The Chicago Cubs season has all but come to a close, and the front office now has their sights set on Arizona. It was announced Wednesday that the Cubs are to send eight prospects to play for the Mesa Solar Sox in this year’s Arizona Fall League.
The big surprise snub from this year’s list of delegates was the recently signed Cuban defector Jorge Soler. He will close out his season with Peoria Chiefs, after a very successful, albeit short first run through the minors. With Soler out, let’s take a look at the prospects the Cubs are sending to the desert to compete in this year’s AFL.
SS – Javier Baez (19) – Cubs 2011 1st Round Pick
2012 – Daytona: 0.174/.230/.333, 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 4 SB, 4 BB, and 18 SO in 69 PA
One of the younger and more exciting prospects in the Cubs system, Javier Baez started his season with the Peoria Chiefs (A), and came out swinging. In 213 plate appearances, Baez racked up a .333 average, 27 extra-base hits, and 20 stolen bases, showing off both his quick bat and quick feet. With a lot of moving parts in the Cubs organization at all levels, Baez’s performance in Peoria warranted a promotion to the Florida State League to play for the Daytona Cubs (A+). He has since cooled off in his first full season in the minors, but the Cubs aren’t too worried. Baez is known for having a rare bat-speed at only 19 years old, as his early career average and power numbers suggest. He is a competent fielder, though his power profile may hurt his range at SS as he develops physically. That, combined with Starlin Castro’s new contract with the Cubs, makes an eventual move to the hot corner all the more likely. The one thing Baez needs to improve upon before he receives his next promotion is his plate discipline. He has only walked 13 times in 282 plate appearances over the last two seasons, so the Cubs hope for Baez to work through those youthful woes with the Mesa Solar Sox this fall in Arizona.
OF – Matthew Szczur (23) – Cubs 2010 5th Round Pick
2012 – Tennessee: 0.195/.272/.358, 6 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 4 SB, 12 BB, and 25 SO in 123 PA
The new Cubs brass has put a premium on changing the way the Cubs play baseball at all levels. One of their sticking points for improvement is fielding solid defensive ball clubs. Matt Szczur—actually pronounced “Caesar”—is the type of athlete the Cubs organizations will covet in their efforts to improve defensively. Szczur lettered in football, baseball, and track & field in high school, was a two-sport athlete in college at Villanova, and was both invited to the NFL Combine and drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2010. The Cubs were able to incent Szczur to pursue a career in baseball, and he has been with the Cubs since. Through 109 games in 2012 between Daytona (A+) and Tennessee (AA), Szczur has racked up 25 doubles, eight triples, and 42 stolen bases. Leaving little question about his athleticism, the more surprising portion of his game has been his maturity at the plate. In 418 plate appearances this year, Szczur has drawn 59 walks en route to a .360 on-base percentage. Szczur will join Baez on the Solar Sox as the two top Cubs prospects to play in the AFL.
OF – Rubi Silva (23) – Signed by the Cubs as an Undrafted Free Agent in 2010
2012 – Tennessee: 0.262/.270/.377, 0 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 1 SB, 1 BB, and 15 SO in 61 PA
Though much-talked-about prospect Jorge Soler will not be wielding his bat for Mesa this season, the Cubs will be sending another Cuban outfielder to the AFL for some extra baseball. Rubi Silva was signed by the Cubs back in 2010, along with fellow Cuban junior national teammate Yaniel Cabeza. Silva is a gifted athlete who brings good range and a big throwing arm to his natural center and right field positions. The lefty is still developing at the plate, but in a farm system that has lacked impact left-handed bats in its recent history, Silva’s progression through the minors could be an interesting storyline. In only two minor league seasons, Silva has advanced from A-ball to AA-ball, where he currently finds himself in the outfield rotation for the Tennessee Smokies. He is a career .291 hitter, though his productivity (only 67 XBH) and on-base percentage (.310) leave a bit to be desired. Silva is the final offensive player the Cubs send to the AFL, and the extended season should serve him well.
RHP – Dae-Eun Rhee (23) – Signed by the Cubs as an Undrafted Free Agent in 2007
2012 – Tennessee: 4.95 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 163 H, 48 BB, 73 SO in 136.1 IP
One of five Cub arms heading to Mesa this fall is Dae-Eun Rhee, a right-hander who spent his 2012 season in the Tennessee rotation. Hailing from South Korea, Rhee was picked up as an international free agent, and joined the Peoria Chiefs in 2008 for his first full season of American professional baseball. In his now five-year minor league career, Rhee has compiled a cumulative 4.55 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP, and a 6.3 SO/9. These numbers aren’t glowing, but the good news for Cubs fans is the numbers are not overly indicative of the quality of the pitcher. Rhee features an arsenal that keeps hitters off-balance, mixing a low 90s fastball with a change-up that many consider his best pitch. The change has enough nasty downward movement on it that it could be mistaken for a splitter. Rhee also features a curve ball and slider, though both can be labeled as secondary pitches. In addition to the quality of his top two pitches, early in his minor league career scouts heralded Rhee for his impressive command. His walk rates have risen over the past two seasons, however, which has likely prolonged his stay in the minors. Rhee’s delegation to the AFL will give him additional opportunity to work on correcting his recent control problems.
