Cubs' top four prospects head to Arizona Fall League
Baez, Almora, Soler, Bryant join quartet of organization's pitchers on Mesa Solar Sox
LOS ANGELES -- Cubs fans will get a glimpse of the future during the Arizona Fall League as the team's top four prospects -- Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant -- will play for the Mesa Solar Sox.
Baez, Almora and Bryant were the Cubs' first-round picks in the First-Year Player Draft the last three years, while Soler received a nine-year, $30 million deal in June 2012. The AFL begins play Oct. 8.
"That's as much good talent out of one organization that you can get," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "They're going to face consistently other people's best prospects and good arms. The evaluation keeps going on.
"The biggest thing is to face good competition on an everyday basis, and understand all those pitchers have the ability to pitch in the big leagues and probably will pitch in the big leagues at some time, and that's what you'll be facing on a daily basis."
The core four are projected as the building blocks for the "foundation for sustained success" Cubs executives have preached.
"We'll have to temper that excitement a little bit as guys will develop at their own pace," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "It should be a lot of fun to watch. We just hope they go out and perform and continue their development, especially the guys who didn't get a full season. They can get quality at-bats and catch up what they didn't get with a full season."
Almora, limited to 61 games with Class A Kane County because of injuries, will be on Mesa's taxi squad, playing twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Other Cubs on the Mesa AFL roster include pitchers Dallas Beeler, Matt Loosen, Armando Rivero and Arodys Vizcaino. Beeler, Loosen and Rivero are pitching for Double-A Tennessee, while Vizcaino has been rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
"It's really exciting for us," said Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod. "Javier has had a great year, and he didn't get to play as much last year in the AFL because of the injury. Kris is ready to be pushed. Soler was going to go [to make up for lost time]. Albert missed time, so he'll go to the instructional league and then the taxi squad, which will be good for him."
It's been a whirlwind summer for Bryant, the second overall pick in June's Draft. The third baseman, who led the country with 31 home runs at San Diego, began his pro career at short-season Class A Boise, batting .354 in 18 games, with four home runs, eight doubles and 16 RBIs. He was promoted to Class A Daytona, where he hit .318 in his first 12 games with three home runs, four doubles and nine RBIs.
"I'm very excited," Bryant said. "I don't know much about it. I'm new to this whole process, but I know there are lot of good players who have gone to the [Arizona] Fall League. I'm excited I get to continue playing baseball. The games will only help me in my development against some very good competition."
Having the foursome as teammates at this stage in their young careers will also help in their development.
"The reason [they're playing] was individually, it helps their development," Hoyer said, "but I think it is a nice thing [they're together] and hopefully they become closer out there."
"That's huge," Bryant said about being with the other prospects. "To get to play 30-plus games with these guys, it'll only help us in the future. Hopefully we can develop chemistry, so heading into next year, we can make things easier for ourselves."
McLeod said he hopes the players motivate each other as well.
"It's good for them to spend time with each other, push each other in the fall, then hopefully push each other in the spring," McLeod said. "It's exciting to have these four guys going together. It'll be great if we can get to see them all playing together on the same field."
This will be Baez's second turn in the AFL. Last year's stint ended early because of a thumb injury that limited him to 14 games. This season, the 20-year-old shortstop has been on fire. He batted .274 with 17 home runs, 19 doubles and 57 RBIs in 76 games for Class A Daytona. He hit .308 with 18 home runs, 14 doubles and 48 RBIs in his first 48 games with Double-A Tennessee.
Hoyer said Baez could play other positions as well as shortstop.
"The more versatility our guys have, the better," Hoyer said. "I think you will see guys moving around the diamond. That doesn't mean we're thinking about moving them off their primary position, it just means they can help us more up here and help the Major League club in the future if they move around."
Hoyer said they project Bryant as a third baseman and he'll likely stay there, but has played outfield in college.
Almora, 19, an outfielder, was batting .329 in 61 games with Kane County before being sidelined with a groin injury. Soler, 21, was limited to 55 games because of a stress fracture in his left tibia. The Cuban outfielder batted .281 with eight home runs, 13 doubles and 35 RBIs with Daytona before he was injured. He has been rehabbing in Mesa and was expected to begin hitting soon.
Beeler made nine starts at Tennessee before being sidelined in late May when he tore a tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand.
Loosen was 5-2 with a 1.83 ERA in nine starts with Daytona, and is 2-3 with a 6.53 ERA in 15 games (13 starts) with Tennessee. On Monday, he gave up three hits over seven shutout innings of a win against Mobile.
Rivero has pitched in relief, appearing in 18 games at Kane County, Daytona and Tennessee combined. The Cuban right-hander has given up 13 earned runs over 27 2/3 innings while striking out 43.
Vizcaino has yet to pitch for the Cubs. The right-hander was acquired in July 2012 in the deal that sent Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to the Braves.
"We're taking pride in what we've done," McLeod said of the Cubs' farm system. "There's a lot to be excited about, though it's in Daytona and in Double-A. But we have the opportunity to get some [impact players] to the big leagues, guys with stuff and tools."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.