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2017 Arizona Fall League Preview: Mesa Solar Sox Roster

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A closer look at the roster of the Mesa Solar Sox, made up of prospects from the Cubs, Detroit, Houston, Oakland, and Washington.

MLB: All Star Game-Futures Game Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

This is the third part of six as we look at the Arizona Fall League rosters with the Mesa Solar Sox up now after completing Peoria, Glendale, and Scottsdale already. The Solar Sox are made up of prospects from the Astros, Athletics, Cubs, Nationals, and Tigers organizations.

I see Mesa as a team with some interesting prospects, especially in the outfield. The Astros have sent the most interesting group here, but the Athletics also have a strong group. The Nationals group is light as a whole, but they are sending one of the top prospects in the league.

The Tigers and Cubs each sent some interesting second tier guys. The starting pitching is a little underwhelming, but the lineup and bullpen pieces will help to make up for that, as they almost have enough quality bats to create two entirely different lineups

All ages are as of 9/1/2017.

Players on the taxi squad are represented with a * after their name. These players are only eligible to play certain days a week.

In my projected lineup the positions I have guys playing aren't set in stone by any means. Since you typically see guys sharing roles and playing slightly out of position, a lineup wouldn't be simple to project correctly- which is why my projected lineups are meant as a way to get the best lineup out there for each team.

Pitchers

Pedro Araujo, RHP, Chicago Cubs, Age 24

Dominican reliever Pedro Araujo had a big year this year in the Cubs system, but outside of one appearance in Double A it all came in High A. The numbers came out to 10 saves in 66.2 innings with a 1.76 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 87 strikeouts.

Araujo was a bit old for the level, and as a guy whose best pitch is a plus changeup he’s probably limited to a middle relief role in the bigs. A strong AFL could jumpstart a guy in need of making up a bit of time.

Dakota Bacus, RHP, Washington Nationals, Age 26

Oakland used their ninth round pick in 2012 on Indiana State pitcher Dakota Bacus, later trading him to the Nats for Kurt Suzuki. Bacus began as a starter and had some mixed success there before he moved to the bullpen during the 2015 season.

He had a strong year this year, but to pitch more than half of his innings in his age-26 season in High A, and the rest in Double A, that needs a grain of salt. Bacus is more of a long relief prospect, and based on his age he needs a strong AFL.

Nolan Blackwood, RHP, Oakland Athletics, Age 22

The Athletics used a 14th round pick on Memphis reliever Nolan Blackwood last year and watched him save 19 games in his first full professional season this year. Overall in High A- in the dreaded Cal League, Blackwood posted a 3.00 ERA and 1.05 WHIP while allowing just 6.6 hits per nine innings.

Blackwood doesn't have big stuff, but he's a submarine style pitcher with a fastball that's better than just average, helping him to induce plenty of ground balls. Blackwood probably won't close at the big league level, but his ability to dominate late in games could help him into a higher leverage role than just middle relief.

Jimmy Cordero, RHP, Washington Nationals, Age 25

Jimmy Cordero is a Dominican reliever with quality stuff but a huge command problem. The former Blue Jay and Phillie prospect is now with his third organization, Washington, and in his Double A season this year he walked nearly as many as he struck out.

That's 40 strikeouts and 38 walks in just 51.1 innings, which undoubtedly caused his ERA to come in at 6.84 on the year. Cordero clearly has stuff, which is why he keeps getting chances, but with a career 4.9 BB/9 rate, it's fair to wonder if he will ever harness it.

Dean Deetz RHP, Houston Astros, Age 23

An 11th rounder in 2014 out of an Oklahoma JUCO, Dean Deetz has risen to Triple A in the role of mostly starting. Deetz dominated in eight appearances in Double A this year before he really struggled in Triple A. Deetz posted a 6.40 ERA and 1.93 WHIP in 10 starts and seven relief appearances, though the Pacific Coast League did contributing in the inflation of his stats- as did 41 walks in 45 innings.