RHP – Nicholas Struck (22) – Cubs 2009 39th Round Pick
2012 – Tennessee: 3.30 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 139 H, 42 BB, 117 SO in 150 IP
By all rights, Nicholas Struck has had a shockingly successful minor league career for a guy taken in the 39th round out of Mt. Hood Community College. With his selection to represent the Cubs in the AFL this year, Struck has clearly caught the eye of the decision-makers in the Chicago organization. And his 2012 numbers are stellar. In 26 starts, Struck has an SO/9 of 7, and an impressive 1.21 WHIP. He has also done a great job at keeping the ball in the park throughout his career, with a 0.6 HR/9 over the past three seasons. Struck features a low 90s fastball, with two strikeout pitches in his change-up and slider. None of his pitches are elite, but each are plus options that have proven effective. The 22-year old righty currently heads the Tennessee rotation, and even started 11 games for the Iowa Cubs (AAA) in 2011. The AFL will provide additional seasoning for this surprising young prospect.
RHP – Tony Zych (22) – Cubs 2010 4th Round Pick
2012 – Tennessee: 3.80 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 22 H, 10 BB, 28 SO in 23.2 IP
Coming out of the bullpen for the Solar Sox this fall will be Tony Zych, a second year Cubs farmhand out of the University of Louisville. Zych turned down his first opportunity to play pro ball for the Cubs in 2008, electing to stay in school. The Cubs loss was the Cubs reward four years later when Zych was available to them in the fourth round. The young righty projects best as a late inning reliever. He is regularly in the upper 90s with his fastball, and mid 80s with his slider. Zych has fanned better than a batter an inning in his brief minor league career, and has done a decent job avoiding the free pass with a career 2.7 BB/9. It will be interesting to see how quickly Zych moves through the minors having played collegiately. He appears a mature prospect, and could even see some save opportunities for Mesa.
LHP – Zach Rosscup(24) – Acquired by Cubs via trade with Tampa Bay in 2011
2012 – Tennessee: 4.64 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 12 H, 18 BB, 28 SO in 21.1 IP
A forgotten piece in the 2011 trade that brought Matt Garza to the north side of Chicago, Zach Rosscup will be representing the Cubs on the Solar Sox pitching staff this fall. Certainly a “toss-in” with Garza, Rosscup has some good upside, and a very solid track record in the minors. Prior to making the jump to AA with the Cubs, Rosscup managed a sub-3.00 ERA and a sub-1.25 WHIP in a mixture of starting and relief outings. Offenses have tagged the southpaw a bit more in Tennessee, inflating his ERA and WHIP, but his strikeout numbers have improved since his promotion. Rosscup is not the overpowering pitcher Zych is, but he is known for his impeccable control (1.11 career WHIP). If he continues to hit his targets and pitch methodically, he could find a middle relief spot with the Cubs in the next few years. He will likely pitch relief for Mesa this fall.
RHP – Kevin Rhoderick(24) – Cubs 2010 9th Round Pick
2012 – Tennessee: 4.87 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 48 H, 45 BB, 52 SO in 57.1 IP
The last Cubs minor leaguer to get the call to the AFL is right-handed pitcher Kevin Rhoderick (the “H” is silent). He is a taxi-squad representative, meaning he is only eligible to play for Mesa on Wednesdays and Sundays. Another reliever, Rhoderick opted to play college ball for the Oregon State Beavers instead of joining the Detroit Tigers farm system in 2007. This left the door open for the Cubs to take Rhoderick in the 2010 Amateur Draft. Rhoderick has struggled with control in his time with Tennessee in 2011 and 2012. In 114.1 innings pitched, he has walked a frightening 82 batters—not unexpected for a pitcher with the power Rhoderick has. Thankfully for the Cubs, his strikeout numbers (9 SO/9 career) are as impressive as his walk numbers. Expect Rhoderick to be a late inning reliever throughout his professional baseball career. He has the talent not only to make an impact for Mesa this fall at the tail end of their bullpen, but also to join his major league club in the near future as an important piece in closing out games.
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