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Arizona Fall League report: Andy Weber’s grand slam leads Solar Sox to victory

Caleb Kilian put on a pitching clinic.

Andy Weber
Al Yellon

MESA, Arizona — Yes, I’m in the Valley of the Sun and it was a gorgeous Monday afternoon with temperatures approaching 90, so I decided to head to Sloan Park for an Arizona Fall League game between the Mesa Solar Sox and Scottsdale Scorpions.

The Solar Sox, who include Cubs prospects, gave the Scorpions a 10-0 lead after just two and a half innings, but hit three home runs including a grand slam by Cubs prospect Andy Weber and won the game 11-10.

Ryan Jensen, who was the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in 2019, started this game. It was likely the intention that he would go four innings, but after striking out the first two batters he faced, he just got pounded. Jensen faced 17 more hitters and 12 of them reached base, 10 on hits, one on a walk, and one batter who was hit. I’m not sure what happened here, but the Scorpions hitters seemed to know what was coming and hit the ball all over the yard. There were two long home runs among the 10 hits and Jensen was lifted after 72 pitches, having recorded just seven outs. I suppose Jensen could have been tipping his pitches.

Here’s a look at Jensen’s pitching motion:

So it’s 10-0 heading to the bottom of the third. Weber led off that inning with a triple. Or, let’s call it an “Arizona Fall League triple” because the ball should have been caught in center field; instead it was dropped and Weber wound up on third. In a MLB game this would have been called an error. Anyway, Weber scored on a sac fly and then Cubs prospect Nelson Velazquez ripped a double down the left field line. J.J. Bleday, a Marlins prospect who was once a No. 1 pick (fourth overall in 2017), homered to make it 10-3.

Cubs prospect Caleb Kilian, who the team acquired in the Kris Bryant deal, entered to start the fourth inning and absolutely shut the Scorpions offense down. He did allow a pair of hits in the fourth, but after that retired 16 of 17, the only further baserunner reached by being hit by a pitch in the fifth. It was absolute dominance. Kilian struck out five and had good velocity, hitting 97 on the Sloan Park pitch speed meter. Here’s a look at his pitching motion:

The Solar Sox continued their comeback in the fourth. Two singles put runners on first and third with one out and Blue Jays prospect Will Banfield then homered to make it 10-6. An inning or so later, a woman saw me keeping score and asked me what the score was. I told her, since it’s nearly impossible to see any of the numbers on the Sloan Park scoreboard.

The winning rally was put together in the bottom of the sixth. A single and two walks loaded the bases with one out for Weber, who put a ball onto the right-field berm for a grand slam to tie the game. Two more walks sandwiched around a fly to left put runners on first and second with two out. Blue Jays prospect Gabriel Moreno hit a ball to first base that should have ended the inning, but Red Sox prospect Triston Casas muffed the ball and it got by him at first base for an error. A run scored to make it 11-10 Mesa.

Kilian and Blue Jays prospect Graham Spraker shut Scottsdale down the rest of the way to give Mesa that 11-10 win. That reduces Mesa’s magic number to clinch the East division of the Arizona Fall League to five. If they win the division they’ll play in the AFL championship game Saturday, November 20. That game will be televised on MLB Network at 6 p.m. CT.

The attendance was given as 675, which is kind of a lot for a game like this; the AFL has gotten more popular in recent years. A decade or so ago, the last time I went to an AFL game, there were maybe 100 people in attendance, mostly family members of the players and scouts. One of the people in attendance Monday was Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer, who was spotted sitting behind the plate. Hope he liked what he saw out of Weber and Kilian. I would imagine both will get spring training invitations for 2022.

I’m planning to go to another game in Mesa Friday, November 19 and I’ll go to the championship game if Mesa is in it. It’s a fun and relaxed way to enjoy some baseball in perfect weather. If you’re ever in the Phoenix area this time of year I’d highly recommend it.