Deetz has always had fringy command, but after a 3.3 BB/9 in 2015 and a 4.0 BB/9 last year, it seemed to make progress with a 2.0 BB/9 in Double A before his command just blew up in Triple A. He's going to need to see his command take a step back in the right direction to pair with his plus fastball and borderline plus slider. However with his changeup behind those two pitches and his command being an issue this year, a move to the pen may be his path to the big leagues.

Riley Ferrell, RHP, Houston Astros, Age 23

The Astros took TCU reliever Riley Ferrell in the third round in 2015 and he hasn't disappointed. This year he spent almost his entire season in Double A, where he posted a 3.81 ERA and 1.25 WHIP while striking out a little more than a batter per inning.

Ferrell was taken with the hope he could be a high leverage reliever, and it's still a possibility he could be used in a setup role though a middle relief role may be a little more likely as he's been hit harder than you would hope in each of the last two years.

Zac Houston, RHP, Detroit Tigers, Age 22

The Tigers 11th round pick out of Mississippi State last year, Zac Houston has been dominating so far as a pro. Houston has made four stops along the way as a pro and has never had a K/9 rate lower than 13.7.

This year he spent the bulk of the year in Low A but got a shot at High A as well, and he pitched to a combined 2.17 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and struck out 91 hitters in 58 innings. He also allowed just 27 hits, showing how dominant he really can be...the only thing is that he walked 30 hitters as well.

Houston has late inning reliever written all over him with his big stuff, but he's going to need to drop that 4.7 BB/9 rate a little to have any chance at closing.

Josh James, RHP, Houston Astros, Age 24

A 34th round pick out of an Oklahoma JUCO in 2014, Josh James has made it as far as Double A so far in a swingman type of role. James hasn't been anything special thus far, but he's held his own and provided usable innings for his teams. This year in Double A he had a 4.38 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. He's probably a long reliever as a big leaguer, but he could help eat some innings.

Brendan McCurry, RHP, Houston Astros, Age 25

Oakland took Brendan McCurry in the 22nd round in 2014 and traded him to Houston in the Jed Lowrie trade. McCurry is probably best known to this point in his career for a PED suspension, but he's also a reliever capable of going multiple innings out of the pen with a career K/9 just under 11(it's at 10.9). McCurry is too hittable for that to translate into a high leverage role, but he could use his stuff and ability to work multiple innings to be a long reliever.

Kyle McGowin, RHP, Washington Nationals, Age 25

The Angels took Savannah State's Kyle McGowin in the fifth round in 2013 and then traded him to Wasington in the Danny Espinosa deal. McGowin hasn't progressed as hoped and he's been much more hittable than you'd like to see after giving up at least 10.5 H/9 in each of the last two seasons. McGowin's easiest path to the big leagues is as a long reliever, and he may see his first action out of the pen since the 2013 season during the AFL season.

Alec Mills, RHP, Chicago Cubs, Age 25

Alec Mills was a 22nd round pick by the Royals back in 2012 dealt to the Cubs for Donnie Dewees at the start of spring training this season after he made his brief MLB debut last year. Unfortunately for him injuries destroyed his year, limiting him to just 28 innings with 14 of them being in Triple A and the remainder coming on a rehab assignment. T

he AFL should let Mills get his innings back and help him become an asset for the Cubs in 2018, especially after he posted an ERA no higher than 3.22 and WHIP no higher than 1.20 between 2015 and 2016. Mills profiles well as a backend starter or potentially as a swingman since he doesn't have anything plus, though he does have a pair of above average pitches to go with above average command, and adds in two more fringy pitches.

Adam Ravenelle, RHP, Detroit Tigers, Age 24

A 4th round pick out of Vanderbilt as a reliever in 2014, Adam Ravenelle is one of many interesting relief prospects in the Tigers system. Ravenelle has always battled with his command a bit, but it really hurt him in Double A this year as he had the worst year of his career.

Still Ravenelle has a plus plus fastball and a slider that's shown flashes of being plus but is more average as a whole. If he can fix his command issues he could be a potential setup man at the big league level with that two pitch mix, making him one to watch in the AFL.

