By Todd Johnson
News coming from the Arizona Rookie League this year has been sporadic. Occasionally, Arizona Phil at The Cub Reporter will post an article here or there and Phrake Photography/27 Outs Baseball will post a series of pictures, but the pickings are rather slim. Box scores and the occasional tweet just have to do. It has been pretty a pretty intriguing first half for the Cubs two Arizona Rookie League teams.Then yesterday, the Cubs 1 team finished off the first half in style by winning the division championship.
Usually the rosters in short season baseball are like a revolving door. Players come in and out quickly as many of them are draft picks or guys that are just on a rehab assignment. This has been the case this year as the 1 team suited up 61 different players including key hitters Clayton Daniel and Grant Fennell who left the team a week ago. However, some players were the core of the team throughout their five week season.
At the Plate
Alexander Guerra: The Cubs signed the 20-year-old catcher last fall. He had some experience in the Series Nacional in Cuba and was thought he could start his Cubs career all the way to Myrtle Beach. He wound up in Mesa and has been taking off in July. In June, he played in seven games and hit .220 with a .281 OBP. In July in 14 games, he’s cranked out two home runs to go along with 11 RBI and is hitting .286 with an astonishing .444 on-base percentage. His OPS of 1.040 is outstanding and he’s killing lefties with an OPS of 1.265.
Yonathan Perlaza: Perlaza was signed in 2015 as part of the great international free-agent signing class. Originally a shortstop, Perlaza has been manning second base and third-base this year. He hit .286 in June and cruising along at .302 in July. He did get some experience last year in Arizona but he will surpass that experience in terms of games and at-bats by the end of this week.
Rafael Mejia: He began this year with Eugene but was squeezed out by recent draft picks. At Mesa, he’s only hit .240, but he’s also cranked out three home runs and 12 runs driven in over just 15 games.
On the Mound
Didier Vargas: The young 19-year-old lefty had a 0.99 ERA in 2017 in the Dominican. At 6’0″ and 175 pounds, Vargas is working on being more consistent this year. He gave up five runs in his first outing and has not given up more than two rus since. His ERA is down to 2.89 and probably will continue to drop throughout the rest of 2018.
Jesus Tejada: In August 2017, Tejada was probably the hottest Cubs’ pitcher in the Dominican with an ERA under 2 that included a no-hitter. I thought he might have a chance to start this year at Eugene. It didn’t happen form but it doesn’t seem to be phasing him. He has a 2.70 ERA over four starts in July which included two 6 inning starts.
Justin Steele: To be honest, I didn’t think he would throw more than one inning at any time in a game this year coming off TJS. The Cubs are still keeping him on a short leash, to be honest, but Steele is pushing the limits of those starts. He’s thrown 18.1 innings in 5 starts in July with a 1.47 ERA and struck out 27 batters in those 18.1 innings while only walking 4. I wonder if he will stay in Mesa throughout August or move up the ladder to do more rehab work?
Maikel Aguiar: Sometimes luck happens for the weirdest reasons. When the Cubs went to two teams in the Arizona Rookie League, they thought they would have their draft picks signed and ready to go when the season began. That didn’t happen. Instead, the Cubs had to call up a few pitchers from the Dominican Summer League Teams. One was Aguiar. At 21, the 6’0″ and 185 pound righty from Venezuela has been devastating in a variety of relief roles. Sometimes he’s a short relieverer, and sometimes he’s a long reliever. In July, he has a 0.40 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 15 innings and opponents are hitting a measly .103 against him and his WHIP is an ungodly 0.55.
With a playoff berth in their backpack, it should be interesting to see how this mix of international players and recent draft picks shakes down in the second half.