The big league Cubs aren’t the only Cub team on fire. Don’t look now, but something interesting is happening in Mesa, Arizona. The young Arizona Cubs are putting up runs in bunches. On Wednesday night, the first place Cubs whacked 17 hits and put 11 runs on the board. On Tuesday, it was six. For the past week the young Cubs have been annihilating the competition – a lot of that comes from the offense – before losing on Thursday night. A big reason for this explosion is the lineup has finally stabilized after promotions came and went in July and early August. Now that the lineup is set, the Arizona Cubs are one game out of first place in the East Division of the Arizona League.
The Arizona Rookie League doesn’t get a lot of press. There are several reasons for this. One, they aren’t covered by any radio or TV networks, even MiLB.TV. Two, there’s no social media presence for the team like a Twitter account or Facebook page. Three, the league is mostly an instructional league consisting of a mishmash of minor-league players on rehab, kids just out of high school, international free agents who just came stateside, kids just out of community college, and pitchers who’ve already pitched a full season in the spring. And fourth, the rosters change on a daily basis and it’s hard to keep track of the players. However, the Cubs seem to have mostly settled in with their positional player roster.
Leading the hit parade all season is outfielder Robert Garcia. The Cub Junction named Garcia to its July Organizational All-Star team (and likely again for August). Currently, Robert is hitting .350 and has been playing right field. As a leadoff hitter Garcia, shows good speed and bat control, although he doesn’t have a lot of power. Recently returning to the lineup is the Cubs’ fourth-round pick from 2015, outfielder Darryl (DJ) Wilson. Wilson, like Garcia, has speed. Unlike Garcia, Wilson has a lot of speed. In fact I think we should nickname him “The Flash” because he’s so fast. He seems to be rounding into good health after missing most of a month. On Wednesday, Wilson went three for five, scored two runs, and had a triple is currently hitting .310 from the second spot. He even got a couple of nice compliments.
Cubs 4th rd pick DJ Wilson is really stepping it up. Underrated bat speed, he was putting a charge into the ball last night. Loud contact.
— Appraising Arizona (@AZLBaseball) August 13, 2015
Wilson also looked better in the field, took better routes and showed tremendous range from gap to gap. Best I’ve seen from him all year.
— Appraising Arizona (@AZLBaseball) August 13, 2015
The player that has developed and improved the most this season is second baseman Carlos Sepulveda. Three weeks ago Sepulveda was hitting .200. Today he is hitting .281 in the third spot in the lineup. On Wednesday, he went two for four with three runs and one RBI. The key to the offense, in my opinion, has been 2015 draftee PJ Higgins. Higgins was selected in the 12th round out of Old Dominion and was the last player to sign from the draft class on July 16. Currently hitting .310, he’s playing both second and third and hitting fourth, but there are rumors that he might move to catcher in 2016. 1B José Paniagua has been solid at .274. While Michael Foster, who had a great July, is actually slumping a little bit in August with his average down to .278.
Outfielder Daniel Spingola from Georgia Tech made his debut on Wednesday going two for four with one RBI. To read about this offense every day is pretty exciting. For them do well after all the promotions of July and early August is even better. There are a couple of other interesting players on the Arizona rookie league team. Shortstop Andruw Monasterio has been praised for his talents on the field but is still struggling at the plate. Catcher Yohan Matos, only 18, still is learning the ways of the game but the talent in the swing even if evident if you cannot see it in the results. On Thursday, Chris Pieters, from the Cubs DSL team, made his stateside debut. The pitcher turned hitter went 1 for 4.
As for the pitching, it’s kind of a mix and match every night of rehab pitchers, college pictures, international free agents, and a couple of high school arms. One pitcher, Austyn Willis, is having an outstanding season. In six starts, he has a 2.71 ERA while striking out 19 in 32 1/3 innings. Recent third round pick Bryan Hudson made his debut on Thursday and he was on a strict pitch count and lasted only 2/3 of inning after giving up 2 runs on 2 hits.
I never know who’s going to pitch from night to night with a roster of over 20 pitchers (including Dylan Cease), it’s hard to tell as there are several pitchers rehabbing at Arizona including Tyler Skulina from Myrtle Beach. In addition, the pitching roster is pretty flexible between Eugene and Arizona the past month as players shuttle back and forth depending on their performance.
Even though you can’t see or hear about the Cubs rookie league team, you can still keep an eye on them in the nightly box scores on MiLB.com. Two other good sources of information are John Arguello’s new Twitter rookie league handle, @AZLBaseball, as well as his reports at Cubs Den, and the usual posts and dalliances of Arizona Phil at: http://www.thecubreporter.com/where you do get the game reports daily.
The Rookie League regular season ends on August 29 followed by the playoffs. Soon after, the young Cubs begin instructs through October before breaking for the winter.
*Cards made from pictures by Mr. and Mrs. Arguello