EDITOR’S NOTE: Though the big-league Cubs season has ended, there’s still Cubs-related baseball this year. Eight Cubs prospects will be playing for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. AFL games begin Tuesday, and Tim will be presenting profiles of all the Cubs players on the Solar Sox before game action begins.
When the minor league players gather together for practice in Mesa, it’s a bit of a mishmash. Players that will (eventually) comprise five different squads are practicing together. After warming up, players are scattered to their position groups, largely. Five teams of outfielders working on fly ball skills, or hitting the relay man. Five squads of pitchers working on pitcher’s fielding practice. And five groupings of catchers donning the tools of ignorance. In the spring of 2018, soon-to-be Myrtle Beach manager Buddy Bailey strongly recommended that he should be allowed to take Jhonny Pereda to be with his Pelicans side. It was the start of a campaign that would place Pereda in the Arizona Fall League.
Pereda’s voyage through the Cubs pipeline had been a bit unspectacular through 2017. It took him two seasons to escape the since-shuttered Venezuelan Summer League. In neither season was his OPS over .600. Pereda required two more seasons to escape the Arizona Summer League. In his first season there, he played in only 11 games, with a .143 batting mark.
2017 saw him jump to full-season ball. With the Midwest League South Bend Cubs that season, the Aragua, Venezuela native split time between catcher and first, posting a rather ordinary .625 OPS. However, in spring training the next season, Bailey saw enough in Pereda to lobby to have him added to his side.
Normally, the executives decide who goes where. As dispassionately as possible, they assess abilities, ages, needs at different levels, and other factors. However, Pereda was placed on the Pelicans roster, and Pereda flourished under Bailey.
Pereda put together a season of nearly 500 plate appearances in Myrtle Beach, posting his second-highest OPS of his career, at .710. As he spent the season in Myrtle Beach, he’s already in the middle-minors. He figures to start the 2018 campaign in Double-A Tennessee. A quality season in the Southern League puts him solidly in contention for a 40-man roster spot, sooner or later. Organizations rarely have too many quality catchers.
When it comes to stocking a roster for the Arizona Fall League, five pipelines are put to the test. Each team has a few guys they specifically want on the roster. They’re making a push for a 40 Man roster spot, or else they might have missed some time due to injury. However, the last couple spots will be a bit of a “group project.”
AZ Fall League teams will often carry four catchers for the league schedule. They don’t really need four catchers for a month-long league, but four seems to be a good number. (Nobody needs to get rushed in case of an injury.) Sometimes, one of the four will be a taxi-squad guy, who is eligible to play twice per week. He’ll start one of the games, possibly with it being when a player from his pipeline is pitching.
However, with the Solar Sox this time around, no pretense is being made with a fourth catcher. The Cubs have sent two pure catchers to the Fall League squad. P.J. Higgins will join Pereda with the Solar Sox. The only other catcher on the team is Jake Rogers, a deadline acquisition by the Tigers from the Astros. All three appear to be full-time style catchers looking to polish their minor league resume.
Pereda’s chief asset is his infectious attitude. Myrtle Beach missed the playoffs in 2018. They were supposed to be better than they were in 2018, but the Carolina League itself was really good. Many of the opponents were very “tough outs.” The Pelicans pitching was normally very good, especially late. Part of that is attributable to Pereda, who caught more as the season progressed, when Higgins moved to Tennessee.
However, the team tended to struggle at the plate. Myrtle Beach finished 10th in the 10-team league in batting average (.232), 10th in on-base percentage (.309), and 10th in slugging, OPS, and home runs. Which is why Pereda’s positive attitude was so important.
When a team isn’t hitting, it’s very possible for their collective dobbers to get down. With Pereda and a few others leading the way, the team’s morale was rather good in 2018. They simply didn’t hit very well. This was blowback from successive draft classes that virtually ignored the offensive side of things.
The 2016 and 2017 draft classes were a boon to team pitching depth, but helped usher in a bit of a self-imposed dead-ball era. Finishing tenth and last in all the trendy offensive stats in Advanced-A is a tell. The 2018 draft brought more offensive pep to the pipeline.
Nonetheless, Pereda wasn’t the culprit for the offensive outage. He hit, led, and even mulched 38 percent of the runners trying to steal against him. If Pereda performs well, he may be prone to being a Rule 5 selection. However, if he’s impressive enough to do that, there’s a rather easy fix to prevent that from happening. (Add him to the 40.)
It’s nice to have catching depth. It’s especially nice to have catching depth, paired with positive attitudes and numbers on the upswing. Pereda might well be a major-league player in the future. If that’s the case, Buddy Bailey plucking him for his minor league side will have likely been a turning point.