AFL Team Review: Mesa Solar Sox


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Scottsdale | Surprise | Salt River | Glendale | Peoria | Mesa

2080 Evaluators on Coverage
Tucker Blair | Mauricio Rubio | Chris Rodriguez | Jeff Moore | John Arguello

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Cubs’ Prospects Highlight the Talent Rich Cellar Dwellers

The Solar Sox managed just nine wins over the course of the thirty-game schedule, despite tying for the league lead in home runs (31) and strikeouts (256 over 30 games). Mesa’s undoing was a staff whose struggles with control and in-zone command yielded a league leading number of walks (132), hits (291) and home runs allowed (32, almost 50% more than the next highest amount).

Despite the team’s disappointing last place finish, a number of prospects stood out as potential impact talents, and a flush Cubs’ farm system saw positive developments from numerous prospects whose stock among evaluators has fluctuated over the past 18 months.

Willson Contreras (C, Cubs) kept his hot 2015 rolling with a strong showing on both sides of the dish, while Jeimer Candelario’s (3B, Cubs) five home runs were good to tie him for second in the league. Candelario’s power was a continuation of his power production at Double-A Tennessee that had scouts nodding from July through September. And despite showing fatigue after his first full pro season (115 GP), Mark Zagunis (OF, Cubs) nevertheless continued to display an advanced approach and good feel for contact at the plate.

Pierce Johnson (RHP, Cubs) made up for some lost time after missing the first two-plus months of the 2015 season with back issues, and Corey Black (RHP, Cubs) lit-up radar guns and racked-up pitch counts with a big arm, though he did demonstrate below-average control and command.

Who ya got?

Three 2080 evaluators each make the case for one of their “guys” 

Jake Bauers, OF/1B, Rays

Jake Bauers, OF/1B, Rays (Double-A)
Ht/Wt:  6’1″/195 | B/T:  L/L | Age (as of 12/1/15):  20y, 2m
Bauers doesn’t have the hulking frame or light tower power that we typically envision with first base prospects, but his short, compact swing, good feel for the barrel and above-average bat speed should make for a plus overall hit tool, allowing most of his average raw power to play in game action. Additionally, he was working as an outfielder for the first time during the AFL. While outfield defense will never be his strength, he tracks the ball well and moves well enough to hold his own at a corner spot, with just enough arm to handle right field. Bauers doesn’t stand out in brief looks because his non-hit tools don’t stand out. Still, he can hit despite a few glaring swing flaws. There’s no reason, especially given his new-found outfield versatility, that Bauers can’t be an everyday big leaguer.  –Jeff Moore

Pierce Johnson, RHP, Cubs (Double-A)
Ht/Wt:  6’3″/200 | B/T:  R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  24y, 7m
Johnson has a long arm action with a stab, and uses his impressive arm speed to work his fastball 91 to 93 mph with downhill plane and some run. While the command was inconsistent to his gloveside (due to his front side opening up occasionally on delivery) he should be able to improve in this area if he can sync up the delivery more consistently. The righty complimented the heater primarily with an average cutter, sitting 89 to 90 mph with tight, horizontal movement that crept in on the hands of left-handed hitters. He also showed an average 82 to 85 mph curveball with 11-to-5 action, some depth and tight spin – his curve has chance to be an above-average offering due to arm speed replication and solid feel. He rounded out the four-pitch mix with a fringy 85 to 86 mph changeup with slight fade. With four workable pitches and solid feel, Johnson profiles as a solid #4 starter option if he can tighten up the mechanics and command.  –Tucker Blair

Willson Contreras, C, Cubs (Double-A)
Ht/Wt:  6’1″/175 | B/T:  R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  23y, 7m
The raw tools we rave about now have been on display in Cubs camp for years. The strong hands, arm strength, and athleticism have always been there. What I saw this fall was a more refined player.  Contreras has a quick, short stroke and has developed a more consistent, disciplined approach, working counts and driving the ball to all fields.  On defense, he has shortened up on his throws, but is not yet a finished product. He’s still learning the nuances.  He’ll at least hit and control the running game – with plenty of room left to grow.  –John Arguello

You should know about…

Aggregate write-ups based on in-person AFL views by 2080 evaluators and industry contacts

Sean Manaea, LHP, Athletics (Double-A)

Ht/Wt:  6’5″/235 | B/T:  L/L | Age (as of 12/1/15):  23y, 10m
After missing time in 2015 due to groin issues, Manaea toed the rubber six times for the Mesa Solar Sox and was impressive throughout. The big lefty slings a hard low-90s fastball out of a low-three-quarters slot, creating tough angles, good plane and manifesting solid life on the pitch. Both the slider and the changeup come with deception and inconsistency, vacillating between below-average and a tick above. His AFL stint reinforced the belief that his stiff actions could limit the ultimate ceiling on his command, with his built-in deception helping to soften the negative effects thereof. His upside is that of a mid-rotation arm capable of missing bats and drawing soft contact in the zone.

