The Arizona Fall League had many ups and downs for every player there, but for the Cubs players there were a lot more of the former. The Cubs sent four position players and four pitchers to the fall league; the most highly regarded being pitcher Dallas Beeler, right fielder Jorge Soler, center fielder Albert Almora and third baseman Kris Bryant. Beeler, Soler and Almora were all coming off of injuries, while Bryant was continuing his first year tirade through professional baseball. However they ended up there, for all four players the fall league was revealing in at least one way or another.
Of all of the Cubs players in Arizona, Bryant probably had the least surprising and the most reassuring fall. After the Cubs drafted Bryant out of the University of San Diego with the second overall pick, he continued to excel through three levels of minor league baseball in just one season. However for all of the skeptics and nay-sayers out there, a highly touted draft pick constantly needs to prove himself; Bryant did just that this fall. The 21-year-old Las Vegas native led the league in homeruns with six, slugging at .727, extra-base hits with 15, runs scoring 22 times, and total bases with 56. Bryant also batted .364, good enough for fifth in the league, was named a starter in the annual Fall Star game, and reached base safely in all 20 regular season games he played in. The campaign earned Bryant the honor of the Joe Black AFL MVP award. While Bryant showed he can handle the bat, there is still room for improvement. One area is his proneness to strikeout. In only 77 at-bats this fall Bryant was set down on strikes 23 times, nearly once in every three at-bats. While this could be a cause for concern, it isn’t anything that can’t be fixed in the minors. The only way it would become an issue at the major league level would be if Bryant gets rushed up and isn’t given the time to correct it.
Beeler also put together a successful fall campaign. The 6-foot 5-inch pitcher was coming off a season ending finger injury and used the fall league not only to learn and improve, but also to get some innings and make up for time lost to the injury. The Tulsa native did a good job of keeping his team in games and more times than not collected the win. Beeler went 4-1 in six starts and sported a 2.49 ERA over 21.2 innings. This earned him the start in the Arizona Fall League Championship Game, where he took the hard-luck loss and pitched a dominant 5 innings allowing just one run on two hits and striking out five. Beeler’s progress goes beyond the numbers, this off-season he also added what he calls a “true cutter” to his arsenal, and most importantly got over the finger injury completely. He plans on going to back home to Tulsa where he will continue his work until spring training rolls around.
Almora was the youngest player the Cubs sent to Arizona, turning just 19 years old this past April, but he was far from the least productive. The speedy outfielder was originally going to be on the Solar Sox taxi squad, which would’ve only allowed him to play two days each week. However due to some last minute changes he was put on the regular roster and played in 21 games. Almora was consistent at the dish batting a solid .307 with nine extra-base hits and a dozen RBIs in 75 at-bats. He was also named to the East Valley Fall Stars team as a reserve and came in for Soler in the sixth inning of the game. Almora did all of this while coming off of two injuries that cut his season with the Kane County Cougars short. Almora too plans to head home to Florida for the winter, he recognizes that there is work to do, and has yet to rule out winter ball.
Lastly the fall experience of Soler had to be the most rollercoaster like of all the Cubs prospects. Soler came to Arizona still nursing a foot injury and for the first week or two of play was still sporting a soft-cast walking boot on his left foot. His timing and rhythm at the plate were not up to par to start the fall, and Soler quickly found himself struggling to get above the mendoza line. However after the boot came off the Cuban prospect turned it around and was hitting well enough to be named the starting right fielder of the East Valley Fall Star team. In 20 games Soler batted a respectable .271 with 14 RBIs in 85 at-bats. While Soler was able to put together a decent fall, there is still much work to do. He did not display the power the Cubs are expecting him to produce, and he struck out 21 times, many times on off-speed pitches. This could all have been part of his rehab, but it has yet to be seen if Soler can hit the ball the way he is expected to. Soler is going back to Florida this winter and is going to be working with the same trainer he did last year, and hopes to se a lot of improvement.
While all of these players are going to be working on different aspects of their respective games over the winter, the common thread between them is that they will be working on something. These four players have the potential to be a big part of the Cubs future, but none of them are there yet, and won’t get there without some fine-tuning. The true test of their efforts will come this spring training. Unless something unfortunate and unforeseen happens there is no reason why all of them shouldn’t get an invite. Until then Cubs fans can only hope that these four, and all players in the Cubs organization, are making the strides they need to while the world isn’t watching them.