(Photo by Roger C. Hoover)
The crop of Cubs prospects representing the organization at the 2015 Arizona Fall League might have lacked the hype that accompanied Kris Bryant, Javier Baez or Addison Russell in recent years. However, a few prospects did raise their profile in the showcase league and could be part of the next wave of budding stars.
On Tuesday, MLB.com’s Jim Callis unveiled his top 20 prospects from the AFL, and a pair of Cubs made the list.
5. Willson Contreras, C, Mesa (Cubs No. 10 prospect): After leading the Double-A Southern League in batting (.333) and extra-base hits (46), he continued his breakout 2015 by hitting .283/.361/.547 before straining a hamstring. Like [Gary] Sanchez, Contreras is an offensive-minded catcher with enough defensive skills to be a big league regular.
MLB ETA: 2017
11. Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Mesa (Cubs No. 20 prospect): The Cubs keep churning out impressive offensive prospects, and here’s yet another. Candelario is a switch-hitter with legitimate power (he ranked second behind Sanchez with five homers, 13 extra-base hits and 50 total bases) and arm strength, though he may not have the agility for third base.
MLB ETA: 2017
The 23-year-old Contreras, a converted third baseman, slugged .891 during the Double-A season and was named the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year. He debuted in the Cubs system in 2009 as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League and could be knocking on the major league door sooner than later.
Candelario, who turned 22 on Tuesday, hit .291/.379/.462 between High-A and Double-A in 2015. It was a nice jump from a subpar 2014, though he’s always been one of the younger players at each of his respective stops. He signed with the Cubs in September 2010.
Mesa struggled as a team during the 2015 Arizona Fall League season, limping to a 9-21 record and a last place finish in the East division. Despite a poor showing in the standings, there were some promising players who raised their stock heading into the 2016 season. Here are the final stats from the Cubs prospects in the AFL:
The headliner in this group is certainly Jeimer Candelario, who made the midseason Fall Stars team. He finished second in the league in total bases and tied for second in home runs. The infielder was also top three in doubles and hits and top 10 in batting average and runs batted in. Willson Contreras had a solid season before a hamstring issue shortened his fall. One of the more interesting stats was Mark Zagunis’ 19 bases on balls, which was tops in the league and gave the catcher-turned-outfielder an on-base percentage more than 200 points higher than his average—and second best OBP in the AFL. Cael Brockmeyer, who got into games only twice a week as a taxi squad player, didn’t have a great line, but he also demonstrated his on-base abilities.
Though the offensive numbers have dropped in recent years, the AFL is still seen as a hitters league, and the Cubs’ pitching prospects might have fallen victim to their power-hitting opponents. Rob Zastryzny flexed his strikeout muscles, finishing third in the league in punchouts. He put up a solid WHIP as well, taking fourth among pitchers with five starts or more. Pierce Johnson, one of the organization’s top pitching prospects, didn’t have the greatest fall season, but his last few starts better represented the player many believe he can be. Overall, his strikeouts were sixth in the league. David Garner surprised some with a steady effort out of the bullpen. Though his walk total was a tad high, his 9.0 K/9 rate was good.
After getting rained out on Monday, Mesa returned to action Tuesday, falling 4-2 to Salt River. A few Cubs prospects got into the game with mixed results:
- 3B Jeimer Candelario (.347) got Mesa on the board early with an RBI single in the first inning, scoring Chad Hinshaw (Angels). He finished 1-for-4.
- RF Mark Zagunis (.234) was 0-for-3.
- LHP Rob Zastryzny (5.19) got the start, but gave up three earned runs in 3.0 innings for his second loss of the fall. He struck out three and walked one, giving up three hits.
Mesa hosts Salt River Wednesday, with first pitch scheduled for 12:35 local time.
Mesa powered its way to a 5-1 win versus Scottsdale Saturday, with a few Cubs getting into the action. Here are some notes from the weekend’s result:
- DH Jeimer Candelario (.352) recorded two hits, including a fifth-inning double, to finish 2-for-4. He added a run scored.
- RHP David Garner (3.48) pitched a scoreless eighth inning, giving up no hits and walking one.
- C Cael Brockmeyer (.200) went 0-for-4.
Mesa couldn’t get the offense going in a 1-0 loss to Peoria Thursday, but Cubs pitcher Pierce Johnson had a strong outing. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action:
- RHP Pierce Johnson (6.10) pitched 5.0 scoreless innings, striking out four and walking just one.
