While most of the country was watching football on Sunday, the Cubs were winning another title. It has been a depressing season for Bears fans after an off-season left fans optimistic that this season would be tolerable. Sadly, it has not been. However, there is no need to worry after another Cubs’ championship could be a harbinger for success.
Although it would be unfair to say that the Cubs alone won a championship, they certainly played a major role. The Arizona Fall League concluded yesterday, featuring six teams comprised of minor league prospects from all 30 MLB teams. The Mesa Solar Sox was made up of Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics, and Toronto Blue Jays. The Solar Sox were managed by the Cubs’ Rookie League manager, Lance Rymel. Tennessee Smokies’ Strength and Conditioning Coach, Cory Chapp, was also on the coaching staff.
The Solar Sox had 7 Cubs minor leaguers on their roster; four pitchers, two infielders, and 2021 AFL MVP Outfielder Nelson Velazquez. Let’s get to covering how each of these position groups faired in the Fall Season.
It was hard figuring out exactly who to start with. Caleb Kilian throwing 6 perfect innings to start the AFL Championship was an option, but with Velazquez being the only Cubs’ outfielder on the roster as well as AFL MVP, I elected to start here.
Velazquez was drafted by Chicago in the 5th round in 2017 out of Puerto Rico and has improved through the ranks every year. He played 103 games in the Minors last year; 69 of them with South Bend before being elevated to the Double-A Tennessee Smokies squad. Upon getting to Tennessee, his numbers improved, finishing with a .290 average, .358 OBP, and an OPS of .938! On August 15th, he earned AA South Offensive Player of the Week. Nelson added power too, hitting 8 home runs in only 34 games with Tennessee, and that trend continued in the Fall League.
Nelson Velazquez hit .385 with a .480 OBP in 26 games in the Fall League. This was good for 2nd in average and 3rd in OBP. He continued to add power with a league-leading 9 home runs and OPS of 1.191. Velazquez was added to the AFL East All-star roster on November 10th, but that did not slow down his production. His numbers were strong enough to earn the 2021 AFL MVP and a promotion to the Cubs’ 40-man roster last Friday!
Velazquez’s AFL Stats: .385/.480/.712/ 1.191, 9 HR, 24 RBI, 17 BB, 34 SO
— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) November 19, 2021
The Cubs had 4 pitchers join the Mesa Solar Sox in Arizona this year. Caleb Kilian and Ryan Jensen were touched on in the last article, here we include the other two, Danis Correa and Brendon Little.
Danis Correa was drafted from Colombia at 17 years old in 2017. The 22-year-old right-handed reliever pitched to a 4-2 record in 26 appearances between South Bend and Myrtle Beach in 2021. A 1.95 ERA in 37 innings pitched was a good sign, although he struggled in Mesa the last month, allowing 3 earned runs in only 2.2 innings pitched.
Correa’s AFL Stats: 3 games played, 10.13 ERA, 3.38 WHIP, 2.2IP, 5BB, 4 SO
Brendon Little was a first-round pick of the Cubs in 2017. He is 25 years old, left-handed, and finished 14 games in 26 appearances between Tennessee and Iowa this year. An ERA of 3.24 and a WHIP of 1.39 were not terrible. However, he had only one appearance in the AFL, allowing 2 earned runs in one inning. Little will need a better performance in Spring Training to make the MLB roster.
Little’s AFL Stats: 1 game played, 18.00 ERA, 5.0 WHIP, 1 IP, 2 BB, 2 SO
Ryan Jensen was mentioned in the previous article, the 2019 1st round pick from Fresno State who has struggled with command. He pitched to a 2-1 record in 4 starts and is young, turning 24 on November 23rd (Happy Birthday Ryan!). Jensen had a good minor league season in 2021, followed by a less than ideal Fall League. There is time for his accuracy to get straightened out and hopefully, that will be on display in the Spring.
Jensen’s AFL Stats: 6 appearances, 9.64 ERA, 5.0 WHIP, 18.1 IP, 12 BB, 20 SO
Kilian finished up a fantastic AFL campaign by earning the start in the AFL Championship game against the Surprise Saguaros on Sunday. He did not disappoint either, throwing 6 perfect innings with 8 strikeouts! Kilian needed only 68 pitches to get through 6 innings before giving way to the bullpen that completed the 6-0 championship win for the Solar Sox.
This phenomenal performance concludes an AFL season where Kilian also started in the AFL All-Star game on November 13th. Kilian only completed 2 innings that game, still earning the win as the AFL East won 6-5 over the AFL West. Currently, the Cubs have room on their 40-man roster for Kilian, and he has a chance to end up on the opening day roster given he continues to perform in Spring Training.
Dramatics aside; high blue socks, number in the 20s, the big, looping curveball at 0:30 and 0:37? Does that remind you of anyone else?
Kilian’s AFL Stats: 6 games played, 3.6 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 20 IP, 5 BB, 26 SO
Last but not least, two infielders rounded out the Mesa Solar Sox roster, including 2021 AFL East All-Star, Andy Weber.
Andy Weber led off and played second base for the Solar Sox in the Championship, going 1 for 5 with a single and a strikeout in the win. Weber was drafted by the Cubs in the 5th round of the 2018 June Amateur Draft from the University of Virginia. After playing three games with the Rookie team, Weber was elevated to the Double-A Tennessee Smokies team, where he played 40 games at Shortstop. He struggled at the plate, hitting .214 and slugging only .321, but seemed to turn that around in the Fall League.
In 22 games, he hit .273 with an OBP of .387. 24 walks in 22 games helped to elevate his OPS to .853. Plate discipline from shortstops is something that the Cubs have not had in a long time, and it would be great to see Weber follow up a great Fall League performance into Spring Training as the Cubs look for a permanent Shortstop.
Weber’s AFL Stats: 106 PA, .273/.387/.466/.853, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 17 BB, 24 SO
Luis Vazquez was drafted in the 14th round by the Cubs out of Puerto Rico in the 2017 Amateur Draft when he was 17 years old. He rose from Rookie league up to Double-A with Tennessee by the end of the year, playing mostly Shortstop in South Bend and Tennessee. His defense was fantastic at all three levels, committing only 5 errors in 262 innings played. He had a respectable batting average of .264 but lacked power as he only slugged .328.
In 15 games in the Fall League, he committed 2 errors in 117 innings. Again, highlighting his good defense, but struggling at the plate. Vazquez turned 22 last month, he still has time to improve at the plate following a 2020 year spent in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
Vazquez’s AFL Stats: 62 PA, .208/.323/.321/.643, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 7 BB, 22 SO
Spring Training 2022
Now the waiting begins. Spring Training 2022 will begin February 26th at Sloan Park in Mesa against the Los Angeles Dodgers. There are still three months where the Cubs can make a big free-agent splash. The only signing has been Wade Miley and Cubs fans will be more than unhappy if that is the only move that is made. In the meantime, there is not much else to do except sit back, entertain some rumors, and wait for the 2022 Cubs roster to get a little bit clearer.
Is there any prospect that you are excited to see next year or in Spring Training? Do you see any specific Free Agents that would be a perfect fit for the Cubs? Leave names or thoughts in the comment section, and they might make their way into a future article.