With only four major league teams still participating in the postseason and most major and minor league ballparks shuttered until Spring Training, it would be easy to overlook offseason minor league baseball leagues commencing around the globe, starting last week with the Arizona Fall League (AFL), which is considered between AA and AAA caliber. Eight prospects in the Cubs organization have been assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox, one of six teams in the two-division league whose regular season concludes on November 14 followed by a brief playoff round.
Through the Solar Sox’ first seven games, the team remains unbeaten with one tie; 3B Kris Bryant, the Cubs first round selection in the 2013 draft, was awarded league Player of the Week honors; and CF Albert Almora, the club’s 2012 first round selection, leads the league in several statistical categories. More than any major league organization’s, the Cubs’ prospects have made an emphatic early impression on the AFL.
Bryant, 22 in January, split his 2013 season between short-season Boise of the Northwest League and High A Daytona of the Florida State League after a two-game orientation in the Arizona Rookie League. He skipped A Kane County when he was promoted from Boise to Daytona. His combined numbers in 128 at bats were impressive: he averaged .336 with 43 hits, fourteen doubles, two triples, nine homers, 32 RBI, eleven walks, a .390 OBP and .688 slugging percentage. In addition to claiming AFL Player of the Week honors, Bryant has hit .417 thus far in 21 at bats with eight hits, one double, a league-leading two homers, two walks, a .417 OBP and .714 slugging percentage. He is tied with Almora for the league lead with eight RBI.
Almora’s 2013 season was limited to 61 games with Kane County due to a slew of injuries. However, he was impressive in his truncated season, batting .329 in 249 at-bats with 82 hits, seventeen doubles, four triples, three home runs, 23 RBI, a .376 OBP and a .466 slugging percentage. The defensively-gifted centerfielder, 20 in April, also made a strong case for winning AFL Player of the Week honors. In fourteen at-bats through Wednesday, Almora was hitting a league high .571 with eight hits, a homer and a triple apiece, a .600 OBP and .1143 slugging percentage. In addition to being tied with Bryant for the league lead in RBI, Almora is tied for the league lead in runs scored and doubles. While Almora appears ticketed for at least Daytona to start next season, Bryant could find himself playing for AA Tennessee or even AAA Iowa if he has a strong Spring Training.
The third blue chip Cubs position prospect in the AFL, RF Jorge Soler, is off to a slow start. Soler was having an outstanding 2013 campaign despite suffering a leg injury in Spring Training that flared up in late June and ended his season. Prior to the injury, Soler logged 210 at bats for Daytona, hitting .281 with thirteen doubles, one triple, eight homers, 35 RBI, 21 walks, a .343 OBP and a .467 slugging percentage. In 26 at bats in his AFL campaign, Soler is batting just .192 with five hits, three doubles, four RBI, six strikeouts, a .192 OBP and a .308 slugging percentage. There is still a month remaining in the AFL season and Spring Training for Soler, 22 in April, to prove to the Cubs brass that he deserves a promotion to Tennessee to start next season.
The only one of the four Cubs pitchers in the AFL, Lendy Castillo, Matt Loossen, Dallas Beeler and Armando Rivero, whom we’ll feature in this article is RHP Rivero. The Cuban defector, 26 in February, last pitched in his homeland in 2011 before defecting to the Dominican Republic and traveling to Haiti in order to resolve his immigration status. He was signed by the Cubs in March of 2013 to a contract that included a $3.1 million signing bonus. Some reports indicate that Rivero can consistently reach the mid 90′s with his fastball and top out at 98 MPH, while less optimistic assessments suggest that his fastball sits in the low 90′s and tops out at 95 MPH. What is not in dispute is that he has an array of other pitches, including a slider, curve ball and splitter.
Rivero debuted in the Cubs organization with Kane County on June 22. By season’s end, he was pitching for Tennessee. Overall in 20 games and 30.1 innings, Rivero yielded 30 hits and twelve walks and fanned an impressive 45. His WHIP was 1.385, but he improved markedly after being promoted from Kane County. So far for the Solar Sox, Rivero has tossed three innings and yielded three hits, one run and no walks. He has fanned three, has an ERA of 3.00 and a WHIP of 1.000. Reports indicate that given the relatively advanced age at which Rivero joined the Cubs organization, the team will try to promote him through the minors as quickly as possible. Significantly, he fits the profile of power arms that the Cubs covet for their bullpen.
At the season’s conclusion, we will assess the performance of all the Cubs prospects participating in this season’s AFL.Follow paulmbanks