By Todd Johnson
It is getting to be that time of year. In the next couple of weeks, the Cubs will announce 7 to 8 prospects who they will place in the Arizona Fall League with the Mesa Solar Sox. The Cubs can pick players for a variety of reasons. Some might be picked to play regarding their inclusion onto the 40 man roster in December. There could also be a player they might want a deeper look at in order to keep away from the Rule 5 Draft. They might want to even advance development of a young prospect. The Cubs could even showcase a prospect as trade bait. The most common reason for selecting a prospect to participate in the fall league, though, is to make up for lost time during the year.
This year, the obvious choice that fits that reason is none other than Justin Steele. Steele underwent Tommy John surgery almost exactly a year ago and began pitching in Mesa in Arizona League games at the beginning of this month. He put up a 1.47 ERA for the division champion rookie league team and he also struck out 27 in just 18.1 innings. I thought he might throw just an inning or two here and there coming off of Tommy John surgery, but he was already throwing six months after surgery rather than the usual 9-12 month wait. He should be making his next rehab in Myrtle Beach.
Erick Leal also had Tommy John surgery but missed all of 2017. He has been dominant in his return to Myrtle Beach. He began pitching for the Pelicans in late May and getting him some more reps, even as a reliever would also expose him to playing against a little bit better competition then the Carolina League.
DJ Wilson definitely should find a way to Arizona. He is one of the most athletic prospects in the system and seems to be bogged down by minor nagging injuries the past two years. In July, he was just beginning to heat up before an injury pushed him back on the DL. He just came off of the 7-day DL on the 27th.
Bailey Clark of Myrtle Beach has not pitched for the better part of two months. He came out blazing this year throwing between 95-97 in long relief for South Bend. He cut through the Midwest League quickly and was doing the same for Myrtle Beach before he went on the shelf. In 42 combined innings, he struck out 51 batters. If he can get healthy, Bailey is definite candidate to send to Arizona.
Rule 5 Consideration
The Cubs have over 60 players who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in December. The Cubs know what they have in most of those prospects. Using the Arizona Fall League to determine whether or not to place them on the 40 man roster is a common theme. Most teams that makes a Rule 5 selection pick someone that will stay on their 25 man roster. Rarely will a player below AA get picked and make it, but it does happen. Just this year former Cub Pedro Araujo made the leap to stick with the Orioles.
When it comes to the Cubs, I would be looking to see how reliever John Romero does stepping up a level. Most people don’t know much about Romero’s fastball/curve combo and just how dominant he’s been over the last year in the lower minors (109 Ks in 83.1 IP). If another team took him, they would be taking a ginormous risk, but it would behoove the Cubs to see how he stacks up against elite competition.
In that same vein, part of me wants to see Trent Trent Giambrone and Zack Short get the experience of the fall league. The two 2016 draft picks rose quickly through the organization and this could help propel or give Short and Giambrone a head start towards AAA Iowa next year. Then again, the Cubs pretty much know what they have in those two. This would just be a bonus for their development. I could live with them not attending.
The same could be true of Aramis Ademan, who is currently at high A Myrtle Beach. While he has struggled a bit this year, he is still only 19 while most of his of international free agent class is in Eugene or Mesa. He’s playing way above his age group and learning as he goes. The fall league might just be another step to help prepare him for AA as I doubt the Cubs would have him repeat Myrtle Beach.
When the announcement of who the Cubs will send comes out, I will interested to see who they place in Mesa. Steele, Leal, and Wilson are pretty much givens. I am not really emotionally invested in who actually goes. However, it will be fun to sit down and figure why the other four or five prospects are going. I am more interested in seeing who the Cubs themselves might value. be interested in seeing more of, or even showcase for a trade.