With 270 plus players in the Cubs minor league system, just 81 of them descended into the Valley of the Sun to begin the annual ritual known as Fall Instructional League. Just as they do every other year, the Cubs split their prospects into three parts. There are seven players who will play in the advanced Arizona Fall League for the Mesa Solar Sox. There are 17 players who will be part of a co-op team with the Angels. And the last collection of prospects will play intra-squad games on the backfields.
Arizona Fall League
The Arizona Fall League is known for its elite competition as most of the top prospects in AA and high A are assigned to these squads. For the Cubs, they also included Eloy Jimenez, who played all season at low A and made an appearance in the championship for Myrtle Beach. While it will be interesting to see how all seven of these players do, my interest lies in who will do well enough to earn a 40 man roster so they will not be lost in the upcoming Rule V Draft. Ian Happ, James Farris, and Eloy Jimenez are not eligible, but the others Stephen Perakslis, Victor Caratini, Underwood, and Ryan McNeil are.
For me, personally, Duane Underwood is the player to watch. There are a lot of questions to answer about his health and what type of pitcher he will be going forward. Is he going to be a starter or a reliever? In 2016, Underwood had two extended stints on the DL. After his first one, he came back throwing in the upper 90s, but his ERA blew up to over 5+. He showed much more promise and control after his second stint throwing in the mid-to-upper 90s while on rehab assignments in South Bend and Myrtle Beach. In his 19.1 IP of rehab, he had a 1.86 ERA with 14 Ks while only allowing 4 BBs, a much better ratio than before his went on the disabled list twice.
Co-op with the Angels
When it comes to pitching, I think the arms to watch are: Dylan Cease, who has only thrown a bit over 40+ IP; Kyle Miller and Jordan Minch, who were both injured; and Carson Sands, who missed the last few weeks of the season after a disastrous second half.
As for the hitters, I am interested to see how Eddy Martinez gears it up without Eloy and how Ian Rice does actually playing catcher rather than being the DH.
Jose Albertos, Thomas Hatch, and Faustino Carrera will be the pitchers I will examine. Albertos, only 17, throws in the upper 90s and was shut after one start in the AZL. Hatch did not pitch after throwing 130 innings in college, and Carrera was outstanding in the DSL in 2016 with a 1.06 ERA in 13 starts. Like Albertos, Carrera is also 17.
Two players already catching the attention of John Arguello at Cubs Den are Christopher Morel and Miguel Amaya, also in the 17-year-old club. At this stage of their careers, young players can develop immensely in a short amount of time. Stats in one year do not matter the next. For Morel, he missed all of 2016 and, according to Arguello, is much more physically stout than he was in spring training. Amaya showed promise in the DSL this summer. He has the potential for power and is known as an excellent defender.
For me, my interest veers toward Jonathan Sierra. The tall Darryl Strawberry look-alike winner showed immense patience in his rookie year in the DSL. He had a .384 OBP with a .264 average. I think he could be the next great hitter in the system. Right now, his swing is a little long and he needs to shorten it up. He’s part of that 17-year-old club.
At 19, Wladimir Galindo could be on the cusp of a big season in 2017. This fall, he needs to learn that patience and plate discipline so well taught by South Bend Manager Jimmy Gonzalez.
It should be interesting to see how these players develop the next few weeks. At such young ages, a lot can happen in a player that is just 17 to 19 years old that could have a profound impact next year. There is a lot of time between now and next year when games that matter return and these sessions in the fall can be crucial for springboarding a prospect to the next level whether they are in the Arizona Fall League, the co-op team, or in Mesa in general.
To see a full list of the rosters, go to The Cub Reporter.
*The Thomas Hatch and Jonathan Sierra cards were made from photographs by John Arguello.