Zac Reininger, RHP, Detroit Tigers, Age 24

A 2013 8th rounder out of Hill College, Zac Reininger made his big league debut this season. Reininger dominated the three upper levels of the minors this year with a 0.94 WHIP over 63.2 innings, but he doesn’t quite have the swing and miss stuff to be a backend reliever. That means Reininger is more likely to be a middle reliever.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians
Zack Reininger
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Miguel Romero, RHP, Oakland Athletics, Age 23

Miguel Romero is a Cuban reliever who signed with the A’s this year. Romero pitched at four levels from the DSL to High A while racking up 42 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. Romero’s first look in the states went well and he could use a strong AFL to push him up to the fast track to the big leagues in 2018, where he could be a potential setup man.

Norge Ruiz, RHP, Oakland Athletics, Age 23

Oakland signed Cuban free agent Norge Ruiz for $2M right at the end of December and slowly broke him in. The veteran Cuban talent made four appearances in the DSL, where he overmatched hitters, before one less than great start in the Arizona League. From there Ruiz made eight starts in the Cal League and was far from great with his 5.71 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, and 12.2 H/9.

The Cal League and new country likely contributed because Ruiz had a track record of success in Cuba- though he hadn't pitched in a game since the 2014/2015 season. Ruiz probably profiles as a #3/4 starter because he doesn't have any plus pitches, but his four pitch arsenal does have three above average pitches with average command. The AFL is his chance to show that he can make adjustments and get himself in the right direction.

Logan Shore, RHP, Oakland Athletics, Age 21

Oakland took Logan Shore in the 2nd round last year as yet another one of the talented Florida Gator arms. While he missed some time due to injury this year, most of Shore's 80.2 innings came in High A and despite the Cal League effecting him he posted a 3.68 ERA and 1.28 WHIP with 87 strikeouts.

Shore has an interesting arsenal with his plus change being his best pitch, but his above average fastball and command also help- which is important because his breaking ball is very much fringy. Shore could use the AFL to get back some of the innings he lost this year and get him ready for his Double A debut, pushing him that much closer to the big leagues.

He's probably going to be a #4 starter because his breaking ball is behind, but if he can see his breaking ball tick up, it's not out of the question he becomes something more.

Jake Stinnett, RHP, Chicago Cubs, Age 25

The Cubs used a 2nd round pick in 2014 on Maryland starter Jake Stinnett in the hopes that he could start. Starting hasn’t worked as hoped and he’s since been moved to the pen. Stinnett was dominant this season, but he was limited to just 22 innings with 14 in Double A. Stinnett could possibly be a setup man, but his future may also come in middle relief since he’s sometimes struggled with lefties.

Spencer Turnbull, RHP, Detroit Tigers, Age 24

A 2nd round pick out of Alabama in 2014, Spencer Turnbull has moved slow for a college arm with just 20.1 innings in the upper minors to date. This year Turnbull made his Double A debut after making 15 strong starts in High A. He posted a combined 3.70 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in his 112 innings.

Turnbull has a plus fastball with an above average slider, but with fringy command and a fringy change he may be destined for the bullpen. Turnbull will get to keep starting for the time being as it's still a possibility that he can become a backend starter in the big leagues. The AFL could go a long way in helping to determine his future role.

Framber Valdez, LHP, Houston Astros, Age 23

The lone lefty on the team, Framber Valdez is interesting to say the least. He was signed just before the 2015 season at the age of 21 and spent the year in the DSL. Last year he got his 73 innings split between High A , Low A, the Appalachian League, and the New York/Penn Leagues. This year he began in High A and pitched well enough to earn a promotion to Double A- a spot where he struggled a bit with his command.

Valdez brings a plus fastball with sinking life that leads to a lot of ground balls along with a plus curve ball, and mixes in an average change. His command is currently below average, but has shown flashes that project it to being average in the future. Valdez has real potential as a starter, but with his age, development time still needed, and under-sized frame(he's just 5'11"), he could be a future reliever.

