The Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, and Washington Nationals each won their division this year, and look to be playing deep into October. Each of these clubs also have some of the best prospects in the minor leagues, and they will be joining forces with prospects from the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics this fall on the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.
The Solar Sox won the East Division in the AFL last year, notably led by right-handed pitcher Frankie Montas, second baseman/outfielder Ian Happ, and outfielder Bradley Zimmer.
Other notable players include outfielder Kyle Schwarber, who played two games for the Solar Sox before joining the Cubs’ World Series roster, and outfielder Eloy Jimenez, a current top 10 prospect who the Cubs traded to the White Sox in return for starter Jose Quintana.
The biggest names for the Solar Sox this year are outfielder Victor Robles, outfielder Kyle Tucker, and right-handed pitcher Logan Shore.
Robles is a true five-tool player that the Nationals expect to make an impact. He played in High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg this year before being called up to the majors in September. In 114 games in the minors, Robles had 55 extra-base hits (37 doubles, eight triples, 10 home runs), while swiping 27 bases and posting an OPS of .875.
Kyle Tucker has given Astros fans reasons to be excited as well. His power fits right into Houston’s lineup, with 25 home runs this year, 90 RBIs, and an OPS of .874 between High-A Buies Creek and Double-A Corpus Christi. He also possesses an above average arm to man right field.
On the mound, Logan Shore stands out among the pitching prospects. Drafted in the second round in 2016, Shore was one of the top college arms coming out of the University of Florida. In three years, he hurled 313 innings with a 2.42 ERA, and achieved an impressive 3.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His strikeout numbers increased every year at Florida, as he maintained a walk rate below 2.0 BB/9 each season.
Some of the intriguing names for the Solar Sox are right-handed pitchers Dean Deetz and Joshua James, and catcher Ian Rice.
Deetz and James were drafted by the Astros in 2014 out of junior colleges in Oklahoma. Deetz attended Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, and was selected in the 11th round. He has posted K/9 above nine each the last two years, although he struggled at first when advancing levels in the minors. He finished the year in Triple-A Fresno, where he will likely begin 2018.
Josh James was drafted out of Western Oklahoma State College in the 34th round. He was in Double-A Corpus Christi the whole season, appearing in 21 games and starting 11 of them. James has had mild success throughout his minor league career, but perhaps what is most remarkable is that he’s allowed only 14 home runs in 342 innings pitched in the minors. In 2017, he only allowed one home run in 76 innings. 2017 was the first season with over 6,000 home runs hit league wide, so James’ ability to keep the ball in the park could lead to prolonged success in the majors.
Ian Rice was drafted by the Cubs in the 29th round in 2015 out of the University of Houston. Prior to his junior season, Rice spent two years playing for Chipola College in Marianna, Florida. He saw a huge power increase his sophomore season, jumping from one home run as a freshman up to 10. Chipola is an elite program at the junior college level, with current MLB alumni including Russell Martin, Jose Bautista, Patrick Corbin, Adam Duvall, and Tyler Flowers.
This year in Double-A Tennessee, Rice knocked 17 home runs and drove in 52 runs in 331 at-bats. He’s been able to display good power for a catcher, despite hitting .248 in three minor league seasons. Time will tell if his power is enough to carry him to the big leagues.
These three players are not the only ones who weren’t college superstars. Here is a breakdown of the Solar Sox Roster:
- 26 players were drafted out of college. There are also eight international free agents, and three players drafted who were signed out of high school.
- Of the 26 former college players, 13 did not attend a school in a Power 5 Conference (ACC, Big-10, Big-12, PAC-12, SEC).
- Including players signed out of high school, the average (median) draft round of a player was the 8th round, with players being drafted anywhere from rounds 1 to 34.
The chart below shows where these players were selected in the MLB draft by round.
While there is a high concentration of players selected in the first five rounds, this diagram shows that talent can be found in each round of the draft.
With Victor Robles and Kyle Tucker leading the charge offensively, the Solar Sox are looking to repeat as Eastern Division Champs. However, you never know which one the guys who fell through the cracks will step up and make a name for himself. Just because a player wasn’t a sexy pick out of college doesn’t mean they can’t be successful with the right people in the right organization.