The rosters for the Arizona Fall League were announced today and seven Cubs minor leaguers will be playing for the Mesa Solar Sox this fall, including one of the Cubs top pitching prospects, Oscar De La Cruz.
De La Cruz was arguably the Cubs top pitching prospect coming into the season (most said Dylan Cease, but some did like De La Cruz better). However, a recurring issue in the development of De La Cruz has been injuries, and this season was no different as he was out from late-May to mid-August with a “tender arm.” De La Cruz has only made ten starts so far this season for the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans and is clearly here because he needs more work. De La Cruz has never thrown more than 75 innings in a season and this year he’s only thrown 50, although he has at least one more start to come.
Joining De La Cruz in the Mesa pitching staff are RHP Pedro Araujo, RHP Jake Stinnett and RHP Alec Mills. The Cubs were hoping that Mills could contribute at the major league level this season when they traded Donnie Dewees to the Royals, but he’s been limited to just 19 innings this year because two separate trips to the disabled list.
Jake Stinnett is another pitcher who has missed a large chunk of the season to the disabled list. His season didn’t start until a rehab appearance in Mesa in July and didn’t join the Double-A Tennessee Smokies until this month.
Araujo is the one healthy pitcher in this group, having pitched all season for the Pelicans until a promotion to the Smokies on August 11. Araujo has been effective all season with a combined 1.84 ERA and ten saves. He’s struck out 83 and walked just 17 in his 63.2 innings. However Araujo, like the other three pitchers on this list, is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter and the Cubs no doubt would like to get another look at him before deciding whether to add him to the 40-man roster.
Joining the four pitchers are four position players, led by third baseman Jason Vosler. Vosler had had a bit of a breakout year in Double-A Tennessee this season. While his .250 batting average has nothing to recommend it, the .352 on-base percentage and 21 home runs in 428 at-bats doubtlessly has the Cubs wondering whether they should protect him in the Rule 5 draft this winter (or just showcase him for another team who would protect him).
Second baseman David Bote is another Rule 5 eligible player and actually, he’s been Rule 5 eligible for a few years now. Bote’s bat broke out last season and he followed that up this year. He has a slash line of .270/.351/.440 with 14 home runs in 128 games in Double-A. Additionally, Bote has taken a step forward with his glove this year and it now looks like the 24-year-old Coloradan could have a major league future.
Outfielder Charcer Burks was Rule 5 eligible last year, and he pretty much replicated his 2016 season in Myrtle Beach this year in Tennessee. Burks draws a walk, has average power and above average speed, but a weak arm mostly limits him to left field.
Finally, the one Cubs player on the Solar Sox who is not eligible for the Rule 5 draft is catcher Ian Rice. Rice hit .233/.359/.432 with 17 home runs in 317 at-bats. There is little question that Rice can hit, but his defense behind the plate is poor and he no doubt is in Arizona this fall to work on that.
The Mesa Solar Sox play their games at Sloan Park and thus the Cubs are always one of the five teams on the Solar Sox. Joining Mesa this year are the Athletics, Tigers, Astros and Nationals. The top two prospects on the Solar Sox this year will be outfielders Victor Robles of the Nats and Kyle Tucker of the Astros.
The AFL starts on October 10 and runs until November 18. If you’re in Arizona this fall, you should definitely check out a game. Last year the AFL became famous for Kyle Schwarber playing there before joining the Cubs for the World Series. It seems unlikely that there will be anything that exciting this year, but you never know.