Austen Williams, RHP, Washington Nationals, Age 24

The Nationals took Texas State starter Austen Williams in the sixth round in 2014. Williams had been successful in the lower minors, but has struggled in Double A in each of the past two seasons. Williams is more of a pitch to contact guy than one who gets swings and misses, meaning his future home is likely in long relief.

Catchers

Taylor Gushue, C, Washington Nationals, Age 23

The Pirates took Florida catcher Taylor Gushue in the fourth round in 2014, and after sub-.650 OPS seasons in 2015 and 2016 they gave up on him. They dealt Gushue to the Nationals at the end of last season for Chris Bostick, but the Pirates may have given up on him too early. This year Gushue broke out in High A as he hit .241/.327/.437 with nine doubles and 18 homers.

That total more than doubled his career high of eight, though it may not be a fluke as the rest of his extra base hits declined to the point his total 2017 extra base hits were similar to the totals he posted in 2015 and 2016. While Gushue isn't a big prospect, he's a catcher who can offer some pop and has enough of an arm to keep opposing base runners from stealing at will. He could become an asset as a backup catcher.

Sean Murphy, C, Oakland Athletics, Age 22

Oakland did well to take former Wright State catcher Sean Murphy in the third round of the 2016 draft. Murphy was one of my favorite catchers in the 2016 draft because he's a very good defender with a big arm, but also offers some production with his bat. Murphy began this year in High A and posted some impressive numbers in the Cal League, but he really struggled in 53 games at Double A.

The AFL will give him a chance to get some rest, make some adjustments, and hopefully show that he's capable of hitting upper minors pitching. He's not a guy who is going to be a star, but he could become a very strong starter.

Ian Rice, C, Chicago Cubs, Age 23

Ian Rice is listed as a catcher but he's more than likely to be a first base prospect because his defense isn't a strength. In fact Rice DH'ed almost as often as he caught this year, with some time as first mixed in as well. What the former 29th rounder from Houston does is hit for power and walk.

He hit .230/.353/.423 with 11 doubles, 17 homers, and 60 walks to his 90 strikeouts in Double A this year. Of course his defensive home is a question as he threw out just 20% of opposing base stealers. Rice does have some value with his power and the ability to catch, but he may have more value in the American League as a power bench bat capable of playing first, DH, and some catcher.

Jake Rogers, C, Detroit Tigers, Age 22

Similar to Murphy, Jake Rogers was a third round pick in 2016 out of college. The former Tulane star was drafted by the Astros and sent to the Tigers in the Justin Verlander deal. Rogers has a similar profile to Murphy in that he's a very strong defender with a bat that's also an asset. Rogers actually offers a little more with the bat, and between Low A and High A this year he hit .261/.350/.467 with 25 doubles, four triples, 18 homers, and a shocking 14 steals from his catcher position. He also drew 54 walks, adding even more to his well rounded skill set.

Defensively he was very big, and is credited with throwing out 46% of opposing base stealers on the year along with good receiving skills. There is a lot to like with Rogers who has a chance to become a very good starting catcher at the big league level.

Infielders

Yordan Alvarez, 1B/OF, Houston Astros, Age 20

Signed out of Cuba by the Dodgers for $2M and traded to the Astros for reliever Josh Fields, Yordan Alvarez has emerged this year. Alvarez was in his first real playing time outside of 16 games in the DSL last year, and split the year between Low A and High A while hitting .304/.379/.481 with 17 doubles and 12 homers in 90 games.

Alvarez, who split time between the outfield and first base, dominated Low A before merely holding his own in High A- still an impressive feat for a player this young without much experience stateside. Alvarez is a potential impact prospect and if he can make some adjustments, he could use the AFL to really launch his status as an elite prospect.

David Bote, 2B, Chicago Cubs, Age 23

An 18th round pick in 2012 out of a JUCO, David Bote saw his big breakout in 2016 when he hit .328 mostly in High A. This year he spent the year in Double A and while he saw his average drop to a more normalized .272, he doubled his homer output from 7 to 14. On the year he hit .272/.353/.438 with 30 doubles, and those 14 homers.

