Yesterday, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Cubs high A affiliate, announced that Manager Mark Johnson was named to the be the manager of the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League (AFL), whose season runs in October and early November. It is a prestigious honor for Johnson, who is best known for his work with catchers and pitchers. Johnson has been managing in the Cubs system since 2011. Last year he led the Kane County Cougar squad to a championship and already has this year’s Pelicans squad in the playoffs. He was named Minor League Manager of the year in 2014 by Baseball America.
Getting to manage in the AFL is prestigious, and so is playing in the league. The Cubs, who do participate in the league, are required to send six players. In the past, Cubs Prospects Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Dan Vogelbach, Jake Hannemann, and Carl Edwards, Jr. have all played in the league with varying degrees of results. Not just any prospect can play in the league. There are strict limitations as to who can play and from what level.
- All Triple-A and Double-A players are eligible, provided the players are on at least a Double-A level roster no later than Aug. 1.
- One player below the Double-A level is allowed per Major League team.
- One foreign player is allowed, as long as the player does not reside in a country that participates in winter ball, as part of the Caribbean Confederation or the Australian winter league.
- No players with more than one year of credited Major League service as of August 31 are eligible, except a team may select one player picked in the most recently concluded Major League Rule 5 Draft.
- To be eligible, players on Minor League disabled lists must be activated at least 45 days before the conclusion of their respective seasons.
The rules listed above eliminate a lot of good candidates from the Cubs. Pitchers Duane Underwood and Tyler Skulina would be perfect fits for this fall, yet they have missed too much time and are not eligible because they are still on the DL. The rule also eliminates Dan Vogelbach and Shawon Dunston, Jr., both of whom have spent most of the summer on the DL.
Being that you can only have 1 player below AA on the roster, it also takes out some of the Cubs top prospects at low A and high A all playing at the same time.
You want players you think can either:
- Move up their development by playing advanced competition
- Evaluate their potential by playing advanced competition
So, who does that leave?
PJ Francescon and Michael Jensen are perfect for this assignment. Being that they are close to the majors, and have had two solid years back to back, their appearance in the AFL would give the Cubs some good takes on their readiness to move up and help the club for 2016. It would also tell the Cubs if they need to go out and add to the bullpen for 2016.
Reliever Matt Brazis is going to be close to adding to an AFL roster. The AA reliever missed most of May, June, and July but has been rehabbing in Arizona the past two weeks. The Cubs got a good look at him last year in the AFL when he played for Seattle before the Justin Ruggiano trade. Another trip there would be beneficial as he missed 70% of this season
The only single A reliever I might add would be Josh Conway. Since the end of May, Conway is one of the elite relievers in the Cubs system. After missing 2012 and 2013, Conway is finally healthy. His appearance in the AFL would be a good way to strengthen his arm and give him a preview of what he needs to do to get his arm ready for 2016. Conversely. I think it is more likely the Cubs do not send any low A pitchers. Rather, They would prefer to send a low A bat.
If Underwood or Skulina were healthy, they would be perfect candidates to make up for missing most of July, and soon, August. I don’t think I see anyone at AA or AAA that I would like to see get extended work this year. At single A, I think it could do Jake Stinnett some good to go. He has all the pitches, he just has not put them all together this year. However, it is big risk sending a pitcher from low A to the AFL because you don’t want to ruin the arm with more innings, nor do you want to ruin his confidence. I think the Cubs will stick with the relievers rather than any starter in the organization.
I’d like to send 4 hitters, all from Tennessee, to Arizona this fall. Billy McKinney, Jacob Rogers, and Jeimer Candelario are all excellent candidates. The problem, though, is you could lose Rogers and Candelario in the Rule 5 draft which takes place one month after the AFL ends, unless you place them both on the 40 man. I think Jeimer, still only 21, might get a spot on the 40 man, but at 25 years old , the Cubs are going to take their chances with Jacob Rogers, who I like as a leader and ballplayer. He has good power and a knack for driving in runs.
As for the fourth player, I think Albert Almora needs to go back to the AFL. He seems to be a different hitter since he got back from the Pan-Am games. He’s hitting homeruns and taking walks. In fact, he had three walks last night. I’d like for him to continue his transformational approach this offseason in the AFL. I know he knows that hitting under .250 at Tennessee is not going to get him to the big leagues very fast.
Another hitter I’d like to see, although it is highly unlikely, is Ian Happ. It is more than probable that Happ will be at instructs in Mesa working on his defense in the OF and 2B.
The final option to go to the AFL as a hitter is Chesny Young. I think the Cubs want to know more about what they have in Chesny Young. He has been a spectacular hitter at South Bend and Myrtle Beach this year. I, just out of my own curiosity, would love to see what he can do against stiffer competition.
The Cubs won’t announce who they are sending until September, a few weeks before the AFL season begins.
It should be interesting to see who the six are and then analyze why they are going.