Legends of the Arizona Fall League: Mesa Edition
I jumped at the chance to highlight the stars of the Mesa Solar Sox in TDG’s latest series covering the Arizona Fall League, because — if you didn’t know — I kind of, sort of like the Cubs. I was sad to see shortstop Javier Baez taken off Mesa’s roster when the Cubs decided it was in everybody’s best interest to give the 20-year-old a break after a ho-hum year of 37 home runs and 111 RBIs in 130 games between Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee.
Sans Baez, there’s no shortage of talent on the Mesa squad, which — in addition to the Cubs — is made up of players from the minor league affiliates of the Angels, Athletics, Nationals and Tigers. This series will highlight the stars and an additional three players whose prospect star could be on the rise with a strong showing in the AFL.
Author’s note: This is my first “totally prospect” post at TDG, so feel free to lambast me in the comments below. Thanks!
Commence drooling in three, two, one…
Albert Almora, OF, Cubs
Oh, look it’s a Cub! Almora, 19, spent the entire 2013 season in Low-A ball, hitting .329/.376/.466 in 66 games, but his season was delayed by a broken hamate bone and — to bookend a frustrating year — ended early with a groin injury. The outfielder was selected sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft, but his ETA is still far away (think 2016). He’s a plus defender with a strong arm and I’m in the camp that believes he’ll end up a better real-life player than fantasy player. Any more injuries and his prospect bubble could pop.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
Another Cub! But unlike the previous one, Bryant, 19, could be on the North Side as soon as 2014, despite being taken in the 2013 amateur draft at No. 2 overall. The third baseman is a man among boys with an imposing 6-foot-5 and 215-pound frame, which has drawn comparisons to Troy Glaus and Jayson Werth.
After hitting 31 home runs in his final season at the University of San Diego, Bryant hit .336/.390/.688 with 25 extra-base hits in his professional baseball debut. The Cubs will do everything they can to keep Bryant at third base (where his fantasy value is the greatest), but the left side of the infield is crowded with talent. His ETA is late 2014, and anything after that would be a disappointment. Watch this kid fly through the Cubs’ system.
Brian Goodwin, OF, Nationals
With Anthony Rendon graduating to the majors, Goodwin, 22, is now the Nationals’ No. 1 position prospect. After being promoted and struggling in Double-A to end 2012, the left-handed batter slashed .252/.355/.407 with 40 extra-base hits and 19 steals in 122 games this season.
Goodwin, the 34th overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft, upped his walk rate to 12.4 percent while being active on the base paths with mixed results (19 steals in 30 attempts). He’s a gap-to-gap hitter with the occasional surprise over the fence, but — with Bryce Harper, Werth and Denard Span covering the outfield grass — there’s no vacancy for Goodwin or a real need to rush his big league arrival. He has a 24.4-percent strikeout rate and still needs some grooming.
Addison Russell, SS, Athletics
Russell, 19, was selected No. 11 overall in the 2012 amateur draft and batted .369/.432/.594 in 55 games across three levels in his debut. He followed it up with a .275 BA and .885 OPS in 107 games in High-A, including 17 home runs, 29 doubles, 10 triples and 21 steals, before the team gave him a taste of Triple-A to end the 2013 season.
Scouts rave about Russell’s quick hands and bat speed, and he even showed surprising patience at the plate as one of the California League’s youngest players. Expect Russell to open 2014 in Double-A, but he could find himself in Oakland sooner rather than later. If he sticks at short, he could immediately jump into the conversation as an elite option.
Jorge Soler, OF, Cubs
Soler, 21, opened eyes in the spring and went on to hit .281/.343/.467 in 55 games in High-A, including eight home runs, 13 doubles and five steals. His season ended early with a stress fracture in his left tibia, but many believe he was close to a Double-A promotion at the time of his injury.
A strong showing in the AFL for the Cuban-born outfielder should put him on track to open 2014 in Double-A. He’s not so much a free swinger as most think, and he’s even demonstrated a good eye thus far. He’s got surprising speed, upper 20s pop — 30 is possible — and the chance to be something special as an everyday outfielder starting in 2015.
Three more to watch (non-Cubs, I promise)
C.J. Cron, 1B, Angels
Cron, 23, is a power bat from the 2011 draft class (No. 17 overall) who blasted 27 home runs in High-A ball and followed it up with 14 home runs and 36 doubles in Double-A. Cron will likely start 2014 in Triple-A, but he must address his three-percent walk rate, as he had 17 walks in 129 games in 2012 and 23 walks in 134 games in 2013. He does offset his low walk totals, however, with a 15.7-percent strikeout rate and very strong contact rates.
The jury is still out whether or not this 6-foot-4, 235-pound monster can hit his way onto a big league roster, but the outlook for playing time is still good. While Albert Pujols isn’t going anywhere, it’s not hard to envision Cron pushing Mark Trumbo off first base eventually.
Max Muncy, 1B, Athletics
Muncy, 23, was taken in the fifth round of the 2012 amateur draft and has 139 strikeouts against 129 walks in 204 minor league games. Despite not being known for his power, the left-handed hitter/right-handed thrower connected for 21 home runs in High-A ball before being promoted to Double-A to finish the year.
On the season, Muncy slashed .273/.381/.476 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs and should find his prospect star much brighter in 2014 because of it. He led all Oakland minor leaguers in home runs, RBI, walks and total bases.
Muncy’s knack for getting on base is not surprising, but his transformation into a power hitter was something no one saw coming. Skeptics will point to the hitter-friendly CFL and we likely won’t know if his power is for real until 2014, when he more than likely opens the year in Double-A.
Devon Travis, 2B, Tigers
Finally, a Tiger! And he has two first names! Travis, 22, was selected in the 13th round of the 2012 amateur draft and hit a modest .280/.352/.441 with three home runs and three steals in Low-A ball.
But the 5-foot-9 second baseman followed it up by hitting .351 with a .936 OPS to go along with 16 home runs, 28 doubles and 22 steals between Class-A and High-A ball in 2013. Travis doesn’t have a strong arm, but he has good range in the field and should remain a non-liability at second base. Not known as a speedster, he’s stolen 25 bases in 30 attempts and the AFL will give us a better idea of Travis’ true talent. So far, he looks like a really nice find for the Tigers.