Defensively he's a second base prospect, but he's shown the ability to play other positions as well, including each of the four corner spots. His path to the big leagues would be as a bench piece with some contact and extra base pop to go with his defensive versatility.

Kody Eaves, 2B/3B, Detroit Tigers, Age 23

A 16th round pick out of high school in 2012, Kody Eaves is a utility prospect who played 55 games at third base and another 35 at second base this year split between Double A and Triple A. All but eight of his games were in Double A where he hit .272/.343/.472 with 18 doubles and 13 homers. Eaves is a guy with some versatility, a little bit of pop, and some ability to run. His future lies in him being a versatile utility piece.

Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B, Washington Nationals, Age 23

The Nationals young Dominican third base prospect is a converted shortstop, and because of that and his athleticism Kelvin Gutierrez is projected as a well above average fielder. He's hit over power at the plate, producing more doubles power, but there is some reason to think there is more raw power in him.

Gutierrez will need his power to take a step forward to be a quality big league starter, but he can still be a second division starter with his glove, athleticism, and doubles power as is. He spent the year in High A and was limited to 68 games because of injury, so the AFL is a chance for Gutierrez to make up for some lost time.

Sheldon Neuse, 3B/SS, Oakland Athletics, Age 22

The Nationals took Oklahoma shortstop Sheldon Neuse in the 2nd round last year, then moved the third base prospect to Oakland this year in the trade which brought Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle to the Nats. Neuse has still played some short as a pro, but his longterm future is most likely at third where he projects as an above average defender with a strong arm.

Neuse was having a strong year in Low A before the trade with his .818 OPS over 77 games, but he tore up the Cal League with a 1.132 OPS over 22 games and earned a promotion to Double A. He only played 18 games there, but in the Texas League Neuse continued his breakout with a .860 OPS. On the year he hit .321/.382/.502 with 26 doubles, 16 homers, and 14 steals.

His breakout should move him up prospect lists this spring, and a strong showing in the AFL will only further increase his stock. I see Neuse as being a very solid big leaguer with a nice all around skill set.

AJ Simcox, SS, Detroit Tigers, Age 23

A 14th round pick out of the University of Tennessee in 2015 and the glove first shortstop has progressed through Double A, where he spent all of 2017. This year he hit .250/.293/.378 with 22 doubles, five triples, eight homers, and 12 steals. Simcox doesn't walk much as his 27 and 28 walks over the past two seasons shows, nor is he much of a power threat.

He does offer some value with the glove and it wouldn't be out of the question to see him playing more than a utility role if his bat grew just enough to allow him to hit in the #9 spot in the order.

Nick Tanielu, 2B/3B, Houston Astros, Age 24

Nick Tanielu is in the AFL to make up for lost time. The 2014 14th rounder from Washington State was limited to just two GCL games because of injury this year. Tanielu is actually repeating the AFL, after he hit .352 over 14 games last year following a year where he tore up the Cal League a bit before a more pedestrian .654 OPS once he got to Double A.

Tanielu plays mostly second base with the rest of his games at third base, but he also has some experience at first base. His path to the big leagues is definitely as a bench piece as he doesn't have the bat to profile well at either corner spot and isn't going to play second for Houston anytime soon.

Jason Vosler, 3B, Chicago Cubs, Age 23

The Cubs used their 16th round pick in 2014 on Northeastern University third baseman Jason Vosler. Vosler has been pretty quiet until this year, posting OPS marks of .697 and .682 in his first two full seasons. Then he broke out this year, hitting .241/.343/.429 with 18 doubles and 21 homers- a total which easily topped the 14 homers he had in 256 career games prior to this season. Vosler's increase in power is something to watch in the AFL, as it could make him a much more interesting prospect if he proves the spike this year wasn't a fluke. He's most likely a bench piece with some versatility(he's played all four infield spots in the minors) and some pop, but if the power is real then maybe he could be something a little more.

