The great Jason Boland has a song titled “The Party’s Not Over” in which he sings, “The party’s not over, it’s just leaving town.” The same could be said for several Cubs minor leaguers whose parties will continue even after the regular season has ended. That’s because they’re out in Mesa for the Arizona Fall League (AFL), which begins play on Monday.
The AFL is an offseason league that has been around since 1992 and consists of six teams, each comprised of prospects from five different organizations. Cubs prospects are part of the Mesa Solar Sox, which also include prospects from the Miami Marlins, Oakland A’s, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays. Each organization is allotted eight spots, most of whom go to players from the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
For those who are interested, the other teams in the AFL are the Glendale Desert Dogs, Peoria Javelinas, Salt River Rafters, Scottsdale Scorpions, and Surprise Saguaros.
The AFL serves as a great opportunity because players get exposure and the ability to test their skills against some of the best prospects in the minors. At the same time, teams get a longer look at their top prospects, particularly those who are Rule 5 eligible, to see how they perform against high-level competition.
The Cubs have split their AFL assignments evenly between pitchers and position players, with one late addition taking the place of the injured Miguel Amaya. Let’s take a look at each prospect to see what they might be looking to prove or improve upon this fall.
Horn was acquired from the White Sox for Ryan Tepera at last year’s deadline. The 24-year-old lefty has shown flashes out of the bullpen and ended the season very strong, so he may be using the AFL as a way to get more professional innings while working on the consistency of his command/control.
Before giving up four runs in Game 3 of the Southern League Championship, Horn had a stretch of 14 appearances where he gave up a total of one run with 39 strikeouts in 24 innings. He features a fastball that sits between 92-96 mph with some carry and he also mixes in both a slider and curveball, with the slider being the better of the two offerings.
Leigh, a six-foot righty who will turn 25 in November and was a 16th-round pick in 2021, has been nasty this year. He has only thrown 11.2 innings above A-ball as an older prospect in his second professional season, so the AFL will help him get more innings against more advanced hitters. He features an upper 90s fastball and a plus slider that gets a lot of swings and misses. On the season, Leigh had 53 strikeouts and only 16 walks in 34.1 innings.
Martin was dominant this season after joining the Cubs organization on a $1,000 signing bonus as a sixth-round pick in the 2021 draft. The 24-year-old split time between Myrtle Beach and South Bend, where he was older than league average. He was called up to Tennessee for the playoffs and logged 3.1 innings, but now he’ll get more of an extended opportunity against advanced hitters.
The lefty features a mid-90s fastball with a curveball and slider that have resulted in video game numbers so far. In 97.1 career innings, he has dominated hitters with 141 strikeouts. Walks have been an issue and he had 39 free passes in 69.1 innings at South Bend, so that’s something the Cubs will want him to work on.
I’m sensing a theme here with the pitches selected to play in the AFL because Reed is also a bit older for the level he is at in South Bend. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2020 out of Clemson, he is another pitcher looking to build up innings in his pro career. His short arm action makes his fastball play up as it deceives hitters and he has a biting slider to go along with it. You can see the mix here:
Caissie was a late addition to the AFL roster and it’s great to see him rewarded with a spot after an incredible season in South Bend. He may turn out to be the headliner of the Yu Darvish trade. The 45th overall pick in 2020, Caissie was a little over three years younger than the Midwest League average at just 20 years old. He still belted 11 home runs and 21 doubles and should be able to develop more power as he ages and fills out his 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame.
Caissie shows power to the opposite field and goes the other way about 40% of the time, which is always good to see from a young player. The AFL will be a great opportunity for him to face more advanced pitching in preparation for a season at Double-A Tennessee next year. You can see his raw power in the swings below.
Davis was a pretty easy choice to be added to the AFL because he missed three months of the season due to surgery to alleviate nerve pain in his leg and only accumulated 214 plate appearances this season. It was basically a lost year for Davis and you can’t read anything in the stats he put up, so the AFL is simply to get him more PAs and reps in the field. He looked healthy in the field when he came back and that will be key for him going forward as he is still working on regaining some of the strength he lost while injured. His time in Arizona will be spent getting ready for spring training, where he has an opportunity to win make the Opening Day roster.
Mervis has been getting a lot of attention lately, and deservedly so with the season he put together. I’ll have a more in-depth look at his season in a future post, but he ended the season with an absurd 36 home runs, 78 extra-base hits, and 119 RBI while slashing .309/.379/.606 across three levels. I was a little surprised to see his name on the roster when it was announced, but he has only 470 PAs above A-Ball in his career. This is a way for the Cubs to both reward his season and get a look at how he handles high-level pitching. For now, enjoy some Mash Mervis dingers.
Murray is one of my favorite under-the-radar guys in the system. He broke out in a big way this season thanks to his advanced approach at the plate. The switch-hitter posted a 16% walk rate while only striking out at a 20% clip, leading to a 286/.410/.429 slash line. Yes, you read that correctly: He had a .410 OBP. A 15th-round pick in 2021, Murray was born in the Bahamas and will turn 23 in January. He shows the ability to hit with power to the opposite field, although right now that power is in the form of doubles.
I think he has a good lower half and should be able to produce more pop as he matures, possibly turning into a 20-home run guy. The defensive profile is more of a question. He played third base early in the year at Myrtle Beach before settling into a first base role with South Bend, so I worry if he will be able to hit for enough power as a first base-only prospect. This will be a great opportunity to see how Murray handles more advanced pitching in the AFL.
The eight players in Arizona make a very intriguing group to keep track of, though AFL games are unfortunately not televised other than the Fall Stars game and the championship game. I will be following along the best I can throughout the six-week season and will provide updates as often as possible here and on Twitter.