There's a myth that I hate the Arizona Fall League. I actually think it's great. Players who missed time in the regular season get more playing time in a competitive environment. Scouts get another look at players before they have to decide to protect them from the Rule 5 draft or trade them in an offseason deal. Minor league players get some exposure to coaches and players from outside their own organization. Additionally, more baseball is always better than less baseball. It's all good.
What I hate is AFL statistics. I just don't think that you can tell a lot from a small sample size in thin air against mostly tired or second-rate pitching. Major league organizations rarely send top prospects to Arizona unless they're working their way back from an injury. Most of the good pitchers that are there are relievers on strict pitch counts.
Just to illustrate this further, last season Mesa had a triple slash line of .300/.373/.474 as a team. That gave them a team OPS of .846, which was well behind Surprise's league-leading team OPS of .912. The Surprise Saguaros also lead the league in ERA with a 5.04 number. Mesa's team ERA was the worst: 5.93.
So while I'd like to do a daily report on what goes on in the AFL, I truly don't think it's worth it to do a daily update of the Mesa Solar Sox, the team the Cubs share with the Orioles, Dodgers, Tigers and Astros. I don't live in Arizona and Bleed Cubbie Blue doesn't yet make enough money to send me to Arizona for a week to scout it out myself. So I'm mostly relying on the reports that others who have been there have written. Oh yeah, and on those statistics that I hate so much.
In case you care, after six games, the Mesa Solar Sox have a 3-3 record, which puts them in second place in their division.
Javier Baez: Baez is continuing his "grip it and rip it" approach to hitting. He's hit two home runs, neither of which have yet landed. (Not really, but you can see the first one here and it's a monster blast) In 21 at bats, he already has two home runs and two doubles. Unfortunately, that's four of his five hits and he's struck out seven times. He also hasn't walked at all.
On defense, Baez is continuing to show good hands and a great arm. Reports say he's made some spectacular plays, but has also taken a lackadaisical approach to routine plays that have led to the two errors he's made in five games
The good news for the Cubs is that Baez is finally facing pitchers who simply aren't going to give him anything to drive. After that first home run, they've mostly stayed away from him and allowed him to get himself out. Baez is going to have to learn to lay off pitches outside of the strike zone and take a walk as he moves up the minor league ladder. The tools are incredible. The power is even better than advertised. But he's going to have to learn that he can't hit a home run every time he comes to the plate and he can't win games all by himself. He's young and still has time to do that. But he can't let Javier Baez get in the way of Javier Baez.
Matt Szczur: Szczur has got a different problem in that he hasn't been able to drive the ball like he needs to to be a major league starter. However, he did finally get his first extra base hit, a double, in yesterday's game. He's getting singles, drawing walks and stealing bases, which of course is always good. In five games he's hitting .368 with a .478 OBP. He's stolen four bases and hasn't been caught once.
Rubi Silva: Silva has started three games in the outfield and has pinch hit once. He's started left and right field whereas he mostly played center field (and second base) with the Cubs, but these things are often dictated by the needs of other teams. Silva has five singles in sixteen at bats. He hasn't walked or reached base in any other way. He's stolen two bases without being caught.
The Cubs have sent three pitchers to the AFL, none of which have thrown three innings yet, so it's pretty hard to draw any conclusions about that yet. The word is that Tony Zych has looked good down there and his fastball is hitting the mid 90s. In three appearances, he's pitched 2.1 innings and has only allowed one baserunner. He's struck out two.
Kevin Rhoderick has made two appearances, one very good and one not as good. In his first appearance, he was throwing in the low 90s with his plus slider, which is his out-pitch. He faced six batters in that outing, retired five of them (one single) and struck out three of them. In his second outing, he only allowed one hit in his inning of work, but that hit was a solo home run to Mets outfielder Darrell Ceciliani. He struck out two more, so he's still striking out half of the batters he's faced.
The final Cubs pitcher, Dae-Eun Rhee, made one start on October 11 and gave up two runs on six hits over two innings. He walked one and struck out two. Rhee has never looked the same after Tommy John surgery in 2008. It could be that he's one of the 5-10% that never make a full recovery or this could just be his true ceiling of development. The Cubs have to decide whether to expose him to the Rule 5 draft and his performance in the AFL will probably play a big role in that decision.
Update: Figures I'd forget to mention someone in the league, and I missed Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year Nick Struck. Struck had only pitched two games and 2.1 innings before this afternoon, but today he went another inning, retiring Peoria 1-2-3 in the ninth on two ground outs and a line out. Over 3.1 innings in three games, Struck has thrown 3.1 innings and has a 2.70 ERA. He has three strikeouts and three walks.
Baez was 2 for 4 this afternoon, both singles this time. He had one RBI. Szczur and Silva both went 0 for 4. Rhoderick struck out two and allowed one hit in an inning of work, so he's still striking out half the batters he faces. Small sample size, but good start for Rhoderick