Cubs Affiliate Year-End Review: Mesa Goes on Tear to Win Championship

At first I found it hard to get excited about the Mesa Cubs this summer, especially when Aramis Ademan and Miguel Amaya skipped this level to go to Eugene. In the first half of the season, Mesa limped to the finish line with the second-worst record in the league (9-19). In the second half, the opposite was true as the Cubs surged in late August to take the East Division title with a 16-12 record.

They won 13 of their last 15 games to win the Arizona League championship on Thursday night. Their hitting took off and they scored more runs in the playoffs (44) than all seven other teams combined (43). Nelson Velazquez was a monster, hitting two home runs and driving in nine in five games while hitting .304 with a .385 OBP.

The key to the turnaround came with stabilizing the starting pitching. The first half of the year saw rehabbing players making starts on a daily basis. In addition, several draft picks from both college and high school brought in some much-needed life to the team.

Catcher Marcus Mastrobuoni was the hitting star for most of the year. The 2015 draft pick seemed to put it all together as he hit for both average and power. 2017 draft picks Cam Balego and Nelson Velazquez solidified the middle of the order and outfielder José Gutierrez caught fire in August as the leadoff man.

Outfielder Jonathan Sierra showed an excellent approach and the ability to draw walks despite not hitting very well. Dominican Summer League veteran Luis Hildago arrived in August and lit up the AZL with his bat.

When it came to the starting pitching, four young players who had experience in the DSL became the foundation of the staff. Danis Correa, Brailyn Marquez, Emilio Ferrebus, and Faustino Carrera gave Mesa stability and game the bullpen some rest. Draft picks Brendan King and Rollie Lacy also showed promise, with Lacy being promoted to Eugene late in the year.

Final Record – 25-31, AZL Champions

Card made from a photo by John Arguello

Team Leaders

Hitting
Avg – Luis Hidalgo .339
HR – Nelson Velazquez – 8
RBI – Marcus Mastrobuoni/Jonathan Sierra – 22
OBP – Marcus Mastrobuoni – .390
SBs – Jose Gutierrez/Jonathan Sierra – 6

Pitching
ERA – Faustino Carrera – 3.88
Innings Pitched – Fasutino Carrera – 51
WHIP – Faustino Carrera – 1.12
Ks – Brailyn Marquez – 52
Saves – Ivan Medina – 4

Going to the Next Level

Most of this team will be going to Eugene, where the competition is a little more polished. The player I want to see improvement from next year is infielder Delvin Zinn. He got off to a good start in Mesa before struggling in August. He caught fire in the playoffs, however, hitting .500 with a .632 OBP in five games.

However, what I’m going to find most interesting next year is what the rotation is going to be in Eugene and how much they let those pitchers actually pitch. The thing about rookie-league players is some of them come in and flash talent. There may be just as much development during fall instructs and spring training as there is during the season. As a result, several players will skip short-season ball, which could be true for several players on this team.

One Name to Know for 2018

Trying to predict who’s going to be on a rookie-league team next year is not that easy. For one, the Cubs have not even released their entire international free-agent signing class from this year. On the other hand, they did announce that they signed pitcher Feliciano Serrano and shortstop Luis Verdugo to future service contracts back on July 2.

I would expect both 17-year-old kids to be the two players to watch next year, along with a few Dominican players like Alonso Gaitan, Orian Nunez, Fidel Mejia, and Pitcher Yovanny Cruz. Speedster Fernando Kelli, who stole over 58 bases in the DSL this summer, might be better suited for Eugene.

There is going to be no shortage of talent next summer in Mesa.

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Todd Johnson

During the day, Todd teaches US and World History in a small town in northern Illinois. As a Cubs fan, his first baseball memories are of Ernie, Billy, and Fergie. Baseball cards, Strat-O-Matic, and fantasy baseball eventually followed. The summer of 2017 will find him spending most of his days watching the South Bend Cubs throughout the Midwest and Great Lakes. You can always find him on Twitter: @cubscentral08

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