Arizona Fall League

I ventured down to Scottsdale on Wednesday to take a sneak peak at the future of the Chicago Cubs. Eight of the Cubs top minor league prospects are currently playing in the Arizona Fall League with hopes of getting to Wrigley Field in the next season or two.

The AFL is always my favorite venue for baseball.  After the promise of spring training, and the highs and lows of 162 summer games, Fall League baseball offers another six weeks of play that gets you that much closer to another new seasons. The weather in Arizona is fantastic in the Fall. There are no crowds to battle. (A good AFL crowd might reach 300.) So you park your car, walk a few yards to the stadium, pick your favorite spot to sit (There are always empty seats right behind the dugout, or home plate, or in that sweet spot just beyond first and third base where the foul balls land.) and enjoy seeing some of the best prospects from every major league team compete.

Since 1992, the league has had six teams operating in the Phoenix metro area. The short season runs from early October to mid November.  Each of the 30 Major League teams selects up to 8 players to participate. These players played at AA or AAA for their club in the prior season (one player can come from A ball.) The Cub prospects play for the Mesa Solar Sox, a team additionally comprised of players from the Angels, Athletics, Nationals, and Tigers.

This year the Cubs sent position players Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Wes Darvil, and pitchers Dallas Beeler, Lendy Castillo, Matt loosen, and Armando Rivero to test their mettle against this higher level of competition.

On Wednesday, I got a chance to glimpse three Cubs play. Kris Bryant, a third baseman, who was the Cubs number one draft pick this year was the designated hitter for the Solar Sox. Bryant has been a standout in the Fall League through the opening weeks. He leads the league in hitting for average, homeruns and RBI. When I saw him, he displayed his power by banging the first pitch he saw off the left field fence for a double. He later drove a towering fly ball to center that was caught and finished the day going 1 for 5. Although I didn’t get to see him in the field, he is said to be an above average fielding third baseman and has a good arm.

He advanced quickly through the minors in his first year and will probably start next season at AA Tennessee. With a good season under his belt, it might not be that long before we see him in Chicago.

The only other Cub to start the game was outfielder, Wes Darvill.  Darvill normally a second baseman, started in right field. He had an RBI single that gave the Solar Sox a one run lead that held up until the ninth and finished the day 1 for 5. So there was not a lot to on which to base an evaluation. The Cubs drafted Darvill in 2009 as a 17 year old out of a British Columbia high school. He is a bit of a project for the Cubs who saw some promise in his overall athleticism. He has not consistently starred in his five years in the minors but he is showing steady signs of improvement and is only 22 years old yet.

Albert Almora, the Cub’s first round draft pick in 2012, came in to play right field in the ninth and tenth innings and did not bat.  Based on his performance in the AFL so far, Cub fans have a lot to be excited about.  Almora has been one of the top hitters in the league with a .333 average and good run production.  He is the youngest Cub player on the team and one of the youngest in the league. He went 4 for 4 in his first AFL game and is more than holding his own.

I hope to see more games and other Cubs play (especially Jorge Soler and Armando Rivero) in the next few weeks.  Having seen Starlin Castro and Junior Lake excel in past Fall League games and then make the jump to the Majors shortly thereafter, I think the future looks good.