Daniel Robertson, SS/2B, Rays (Double-A)
Ht/Wt:  6’1″/205 | B/T:  R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  21y, 8m
Like Manaea, Robertson dealt with injury woes in 2015, missing almost two months due to a fractured hamate bone in his left hand. The slog of the season draped across Robertson throughout his 22 AFL games, as the middle-infielder appeared sluggish and struggled to hit the ball with authority or barrel-up with any consistency. Evaluators were not scared off by the former 34th overall pick, however, noting an advanced approach, and insisting the hit tool will not only play, but play well across the diamond. Robertson has his proponents and detractors regarding his ability to stick at shortstop. Advocates insist his soft and steady hands, reads and left-side arm could make-up for his below-average foot speed and fringy range, while detractors see a better fit second or third base (noting his AFL showings at the former were not awe-inspiring). He remains a potential top-of-the-order stick that could provide defensive value across the dirt.

Chad Pinder, SS, Athletics (Double-A)
Ht/Wt:  6’2″/190 | B/T:  R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  23y, 8m
Much of the chatter around the Mesa team centered on Pinder and his chops at the six-spot (check out 2080’s Melissa Lockard’s deeper dive into Pinder and his defensive developments), with the overall sentiment coming down somewhere around a shrug. Regardless of his ultimate home, the hard-working former Hokie showed enough athleticism and fluidity, paired with an above-average arm, to make him a good candidate to spend time around the infield and help Oakland out in multiple roles if needed. Offensively, Pinder will flash surprising pop to go with a solid-average hit tool, though he can get overly aggressive at times forcing himself into pitchers’ counts. He’s ready to tackle Triple-A in 2016 and could make an appearance in Oakland before season’s end, providing versatility in the field and average-ish tools across the board.

Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Cubs

Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Cubs (Double-A)
Ht/Wt:  6’1″/210 | B/T:  S/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  22y, 0m
Candelario took a nice step forward upon his mid-season promotion to Double-A Tennessee this past summer, showing more frequent hard contact and a better overall approach than he had displayed in the past. The third baseman continued to build-up his stock in the AFL, hitting for impressive power from both sides of the plate and showing better-than-advertised chops at the hot corner. Good balance, aggressive cuts, and a plan at the plate appeared as mainstays in the offensive profile throughout his 89 AFL plate appearances. It was difficult to find someone who saw Candelario and did not view him as a solid future major league bat. There is more variance in opinion relating to his future defensive home, but a groundswell appears to be forming around his settling in at third, which would give Chicago yet another corner piece to fold into the mix , or to use as trade bait to fill other holes.

Austin Dean, OF, Marlins (High A)
Ht/Wt:  6’1″/190 | B/T:  R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  22y, 2m
Dean’s 66 AFL plate appearances were a microcosm of his professional career, centered on hard contact and solid aggression in the box. The swing is geared to line drives, which Dean produced with regularity. There’s room for his power to play up via slugging percentage if he can find enough gaps, though his lack of true plus foot speed limits the growth potential some on that front. He’s a capable defender at the outfield corners with a below-average arm best suited for left field. Dean has a real chance to hit for average, and he’ll need to do just that in order to carve out a spot as an everyday regular since the glove, run and power aren’t likely to carry the profile on their present trajectory.

Notes from the stands…

Quick hits from the notebooks of the 2080 evaluators in the stands

Corey Black, RHP, Cubs (Double-A)
Ht/Wt:  5’11″/175 | B/T:  R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  24y, 4m
Athletic frame/build; three-quarters arm slot; good arm speed; exertion in the delivery, head whack; fastball 95 to 96, flat plane with minimal movement, poor command; short slider 85, 10-to-4 action, below average bite/depth; changeup 88, firm with some run, can be mistaken for two-seamer; one soft curve at 80, below average; overall poor command; reliever profile. —Mauricio Rubio

