Normally at this time of year, I’m deep into the Arizona Fall League. Something this year is keeping my attention elsewhere.
But that doesn’t mean that the AFL isn’t still important. Last season, both Willson Contreras and Rob Zastryzny were playing in the AFL and this season, they’re both on the Cubs’ National League Championship Series roster. The players in the AFL today can become the stars of tomorrow quicker than you might realize.
The Mesa Solar Sox, the team whose roster is stocked by the Cubs and four other teams (Indians, Marlins, Athletics and Blue Jays), is six games into their AFL season and are sitting with a 3-3 record in the standings. Seven Cubs are on the Solar Sox roster.
The Cubs player having the biggest impact in the AFL so far is also the biggest name: outfielder Eloy Jimenez. Still only 19-years-old, Jimenez is not only young for the AFL but he’s also inexperienced, as AFL rules limit the number of players who can participate without experience at the Double-A level. But that isn’t slowing down Jimenez any. He’s played four of Mesa’s six games so far and he’s 4 for 14 with a home run. Even better, Jimenez has walked five times and struck out only three times.
The Cubs top two prospects are in the AFL this year as second baseman Ian Happ is also on the Solar Sox roster. Happ is also off to a good start in Mesa. He’s played three games and is 3 for 11 with a pair of doubles. Happ has also walked twice and struck out twice. But Happ is here to get more reps playing second base as much as he is to hit.
The third and final position player that the Cubs have sent to Mesa is catcher Victor Caratini. Caratini has played three games so far and is 1 for 9, although he has walked three times and struck out only once.
The AFL is a hitters league, so it’s not surprising that a pair of the four Cubs pitchers on the Solar Sox roster are struggling. Duane Underwood Jr. is here after missing a chunk of last season with elbow stiffness. Underwood has only made one start so far, and he didn’t make it out of the third inning. Underwood allowed four runs on three hits in a 2.2 inning start on October 12, including a two-run home run to the second batter he faced. Underwood did strike out three and walked only one.
Ryan McNeil, who was so good out of the Pelicans bullpen this past season, ran into problems in both of his relief appearances so far. In his first appearance on the 12th, he gave up two runs in one inning. In his other appearance in the AFL on the 15th, McNeil pitched one inning, walking two batters and then giving up a three-run home run. So in two innings, McNeil has given up five runs and he walked three and struck out two.
The other two Cubs relievers have fared better. James Farris has also made two appearances and hasn’t given up a run and just one a hit over two innings. He’s struck out two.
Stephen Perakslis has made just one appearance so far, relieving Underwood on October 12. Perakslis threw 1.1 scoreless innings and gave up just one hit and a walk. He’s struck out three.