More on AFL Nods: The Pitchers

Four Cubs pitching prospects and three position prospects were named to the annual Arizona Fall League post-season event on Monday. The pitchers named were Grant Johnson, Lincoln Holdzkom, Carmen Pignatiello and Clay Rapada.

Combined with catcher Jake Fox, third baseman Scott Moore and second baseman Eric Patterson, the seven players will help shape the 2006 Mesa Solar Sox roster, which also houses prospects from the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins organizations. The team will be managed by Pat Listach.

Of the pitchers, Johnson's name is probably the most recognizable on the list. Johnson was the club's first overall choice in the 2004 draft from Notre Dame after falling to the organization in the second round. (The Cubs forfeited their first-round selection to sign LaTroy Hawkins.)

A starter all throughout his pitching career, the right-hander was moved to the bullpen in late June and has appeared in 18 consecutive appearances from there. He is 6-5 with a 4.74 ERA overall this season in 89 1/3 innings for Class A Daytona of the Florida State League.

"His velocity is up to where we thought it would be, up to 93 [mph] again," Cubs Director of Player Development Oneri Fleita said of Johnson. "We think he likes the bullpen role and it looks like he fits the role."

Joining Johnson will be Carmen Pignatiello, who appeared in all but one game for the Jaxx in relief and had a 2.69 ERA. Like Johnson, the left-hander had been used as a starter throughout much of his career until this year.

Pignatiello, a curveball specialist whom the Cubs consider a situational pitcher against left-handers, was promoted to Triple A Iowa along with Patterson this past weekend, where he spent a good portion of 2005.

"He's been there before," Listach, the Jaxx first-year manager, said of Pignatiello. "He's a left-handed specialist. He's a great lefty-lefty guy because of that great curveball."

Of those with lesser publicity, Holdzkom has appeared in just over 40 innings this season and been hampered with injuries. He has spent the majority of his time at Double-A this season, where in 14 appearances from the Jaxx bullpen, the right-hander has a 2.03 ERA and 21 strikeouts to nine walks.

Acquired from the Marlins in the trade that sent Todd Wellemeyer to Florida this past March, Holdzkom underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2004 after pitching at Class A Greensboro in the South Atlantic League. He spent time on the shelf earlier this year after jamming his shoulder in a game at Tennessee back on April 12.

"He's got a great body and is a real strong guy with a real good arm," said Fleita. "We've got him throwing 100 percent again and in the low to mid 90s. We're going to let him go to the Fall League and get a chance to get back some of those innings he missed over the course of this season."

"He can be used to close some games. He can go three or four innings if I need him to, or be that closer we're looking for right now," Listach added.

Part of the reason the Jaxx are looking for a closer is because of Rapada. The sidearm southpaw saved 21 games for the team and had a 0.82 ERA and 45 strikeouts to 10 walks, but was promoted to Triple-A in June.

Since then, Rapada has gone 2-2 with a 3.79 ERA in 23 appearances. The left-hander has given up more than one run in a game only once since the promotion. He returned to action on Tuesday after missing over two weeks with what Listach said was a finger-related injury.

"I think he'd been out with an ingrown nail," Listach said. "The guy's a strike-thrower that went and got ahead of people for us. He throws strike one and then you have to hit his pitch after that. He's one of those unorthodox sidearm lefties that's finally having some success at Triple-A."

Fall League play begins Oct. 10. A total of 46 players who spent time in the AFL a season ago have already seen major league playing time this year, including the Cubs own Matt Murton.

Listach will manage his first team in the Fall League. He had served as the Solar Sox hitting coach in 2001, working alongside manager Chris Cron and pitching coach Bob Stanley.

"I think our guys are going to do well out there," Listach said.

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