Hunter Wood, RHP, Rays (High A)
Ht/Wt:  6’1″/175 | B/T:  R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  22y, 4m
Short with athletic build; broad shoulders; high three-quarters arm slot; plus arm speed; loose; rocking delivery with spine tilt; moderate effort; lively fastball 93 to 96; curve 71 to 74, 12-to-6 action with moderate depth, commands in and out of the zone, potential above-average offering; changeup 82 to 85 with mild fade, replicates arm speed, inconsistent command; flashed slider 85 to 86; middle relief profile with potential to play into a setup role.  –-Tucker Blair

Renato Nunez, 3B, Athletics

Renato Nunez, 3B, Athletics (Double-A)
Ht/Wt:  6’1″/200 | B/T:  R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  21y, 8m
Sturdy frame; plus bat speed; minimal feel for the barrel; issues recognizing spin; swing comes with natural lift; power will play down due to below-average hit tool. –Mauricio Rubio

Austin Brice, RHP, Athletics (Double-A)
Ht/Wt:  6’4″/205 | B/T:  R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  23y, 5m
Low three-quarters arm slot; above-average arm speed; inverted foot strike; head whack; fastball 96 to 98, moderate movement down in the zone, flattens out considerably up; 10-to-4 slider shows hard downward breaking action, flashed solid average.  –-Mauricio Rubio

Mark Zagunis, OF, Cubs (High A)
Ht/Wt:  6’0″/205 | B/T:  R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  22y, 10m
Sturdy frame; athletic with broad shoulders; average bat speed; rigid swing with minor hitch; moderate barrel control; moderate load with toe tap; advanced approach with ability to hit ball to all fields; routinely beaten inside and up with high-end velocity; average defender in the outfield corner; slightly below-average speed and range; average arm; lacks any standout tools; reserve profile.
-Tucker Blair

J.T. Riddle, SS, Marlins (Double-A)
Ht/Wt:  6’3″/180| B/T:  L/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  24y, 2m
Small, athletic frame; average range with solid footwork; agile with smooth hands; average defensively at shortstop; average arm; average runner; 4.28 home-to-first; average bat speed; quiet and compact swing; moderate barrel control; flat swing with minimal movement in upper half; moderate load; below-average raw power; utility profile.  –-Tucker Blair

Ryan Etsell, RHP, Angels (High A)
Ht/Wt:  6’4″/180 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  23y, 11m
Large frame, broad shoulders; looks more like 200 pounds vs. a listed 180; slow gather; looks away when he steps back and begins his delivery; high leg lift, closed landing; creates deception; low three-quarters slot; average effort; fastball 90 to 96, more 96’s out of the pen, low 90’s when starting, maintains velocity, mostly stays true, little run at times, fringy command, above-average offering if it tightens up; slider 80 to 84, short break, average potential, go-to swing and miss pitch; changeup 80 to 82, movement fluctuates, flashes average with fade; likely destined for bullpen. –-Chris Rodriguez

Jacob Esch, RHP, Marlins

Jacob Esch, RHP, Marlins (Double-A)
Ht/Wt:  6’4″/190 | B/T:  R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  25y, 10m
Broad shoulders with athletic frame; three-quarters arm slot; plus arm speed; stab on back side; mild effort; leg kick with clean landing; fastball (4S) 92 to 95 (T97) with downhill plane and arm-side run, commands north-south; fastball (2S) 90 to 92 with arm-side run; 11-to-5 curve 74 to 80 with solid depth, replicates arm speed, inconsistent release point; slider 84 to 86 with tilt, replicates arm speed, inconsistent release point; changeup 85 to 86 with mild fade, replicates arm speed; mixed and matched arsenal throughout viewing, displaying pitchability; shows three useful pitches, fastball (4S) and slider most prominent; potential backend starter.  –-Tucker Blair

Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Rays (High A)
Ht/Wt:  6’4″/240 | B/T:  S/L | Age (as of 12/1/15):  22y, 10m
Physically maxed, thick frame with a big lower half; LH swing has more loft and thinner contact plane with a deep load; RH swing is quieter with a more direct path to baseball; overall power is plus raw; contact issues could limit playable power.  —Mauricio Rubio

Alan Busenitz, RHP, Angels (High A)
Ht/Wt:  6’1″/180 | B/T:  R/R | Age (as of 12/1/15):  25y, 3m
Slender frame; good athlete with strength throughout; up-tempo delivery; standard three-quarters slot; fast arm with some effort; fastball 93-97 with plus life, good bore and sink in to RHH, very loose command in the zone; curve flashes plus in the low 80’s with very good, yet inconsistent bite; changeup around 85, below average at present with mild fade; older for the level, needs to move quickly.  –-Chris Rodriguez