The Arizona Fall League opened its 30-game season Wednesday. Wins and losses by the Mesa Solar Sox are inconsequential. However, with seven Cubs prospects on the Solar Sox roster, the “MSSX index” on your Cubs pipeline stream will adjust quite often this month. The five players to realistically mind the most are five that are Rule 5 Draft-eligible in December, though the other two carry sway as well. Here are some details on these players for putting together you own MSSX index.
Caleb Kilian was added in the Kris Bryant trade. If you’re a fan of how good the Giants are at selecting pitching talent, that should be a positive energy boost for you. Much of his 2021 campaign was in the Giants system, where he posted comically low walk numbers. With the Cubs, his numbers were less extreme, but he still figures to be among the top two or three in “likely projected MLB innings in 2022 and 2023” of any current Cubs prospect not already on the 40-man roster. Kilian, a Texas Tech eighth-round pick in 2019, won’t be Rule 5 Draft-eligible until 2022.
Andy Weber was the Cubs fifth-round choice from Virginia in 2018. He’s generally been useful when healthy, but the “remaining healthy” concept has been problematic. Weber only played in 41 games at Double-A Tennessee in 2021, and his OPS was .623. He is ligible for the Rule 5 Draft, but is highly unlikely to be selected. His stint with the Solar Sox is about getting extra at-bats.
Luis Vazquez was a Cubs draft selection in 2017 (14th round from a high school in Puerto Rico) and was the opening day shortstop for South Bend in 2021. Shortly after, he was injured, and missed quite a bit of time. After 23 total games in South Bend, he earned a bump to Tennessee, where he played eight more games. His OPS in Double-A in a very small sample size was .543. Like with Weber, this is more about covering for missed at-bats than Rule 5 Draft selection concerns. He’s unlikely to be selected.
Nelson Velazquez fits in the sweet spot for 2021 Mesa Solar Sox options for the Cubs. Rule 5 Draft eligible (fifth Round in 2017 from Carolina, Puerto Rico), he might get selected. I have him on my tentative list. He can play all three outfield spots, but it might be an overstatement to say he’s especially good at any of them. He’ll make the play, and has a reasonably strong arm, but the value is in the bat.
In South Bend, he had an OPS of .776 over 69 nice games. Promoted to Double-A Tennessee, he jumped it to .938 over 34 games. Whether that was enough or not to salt down a roster spot, Velazquez got the call to the Solar Sox. Playing center field on opening day on Wednesday, he singled and doubled twice. Mesa, shut out 5-0, managed but four hits. Three were by Velazquez. Back that up the next month, and he earns an offseason roster spot.
Ryan Jensen was a Cubs first-round choice in 2019 from Fresno State. He pitched 92 innings in 2021 between South Bend and Tennessee. He limited hits, but walked a few too many. A bit like Kilian, he isn’t Rule 5 Draft eligible until 2022, and next year figures to get time in Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. He figures to be a pitcher in Wrigley sooner rather than later.
Danis Correa is a pure reliever, and pure relievers are often dealt with differently than starters. If a team is looking at relief pitchers for Rule 5 Draft consideration, levels of advancement or readiness are less important, usually. If someone is going to draft a pitcher like Correa, it’s a pure scouting thing. If the pro scouting department buys him long-term, and thinks he could toss 40 MLB innings, he makes sense for any team. Especially a bottom-feeder. Correa fanned 60 in 37 innings in 2021. If he shows 97/98 and gets outs in Arizona, he’ll get added to the 40-man.
Brendon Little was a Cubs first-rounder in 2017 out of State College of Florida. His success as a starter wavered, but moved to the bullpen, he moved quickly. In 41⅔ innings between Double-A and Triple-A, he fanned 53. The draw here is 95/96 from the left side with a developing back-foot slider. If the Cubs aren’t interested in retaining him, some team, likely, will be, if success is on display in Arizona.
The next important decisions are the 40-man roster, with the GM position now accounted for. If Velazquez, Correa, and Little perform in the desert, they’ll likely get rewarded. The discussions that most interest me now are ones that sway on the prospective 40-man. Feel free to add your assessments on the Cubs 40-man roster.