1 IP of rehab, he had a 1.86 ERA with 14 K’s while only allowing 4 walks, a much better ratio than he’d had earlier.
Co-Op with Angels
PITCHERS: Dylan Cease, Jared Cheek, Oscar de la Cruz, Kyle Miller, *Jordan Minch, Tommy Nance, James Norwood, *Carson Sands, *Justin Steele, Jen-Ho Tseng
CATCHERS: P. J. Higgins, Alberto Mineo*, Ian Rice
INFIELDERS: *Carlos Sepulveda, *Jason Vosler
OUTFIELDERS: *Donnie Dewees, Eddy Julio Martinez
This is an interesting collection of players. Many of them are on the cusp of becoming some of the top prospects in the system while others will end up providing organizational depth moving forward. When it comes to pitching, the top arm to watch is Cease, who has only thrown 40+ IP this year. Kyle Miller and Jordan Minch, both of whom were injured this past season, could do some nice things in the fall. Carson Sands, who missed the last few weeks of the season after a disastrous second half, is hoping to recapture the magic he had back in May.
As for the hitters, I am interested to see how Eddy Martinez gears it up without Eloy and how Ian Rice does actually playing catcher rather than being the DH.
Instructional League Roster
PITCHERS: Jose Albertos, Adbert Alzolay, Javier Assad, Holden Cammack, Jed Carter, *Faustino Carrera, Alfredo Colorado, Hector Garcia, Fauris Guerrero, Thomas Hatch, Chad Hockin, *Marc Huberman, *Bryan Hudson, *Brailyn Marquez, Junior Marte, Dakota Mekkes, Tyson Miller, Carlos Ocampo, *Jose Paulino, Yunior Perez, Tyler Peyton, Eury Ramos, Stephen Ridings, Duncan Robinson, *Manuel Rondon, *Wyatt Short, Ho-Young Son, Matt Swarmer, Nathan Sweeney
That’s a lot of arms to watch, 29 in all. Several will be making their debuts from the Dominican Summer League, 2016 Draft, or missing a significant portion of the year with an injury. Jose Albertos, Thomas Hatch, and Faustino Carrera will be the ones I will examine most closely. Albertos, only 17, throws in the upper 90’s and was shut down after one start in the AZL. Hatch did not pitch after throwing 130 innings in college, and Carrera was outstanding in the DSL in 2016 with a 1.06 ERA in 13 starts. Like Albertos, Carrera is also just 17.
CATCHERS: Miguel Amaya, *Michael Cruz, Carlos Diaz, Jhonny Pereda, Gustavo Polanco, Sam Tidaback
INFIELDERS: *Aramis Ademan, Luis Diaz, Wladimir Galindo, Rafael Mejia, Andruw Monasterio, Christopher Morel, Rafael Narea, Isaac Paredes, #Yonathan Perlaza, #Yeiler Peguero, Zack Short, Delvin Zinn
OUTFIELDERS: *Luis Ayala, Zach Davis, #Jose Gutierrez, #Fernando Kelli, *Kwang-Min Kwon, Connor Myers, *Chris Pieters, *Abraham Rodriguez, *Jonathan Sierra, *D.J. Wilson
Two players already catching the attention of John Arguello at Cubs Den are Christopher Morel and Miguel Amaya, also in the 17-year-old club. At this stage of their career, young players can develop immensely in a short amount of time. Stats in one year do not necessarily matter the next. Morel missed all of 2016 and, according to Arguello, is much more physically stout than he was in spring training. Amaya showed promise in the DSL this summer and has the potential for power, along with a reputation as an excellent defender.
My interest veers toward Jonathan Sierra. The tall Darryl Strawberry look-alike showed immense patience in his rookie year in the DSL, posting a .384 OBP with a .264 average. I think he could be the next great hitter in the system. Right now, his swing is a little long and he needs to shorten it up. As yet another 17-year-old, he’s got plenty of time to work that out.
At 19, Wladimir Galindo could be on the cusp of a big season in 2017. This fall, he needs to learn some of that patience and plate discipline so well taught by South Bend Manager Jimmy Gonzalez.
It should be interesting to see how these players develop the few weeks. A lot of growth can take place in a player who is just 17 to 19 years old, and that could have a profound impact next year. There is a lot of time between now and meaningful games in 2017, and these sessions in the fall can be crucial when it comes springboarding a prospect to the next level. As the big club works to achieve the ultimate goal this October, burgeoning prospects will be working on helping the Cubs to do more of the same a few years from now.