In the depths of a farm system is the Arizona Rookie League. The AZL Cubs feature the bulk of the future of the Chicago Cubs, as designed by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Led by Manager Bobby Mitchell, the lowest level of the minor leagues features some names we have heard quite prominently since last winter. Cuban defector and prize international free agent Jorge Soler, 2012 draft picks Albert Almora, Paul Blackburn, and Duane Underwood, 2011 14th round pick Dillon Maples, Rule 5 pick, Lendy Castillo (rehabbing a case of “Rule5itis”), Shawon Dunston, Jr., and others are all getting their professional baseball orientations in the deserts of Arizona. And, if the early returns are any indication of their potential, the Cubs appear to be in capable hands.
OF Jorge Soler has played in eight games to this point for the Arizona League Cubs, and has played as advertised. He has hit .296 in the early going, fueled by his dominance over left-handed pitching, going 5-7 with 1 HR and 3 RBI. Overall, his 2 HR, 6 RBI and 2 SB stand as a strong showing for a young player that comes with the pressure of a $30M contract. Defensively, he’s also been solid. Again, it’s eight games. There hasn’t been a large sample size, but he has gotten off on the right foot, and that is good news for everybody hoping to see him hitting long home runs onto Waveland Ave in a few years.
OF Albert Almora took a while to sign after being selected 6th overall last month, but he, too, has started his professional career. While hitting .190, he does have a home run and 4 RBI in his first five games manning center field in Arizona. In spite of an error, his defense has been as advertised, with a 2.00 range factor in the early going.
RHP Paul Blackburn has pitched in 4 games, making 2 starts, totaling 6.1 innings. His numbers boil down to basically one start, and are pretty strong. He’s given up 2 earned runs on 7 hits, with 1 walk. Not too bad for the beginning of a professional career.
RHP Dillon Maples finally made his debut and gave up a run in one inning of work. Maples is one of the more highly regarded prospects in the organization, and could go down as former GM Jim Hendry’s final good deed for the Cubs. Selecting Maples in the 14th round and convincing Tom Ricketts to back up the money truck for a pitcher with first round talent but thought to be impossible to sign may be one of the better moves in Hendry’s tenure, even though by the time he made the move, he new he would be moving on.
There are a number of good players in Arizona, starting their road to Wrigley. It may take a few years before we see any of these players in Chicago, but players like Soler and Almora could be everyday names for Cubs fans as Epstein and Hoyer continue to build an organization from the bottom up.