Though the season for the parent club ended on a sour note almost a week ago, that doesn’t mean that all Cubs related action has come to a halt. In fact, almost two weeks ago, the Arizona Fall League started its season, and there are several Cubs minor leaguers who are playing this fall. On October 13, the 2015 season started in Arizona, so there have been quite a few games already. While most of us were wrapped up in the Cubs’ postseason run, some of their future players were getting extra work in a league that many casual fans probably don’t know exists or at least know very little about. I’ll take a quick look at the basic structure of the league and its schedule, and then a brief look at each of the Cubs affiliated players who are down there this year.
As I mentioned earlier, the season started on October 13, and it runs until the last regular season game on November 19. They have an all star game on Saturday, November 7, and the championship is on Saturday, November 21. There are 8 teams split across an East and a West division, with the teams in Salt River, Scottsdale, Mesa, Glendale, Surprise, and Peoria. The team in Mesa plays at Sloan Park, and that is where the Cubs affiliated players are, along with other minor leaguers from the Angels, Marlins, A’s, and the Rays.
The Cubs have quite a few players in Mesa this fall, including a few prospects worth watching closely. Here’s a look at who they are:
Originally a draftee of the Yankees, Black came to the Cubs system in 2013. This has been his fourth full season in the minors, and the 24 year old has spend the last two seasons with AA Tennessee. This year, he made quite a few more relief appearances than he did in 2014, and he ended up throwing just 86 innings for the Smokies. He does boast an excellent strikeout rate with 101 Ks in those 86 innings, but his 1.407 WHIP in 2015 is a little worrisome.
Garner left Michigan State early to join the Cubs in 2013 after they drafted him in the 7th round. He was drafted out of high school by the Reds in 2010, but opted for college instead. He split his time between South Bend and Myrtle Beach this year, and actually did considerably better after moving up to Myrtle Beach. There, he had a 0.890 WHIP in 30.1 innings and 36 strikeouts to just 10 walks.
Johnson was also drafted out of high school originally, but declined in order to go to Missouri State. The Cubs took him in the first round in 2012, and coming in to the 2015 season, he was ranked 83rd in the Baseball Prospectus top 100 list. Because of a back injury, he spent the first couple of months in extended spring training this year, but he was able to throw 95 innings in 16 starts for AA Tennessee this year. He looked great in that time, and maybe, just maybe, he could be that extra starting pitcher that the Cubs are looking for in 2016. Perhaps not right away, but I could see him brought up in the second half of the season.
Zastryzny had a pretty rough year in AA Tennessee, posting a 6.23 ERA in 14 starts. His WHIP was a troubling 1.731, and he gave up 77 hits in 60.2 innings. He’s not pitched particularly well in the Fall League so far either. On Saturday, he threw 5 innings in his start and gave up 6 hits and 2 runs. He did strike out 7, however.
Brockmeyer played in 4 minor league levels this year, going from single A South Bend all the way to AAA Iowa. His best performance came in Kane County last year, when he went .297 in 77 games there. He did play at the AAA level in 2013 also (for just 2 games), but spent all of 2014 in low A.
Contreras has been with the Cubs organization since 2009, when he was 17. Contreras spent all of 2015 in AA Tennessee, where he put up numbers that are worth your attention, especially when you consider that he spent the majority of them at catcher. In 521 plate appearances, he had an OPS of .891 and had 151 hits to just 62 strikeouts. He’s also spent the last two winters playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he’s gone up against guys at least 5 or 6 years older than he is, and he still hits extremely well.
This 21 year old third baseman seems like he just might have a bright future. Another player who joined the Cubs system as a 17 year old, he split his time this year between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee. Between the two stops, he had a combined OPS of .770 and hit 35 doubles, 4 triples, and 10 home runs. In 6 games in Arizona so far this fall, he’s hitting just a scant .478 and has 4 doubles and 3 home runs already.
The Cubs took Zagunis in the 3rd round out of Virginia Tech last June, and he spent all of this year in Myrtle Beach. In 512 plate appearances there, he had an OPS of .818. He had 24 doubles and 5 triples. He’s had just 2 hits so far this fall, but he’s drawing walks like crazy. In 5 games, he’s already been walked 8 times, so while his batting average is .182 in the fall league so far, he has an OBP of .526. He drew 80 walks for Myrtle Beach this season (in 115 games). Just to give you some perspective, Kris Bryant drew 77 walks in 151 games for the Cubs this year.
THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY
2008: The Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the top offensive player in each league, is presented to Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis (.312, 29, 115) and Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez (.289, 27, 111). The honor was established in 1999 to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of Henry Aaron surpassing Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record.