Even during the frost of Winter, getting significant Cubs’ news past their fans is like trying to sneak a fastball by the quick hands of Cubs’ legend Ernie Banks. Despite the frost, most Cubs’ fans are dancing in the snow over 3B Kris Bryant, the team’s 2013 first round selection, being crowned MVP of the Arizona Fall League. Bryant, 21, and seven other Cubs’ prospects helped comprise the Mesa Solar Sox, who won the AFL’s East division with a 19-11 record before losing the championship game.
Kris Bryant’s MVP credentials included a .364 batting average in 77 at-bats, the league’s fifth highest average; 22 runs (tied-first); 28 hits (tied-fourth); eight doubles (tied-second); six homers (first); seventeen RBI (seventh); fourteen walks (tied-eight); .457 on-base-percentage (OBP)(fourth); and .727 slugging percentage (first).
Last season, Bryant combined between the Arizona Rookie League, short season Boise of the Northwest League and Daytona of the Florida State League to hit .336 with nine homers, fourteen doubles, 32 RBI, a .390 OBP and a .688 slugging percentage in just 146 plate appearances. Bryant should start the 2014 season at AA Tennessee if not AAA Iowa.
Here is a quick rundown of how the other Cubs’ prospects performed in the AFL.
Albert Almora: The Cubs’ first round selection from 2012, CF Almora, 19, was also instrumental in the Solar Sox’s success. In 75 at-bats, Almora averaged .307 with one homer, six doubles, two triples, twelve RBI, eight runs, four walks, a .342 OBP and a .480 slugging percentage. Almora’s second season in the Cubs’ organization, at Kane County of the Midwest League, was shortened by various injuries, but he still managed to hit .329 with three homers, seventeen doubles, four triples and 23 RBI in 272 plate appearances while slugging .466 and compiling an OBP of .376. The defensively gifted outfielder will likely start 2014 at Class A Daytona of the Florida State League, having proven that he can compete in the AFL, considered the equivalent of AA or AAA.
Jorge Soler: The Cubs signed RF Soler to a nine-year deal in 2012 after he defected from Cuba the previous year. For the Solar Sox, Soler, 21, bounced back after a sluggish start to finish with a .271 average in 85 at-bats with just a single home run, six doubles, fourteen RBI, eleven runs, a .311 OBP, and a .376 slugging percentage. Like Almora’s, Soler’s 2013 season was truncated by injury at Daytona, where in 237 plate appearances, he batted .281 with thirteen doubles, eight homers, 35 RBI, a .343 OBP and a .467 slugging percentage. Following Soler’s mediocre AFL season, the Cubs will have to determine whether to return Soler to Daytona or promote him to Tennessee to start the 2014 campaign.
Wes Darvill: Utility infielder Darvill was on the Solar Sox taxi squad, which limited the amount of playing time he could receive. The slick fielder batted just .171 with one home run, five RBI and a .237 OBP. The fifth round selection in the 2009 draft split the 2013 season between Kane County and Daytona. In 393 plate appearances, the left-handed hitter averaged .267 with sixteen doubles, seven triples, three homers, 40 RBI and a .339 OBP.
Dallas Beeler: RHP Beeler, a 41st round selection in the 2010 draft, might be a sleeper in the Cubs’ system. In six starts covering 21.2 innings for the Solar Sox, he yielded 24 hits and five walks and compiled a 4-1 record. He struck out only nine, and opposing hitters averaged .300 against him, but he did produce an impressive ratio of 2.27 groundouts for every fly-out. In the championship game, Beeler tossed five innings, allowing only two hits, one walk and one run, and fanned five. When drafted, Beeler, 24, was recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery that limited his 2010 season, and an injury to a finger ligament cut short last season. Yet, in 304 career minor league innings, he has yielded 334 hits and 80 walks and fanned 191. He has impressive ratios of 2.4 BB/K and .7 HR/9 innings, though he needs to reduce his WHIP of over 1.300. This is a pivotal year for Beeler.
Lendy Castillo: RHP Castillo, whom the Cubs acquired in the 2011 Rule Five Draft and who pitched for the major league club in 2012, has been a major disappointment since being placed back into the Cubs’ minor league system. His effort for the Solar Sox was no exception. In eleven games covering 10.1 innings, Castillo, 24, produced a highly-deceiving ERA of 1.74. He allowed nine hits and twelve walks, for an abysmal WHIP of 2.1, and only four unearned runs spared him from an ERA more commensurate with his performance. After dominating in the minor leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies organization before being plucked away by the Cubs, Castillo was disastrous last season between Kane County and Daytona. In 30 games, including five starts and covering 84.1 innings, Castillo allowed 99 hits and 39 walks leading to a putrid WHIP of 1.636. His ERA of 5.87 was no easier on the stomach.
Armando Rivero: RHP Rivero finished with four consecutive scoreless outings after getting hit hard for much of the AFL season. Overall, he made eleven relief appearances covering eleven innings and allowed fourteen hits. He walked five and fanned nine and produced an ERA of 4.91. Rivero, 25, 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. 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.
Matt Loosen: RHP Loosen, 24, appeared in eight games covering 13.2 innings and allowed fifteen hits and six walks while fanning fourteen. He produced a record of 2-1 and ERA of 3.29. For the second time in three seasons, it appeared that Loosen was going to succumb to AA Southern League hitters after dominating the lower levels of the Cubs system. But the 2010 draft pick ended the season strong at Tennessee, though his overall numbers do not reflect his dominant finish. He will likely get another chance to push past that level this season if he is not claimed by another team in the upcoming Rule Five Draft.
Despite the mixed bag overall, Cubs fans can proudly adorn their Christmas trees with pictures of Kris Bryant and Albert Almora based on their AFL performances.