The Arizona Fall League wrapped up its six week season on October 25 with little fanfare surrounding the championship game. Cubs prospects were likewise relatively low-key over the course of the abbreviated showcase, but there were several things we can take away as focal points for the 2020 season.
1. Miguel Amaya’s defense better than advertised
Amaya was named the best defender in the AFL by Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline, earning praise for his arm and his ability to call a game and handle pitchers. Considering that he’ll be at Double-A Tennessee, continued development in 2020 could lead to Amaya being a key part of the Cubs’ future for the better part of the next decade.
2. Zack Short can work a walk in any league
While Short hit just .234 in the AFL, his .360 on base percentage was good for fourth on the Mesa squad. He actually lead the AFL with 15 walks in 22 games. Considering that Arizona is a hitting environment, it was interesting that Short flashed his ability to work walks against some of the best young pitchers in the game.
3. Erich Uelmen is the most underappreciated arm in the system
After a rough first outing, Uelmen did not allow a run over the next 11 games. Pitching in relief, usually two innings at time, his sinker really played up at 92-94 mph and his performance out of the ‘pen started making me think he might be better as a reliever than as a starter at the MLB level. It’ll be interesting to see what his role will be at Tennessee next year. More than likely, the Cubs will still let him start for a while.
4. Jordan Minch Can Miss Some Bats
Minch began popping up on the Cubs’ radar in spring training and stayed with the big league club almost to the end of camp before he was surprisingly assigned to Tennessee instead of Triple-A Iowa. He was throwing in the mid 90’s in Mesa, which is higher than he has normally been in his career (92-93), and was getting whiffs from batters on both sides of the plate. Based on his performance, he might be an option for the 40-man because some teams could take a shot on a lefty that can throw 95-96. He definitely played his way into consideration this year and I’m excited to see what he can do at Iowa if he gets through the Rule 5 Draft in December.
5. Jared Young has a lot of work to do
2019 could either be a springboard for Jared Young’s career or the beginning of the end. The 2017 draft pick out of Old Dominion faced adversity for the first time, hitting three home runs the first two weeks of the season in Double-A and only two more of the rest of the year. The approach at the plate looks to still be there, as he still walks at a good rate and strikes out less than 18%, but the hitting results are not there. The Cubs sent him to work on some things in Arizona and changes should be coming as he will likely repeat Tennessee to begin 2020.
6. Keegan Thompson still has it
Thompson threw a five inning no-hitter on opening day in 2019 for Tennessee and then didn’t see any action until the end of August in Arizona. As a result, he was the perfect candidate for the AFL. He got off to a decent start in his first couple games and then ran into some trouble when they started stretching him out a little bit. He was pretty dominant in his last three outings, however, including throwing nine innings with nine strikeouts in his last two starts. He was throwing 92-95 and it looks like he could be ready to head to Triple-A to start 2020.
7. Sidearm Scott Effross Might Be a Thing in 2020
When the Cubs decided rebuild the righty reliever’s delivery this summer, he spent some time on the IL and then came back with good results at Myrtle Beach. At 26, Effross got in some extra work in Arizona this fall and seemed to hold his own out of the bullpen. He posted a 1.80 ERA and struck out nine against just one walk in 10 innings. The sidearm switch may have saved his career and he appears to be ready for Triple-A next season.
The results of this fall will give the Cubs some information they need to make decisions quickly about the upcoming 40-man roster deadline and the Rule 5 Draft. This AFL experience could well shape several prospects’ 2020 seasons, especially for Uelmen, Minch, and Effross. Where Young and Thompson are assigned to begin the year is something to watch as well.
Many of these may seem inconsequential in the bigger picture, but these areas of development are exactly what the Cubs need to take better advantage of in order to reinvigorate their prospects pipeline.