Cubs prospects, AFL preview

Addison Russell, C.J. Edwards and Dan Vogelbach headline the Cubs prospects list for the Arizona Fall League as play gets underway today. Cubs Park will host the Mesa Solar Sox, one of six teams in the AFL. Here’s a look at the AFL and the Cubs players.

About a month removed from the 2014 minor league season, eight Cubs prospects are ready to showcase their talent in the Arizona Fall League starting Oct. 7. Pitchers C.J. Edwards, Zach Cates, Ivan Pineyro and Gerardo Concepcion, along with SS Addison Russell, 1B Daniel Vogelbach and OFs Jacob Hannemann and Bijan Rademacher are all members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

Ron Villone, who was the pitching coach for Class A Daytona Cubs, will fill the same role Mesa. Mike Mordecai of the Blue Jays in the manager and the A’s Greg Sparks serves as hitting coach. Comprised of prospects from the A’s, Angels, Blue Jays, and Nationals, the Solar Sox call the Cubs new spring training facility home. Fall League festivities were kicked off on Oct. 4, with the Bowman Hitting Challenge, won by Kansas City Royals prospect Hunter Dozier. Vogelbach was the Cubs representative.

Last year it was replay, this year its “Pace of Play” rules that will be tested in the Arizona Fall League. As part of MLB’s recently formed Pace of Game Committee, the six initiatives will include a 2-minute, five-second inning break clock, a 2:30 pitching change clock, a three timeout rule, no-pitch intentional walks, staying in the batter’s box rule, and a 20-second pitch clock for games played at Salt River Fields. Here’s MLB’s press release of the new rules.

Here’s the Cubs eight prospects playing for Mesa Solar Sox:

Addison Russell will be getting back some of the at-bats he lost when a hamstring injury sidelined the shortstop for two months. Before he returned to full strength, he was traded to the Cubs from Oakland in the Jeff Samardzija deal. The 20-year-old played 50 games for the Smokies, hitting .294/.332/.536 with 12 homers, including a pair of grand slams. A top notched defender, the 11th overall pick in 2012, committed two errors in 210 chances in Tennessee. In 21 games last year in AFL, Russell hit .282/.361/.435 in 85 at-bats. A lot of Cubs fans don’t realize how good Russell is, but they are about to find out over the next two years. Look for the youngster to start the year in AAA and could be knocking on Wrigley’s door, especially if Cubs are in the playoff hunt.

C.J. Edwards is eligible for the Rule 5 draft so you can look for him to be on the 40-man roster before the winter meetings. Acquired last year from Texas in the Matt Garza deal, Edwards excelled as a Cubs and was ranked as one of the minors top pitching prospects heading into 2014. Shoulder fatigue sidelined the right-hander for most of the year as he made four starts before the injury in Tennessee and six more after rehabbing in Mesa. He ended the year with a stat line 1-2, 2.44 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 10 GS, 48 IP, 3.9 BB/9, 8.6 K/9. The 22-year-old was clocked consistently in the mid-90s last season but didn’t maintain that velocity this season. He sports a plus curveball and a decent change-up but struggled with his command in AA. Edwards should get about 6-7 starts and throw around 30 innings in the AFL. Will be a good test for the skinny right-hander and don’t be surprised if he’s the talk of the league. Reports are he will make his first start on Thursday.

Daniel Vogelbach continues his baseball education after hitting .268/.357/.429 with 16 HR and 28 doubles at High A Daytona. Despite a drop in weight, Vogelbach seems to have fallen out of the favor of the baseball industry as he wasn’t listed in Baseball America’s recent top 20 FSL prospects, then again, no first baseman was. One area where there was noticeable improvement in the stat line was on defense as Vogelbach only committed five errors in over 950 chances after 11 errors last season at Kane County. Vogelbach has a good approach at the plate which should serve him well against the pitching talent of the AFL.

Ivan Pineyro, like Edwards, missed considerable time and is also Rule 5 eligible. After five starts, Pineyro landed on the DL with a forearm strain and didn’t return to Tennessee until August. He finished the year 0-4, 5.55 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 11 GS, 48.2 IP, 4.3 BB/9, 7.6 K/9. Pineyro was acquired from the Nationals last year for Scott Hairston and excelled during Daytona’s FSL title run, going 3-1 with a 3.40 ERA in 45 IP with 8 BB and 38 K. Pineyro’s fastball has good late movement and sits 88-92 and the right-hander’s best pitch is his change-up. After the injury, Pineyro made four starts and threw 82 pitches in his longest outing, working 4.2 innings.

Jacob Hannemann spent his first full season between Kane County (.254/.321/.377, 88 G, 6 HR, 32 SB) and Daytona (.241/.299/.345, 36 G, 2 HR, 5 SB) playing centerfield. The Cubs third-round pick out of Brigham Young, Hannemann, 23, is still learning the game after a two-year mission and concentrating on football at BYU. Batting leadoff most of the season, the left-handed speedster will need to cut down on his strikeouts as he continues to develop. Hannemann is a decent defensive outfielder and his speed compensates for his deficiency on taking good, clean routes.

Gerardo Concepcion, 22, was one of the Cubs front office first signings, inking a 5-year, $6 million deal in March of 2012. A calf strain and viral infection highjacked his first season and he cleared waivers as he was removed from the 40-man roster. Many had written Concepcion off as back problems in 2013 limited his action to 3.2 innings. He started 2014 in Kane County and his bad luck continued as he was hit by a ball during batting practice and broke a bone in his foot. He returned to Kane County (2-2, 3.89 ERA, 41.2 IP, 1.27 WHIP, 15 BB, 38 K) in early July and was promoted to Daytona (2-0, 1.17 ERA, 15.1 IP, 0.91 WHIP, 6 BB, 14 K.) for the final month of the season. The Cuban native throws in the high 80s and compliments his fastball with a sweeping curve. Concepcion is Rule 5 eligible but still has two years left ($1.2 M per year) on his deal so its unlikely he will be selected.

Zach Cates, another Rule 5 eligible pitcher, is a hard-throwing right-hander reliever who spent the first two months in Daytona (1-1, 2.08 ERA, 26 IP, 3 BB, 18 K) and ended the year at Tennessee (2-1, 6.00 ERA, 27 IP, 22 BB, 22 K). A starter for most of his minor league career with Cubs after being acquired in the Anthony Rizzo trade with the Padres, Cates showed great command in A ball but had troubles with the strike zone in AA. Cates and his 95+ fastball had a 1.80 ERA over his first 20 innings (15 games) with a pair of wins and a save at Tennessee but struggled his final eight games, allowing 11 hits and nine walks over seven innings for a 18.00 ERA. The 24-year-old will work out of the pen in the AFL.

Bijan Rademacher was added late to the roster and will serve on the taxi squad, a position held by Hannemann before Rademacher’s addition. The 23-year-old outfielder spent the entire season in Daytona, hitting .281/.363/.448 in 111 games with 10 HR, 22 2B, and 56 RBI. The 13th round pick in 2012 has a plus arm but committed 11 errors in the outfield in the FSL. Finishing the season strong, Rademacher hit .329 in August with a .610 slugging percentage. He makes solid contact at the plate and has shown the ability to drive the ball to all fields.

This marks the official start of Winter Ball and Northsiders Report will be providing daily updates on all the Cubs prospects in action this winter. The Venezuelan Winter League starts Oct. 9 and the Mexican Winter League gets underway on Oct. 10. The Dominican Winter League opens on Oct. 17 and the Puerto Rican League doesn’t begin until Oct. 30.

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