- C Cael Brockmeyer (.238) doubled in the sixth inning and singled in the third, going 2-for-3.
- RF Mark Zagunis (.275) led off the game with a single to right. He added a walk to finish 1-for-3.
- 3B Jeimer Candelario (.349) went 1-for-3 with a fourth-inning single.
Mesa heads to Scottsdale Friday, with first pitch scheduled for 6:35 local time.
A trio of Cubs pitchers saw mixed results as the Solar Sox topped Surprise 7-5 Wednesday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action:
- LHP Rob Zastryzny (4.70) got the start and gave up two earned runs in the first inning, but he quickly settled down to pick up the win. He allowed just one hit his final three innings and struck out the side in the second. In total, he gave up two earned runs on three hits and a walk, fanning four.
- 3B Jeimer Candelario (.350) singled to right in the third inning and added a walk to finish 1-for-3.
- RHP David Garner (3.86) gave up a solo homer in his one inning of relief and struck out a batter. He still managed to earn his second hold of the fall.
- RHP Corey Black (11.42) surrendered a run in an inning of relief, but picked up his second hold of the season.
Mesa heads to Peoria Thursday, with right-hander Pierce Johnson (8.04) scheduled to start. First pitch is at 12:35 local time.
Mesa gave up two late runs to fall 5-3 to Glendale on Monday. A pair of Cubs farmhands got into the game, and both made an impact despite the loss. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action:
- 3B Jeimer Candelario (.358) opened up the third inning with his fourth homer of the AFL season. He singled in the first and scored a batter later to put Mesa on the board. Candelario finished the day 3-for-5 with another single in the seventh.
- RF Mark Zagunis (.270) batted leadoff and recorded an RBI ground-rule double to right field in the second inning. He also drew a walk, going 1-for-4.
On Saturday, Candelario participated in the AFL Fall Stars game, going 1-for-2 with a two-out RBI double. Right-hander Corey Black also came into the game, surrendering three earned runs in an inning of work and striking out one.
With only two Cubs farmhands in action, it was a quiet day for prospects Wednesday. Both were able to drive in runs, but Mesa was on the wrong end of a 12-6 loss to Salt River. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action:
- C Cael Brockmeyer was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning and scored on a sacrifice fly three batters later. The taxi squad player added an RBI groundout in the ninth. He was 0-for-3 in his other plate appearances.
- RF Mark Zagunis drove in a run on a bases-loaded walk in the seventh but was also 0-for-3.
Cubs third base prospect Jeimer Candelario was added to Saturday’s Fall Stars Game via the AFL’s Final Two Vote. He received 27.8 percent of the votes to earn the final roster spot on the East Division team.
Cubs prospects did their part offensively, but Mesa pitching wasn’t there Tuesday, as the Solar Sox fell 14-5 to Peoria. Here are some notes from yesterday’s AFL action:
- RF Mark Zagunis (.222) singled in the seventh to load the bases, and scored two batters later on a Jake Bauers (Rays) single. He also walked in the third inning, finishing the afternoon 1-for-3.
- RHP David Garner (3.86) pitched a scoreless sixth inning, surrendering just one hit.
- DH Willson Contreras (.288) ripped an RBI double in the ninth for his lone hit of the game.
- 3B Jeimer Candelario (.341) singled in his first plate appearance, but was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double. He recorded a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, rounding out the day 1-for-4. Candelario struggled at the hot corner, committing three fielding errors.
- RHP Corey Black (11.74) scuffled in 1.1 innings of relief, giving up five earned runs (six total) on two hits and three walks.
Mesa hosts Salt River on Wednesday, with first pitch scheduled for 12:35 local time.
Mesa again failed to get the bats going in a 6-3 loss to Peoria Monday. Only one Cub was in action as the Solar Sox slipped to 4-13. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action:
- C Willson Contreras (.298) stepped up with a man on first and one out and ripped a single to left field in the eighth inning. Both runners would eventually be stranded.
On Monday, the fall league announced Contreras, as well as right-handed pitcher Corey Black, will participate in the AFL All-Star Game on Saturday. Also, infielder Jeimer Candelario is one of the final vote candidates. Fans have until Wednesday at 1 p.m. CST, to vote for the team’s final roster spot.