Chicago Cubs prospects help propel Mesa Solar Sox to AFL title

(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /

The 2021 Arizona Fall League concluded Saturday with the Mesa Solar Sox shutting out the Surprise Saguaros 6-0 in the championship game. Comprised of prospects from the Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Miami Marlins, Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics, the Solar Sox went 15-13 finishing first in the AFL East division. Two of the team’s key contributors included Cubs top-30 prospects Nelson Velazquez and Caleb Kilian.

Velazquez, 22, won AFL MVP as he hit nine home runs and slashed .366/.467/.693 with a 1.160 OPS in 26 games. Per he is currently the team’s 29th-ranked prospect. Last week it was announced that the Cubs selected his contract, adding him to the 40-man roster.

Caleb Kilian’s heroic championship start gives Chicago Cubs fans hope

Initially, the feelings towards the return on the Kris Bryant trade at the deadline were not great. It felt like a disappointing return for an NL All Star, especially after the initial reports said top prospect Joey Bart was involved in the deal, which ended up not being the case. However in recent months 24-year old righty Caleb Kilian, who was part of the return for Bryant, has raised some eyebrows.

Kilian – between the Giants and Cubs farm teams –  pitched to a 2.42 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 112 strikeouts in 19 starts. In the AFL championship game he pitched six flawless innings, giving up no hits, no walks, no runs and struck out eight batters. He threw 48 strikes on 68 pitches. Needless to say, it was an incredibly impressive performance from a guy looking to continue to build his way up in 2022.

Kilian, who was an eighth-round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2019 out of Texas Tech, is currently ranked as the team’s 14th-best prospect by Scouting reports rank his fastball a 55 and he can reach the mid-upper 90s with it. There is a possibility we see him make his MLB debut sooner than later, potentially even in 2022 if all goes well. While it is doubted he will be of the ace variety, having solid rotation depth would be a plus. The team cannot have enough pitching depth.

Other quick Cubs prospect notes worth keeping an eye on

Last week down in Arizona complex, Nick Madrigal and number five prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong were briefly documented playing catch as are both working their way back from season-ending injuries they suffered this year. Madrigal is set to be the second baseman going forward and Crow-Armstrong, who came over in the Javier Baez trade in July, has little professional experience but already is ranked high in the Cubs system.

24-year-old pitching prospect Ethan Roberts was added to the team’s 40-man roster along with Velazquez. Roberts, a fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft out of Tennessee Tech, pitched to a 3.00 ERA and struck out 72 hitters in 54 innings between Double and Triple-A last year.

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Congrats to the Mesa Solar Sox on their AFL title. After no season in 2020, it was good to see the league play a full season again. This was good development for many prospects around baseball.