Outfielders

Charcer Burks, OF, Chicago Cubs, Age 22

A 9th round pick out of high school in 2013, Charcer Burks had the look of a light hitting extra outfielder with some speed. Then he saw his power break out in 2016 when he hit 11 homers in 124 games- just short of tripling the four he hit in his first 204 career games. Burks had a .686 OPS in Low A in 2015, but after his power surge in 2016 he posted a .763 mark in High A that year.

He needed to prove it wasn't a fluke this year and he did exactly that as he hit .270/.370/.395 with 21 doubles, 10 homers, and 16 steals in Double A. Burks also takes his walks, as he had 66 and 69 in the past two seasons. He's a guy with all the makings of a quality extra outfielder for a contending club.

Cam Gibson, OF, Detroit Tigers, Age 23

A fifth round pick out of Michigan State in 2015, Cam Gibson is the son of former big league star Kirk Gibson. Cam isn't quite the same player his dad was, especially in terms of power, but he's got some pop and runs well. Gibson started the year repeating Low A and spent the rest of the season in High A, where he combined to hit .262/.336/.460 with 20 doubles, 11 triples, 13 homers, and 19 steals.

He's got a real shot to be a big leaguer, but he doesn't have the look of an impact guy even though his well rounded skill set could make him an asset. He can use a solid AFL to help him make a jump next year, as he's a little behind developmentally with just 44 games above Low A.

Tyler Ramirez, OF, Oakland Athletics, Age 22

Tyler Ramirez was a 7th round pick from the University of North Carolina last year as an intriguing bat, and he has yet to disappoint. Ramirez spent the year in High A and Double A and posted a solid stat line of .304/.398/.431 with 23 doubles and 11 homers. His power isn't very big but he makes good, solid contact and is willing to take his walks.

Ramirez is also an excellent defender, one who managed to win one of the three minor league Gold Glove awards for the outfield. On the surface he looks like a fourth outfielder or second division starter, but the A's will likely value his on base/contact ability as well as his glove and he could stick in a regular role going forward.

Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals, Age 20

Victor Robles made his long awaited MLB debut at the young age of 20 this September for the Nationals. The exciting young Robles has basically done all he can to try to match Ronald Acuna on his statsheet, though the power isn't quite the same. Robles played about a third of his games this year in Double A with the rest in High A, and he hit a .300/.382/.493 slash line to go with 37 doubles, eight triples, 10 homers, and 27 steals.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals
Victor Robles
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Robles is more than just a weapon with his bat and with his speed, as he's also a very high level defensive center fielder. He didn't get a ton of playing time as the Nats were getting ready for the playoffs, but in 27 big league plate appearances he did have a .766 OPS with three extra base hits. The AFL should give him a chance to get a little more experience as he tries to win a starting job in Washington at some point in 2018.

Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros, Age 20

Kyle Tucker came into the year as one of the Top 20 prospects in the game according to Baseball America, and that's before he hit 33 doubles, 25 homers, and stole 21 bases between High A and Double A. Tucker spent the bulk of the year in Double A where he hit .265/.325/.512, and did everything he needed to in order to keep moving up next year's prospect lists. The AFL will be his chance to help boost his experience for a likely 2018 big league debut.

Projected Lineup:

1.Victor Robles, CF

2.Charcer Burks, DH

3.Kyle Tucker, RF

4.Sheldon Neuse, 3B

5.Tyler Ramirez, LF

6.Jake Rogers, C

7.Yordan Alvarez, 1B

8.David Bote, 2B

9.AJ Simcox, SS

Potential Rotation:

1.Logan Shore, R

2.Alec Mills, R

3.Norge Ruiz, R

4.Framber Valdez, L

5.Dean Deetz, R

Piggyback Candidates: Spencer Turnbull, R, Austen Williams, R, Josh James, R, Kyle McGowin, R

Potential Bullpen:

Closer-Nolan Blackwood

Setup-Pedro Araujo

Setup-Zac Houston

Middle Relief-Miguel Romero, Jake Stinnett, Riley Ferrell, Adam Ravenelle, Zac Reininger, Jimmy Cordero, Brendan McCurry

Long Relief-Dakota Bacus