The offseason in the minor leagues has changed quite a bit in the past year. This year saw many organizations move fall instructs to February to carry right into spring training and eventually the season. In addition, the Arizona Fall League (AFL) has been moved up by a month to begin shortly after the MiLB playoffs end in mid-September.
The Cubs normally send 7-8 players to participate in the AFL for the Mesa Solar Sox, often to advance their development by giving them more exposure elite talent or to make up for lost time during the season. Both were true of the decision to send Nico Hoerner out there after missing the end of the 2018 season due to a wrist injury.
They might also want a final look at a few players before 40-man roster decisions are made, or perhaps they want to afford opportunities to change positions and improve versatility. The Cubs should be making these assignments soon, as the AFL announced this week they would begin play on Wednesday, September 18.
Below are the seven most likely candidates to see time in the AFL, with a little bit on why each is a good candidate.
Miguel Amaya could really benefit from facing off against other elite talent the likes of which he’s seen in the past two Futures Games. He’s a lock to be added to the 40-man due to his Rule 5 eligibility, so the Cubs don’t need to get a look for that reason. Rather, the AFL presents a good challenge for the 20-year-old backstop to help move his bat along in preparation for next year at Double-A Tennessee.
Brendon Little missed over two months to begin the year, but he’s been lights out for South Bend with a 2.01 ERA this summer since his return. With his velocity back to college levels of 92-94 mph and his curve looking good, it would be nice to see how good his stuff plays against elite hitters.
Keegan Thompson has been injured since week one of the season after throwing a five inning no-hitter. The rumor is he should be back soon and throwing before the end of the season, so the AFL would be the perfect place for him to get 25-30 innings of work in before 2020. With his four-pitch mix, he will do fine there.
Hoerner is a possibility for another trip just because hand/wrist injuries take a lot of time to fully recover. It might be just as beneficial to give his body the time off to fully heal, though he could also benefit from the opportunity to make up for lost developmental time.
Aramis Ademan had a good first half and then hit just .162 in July. Do the Cubs take the slash line of .269/.376/.379 of the first half as sign that he’s figured some things out, or do they try to press the 20-year-old middle infielder to improve? It’s a tough question.
Garrett Kelly has had his moments this summer, but they’ve been broken up by injuries. He started out the year with Myrtle Beach, went on the IL for a while, then came back to post a 1.69 ERA in the second half. The Cubs could give him the chance to build up his innings out of ‘pen in Mesa.
Ethan Roberts has been a bit of a revelation this summer at South Bend and Myrtle Beach with his cutter/curve combo and the spin rates he’s generating. He struggled his first two outings at Myrtle Beach and then has put up zeros for the last month.
As for other position-player options, the Cubs may want to see how first baseman Tyler Durna does against advanced pitching. Shortstop Andy Weber and outfielder Brennen Davis are longshots, but the Cubs could pull one or two surprises like they did with Hoerner. Don’t be surprised if relievers Wyatt Short, Ben Hecht, Jesus Camargo, and/or Manny Rodriquez are given a shot to prove themselves.
There really are all kinds of possibilities, so keep an eye out for the these choices here soon.