ACL Cubs Team Photo by Rich Biesterfeld

The end of the baseball season always makes me a little sad as a fan. For the players, I know it becomes a grind because they have been in camp since March when Spring Training kicked off, then Extended Spring Training and finally the ACL season. While talking to one of the players early last week, he mentioned being tired, and he was excited to be headed back home. This is relatable on multiple levels, but factor in that this young man is only 18 and it’s his first time far from home, it makes sense that players would be mentally, as well as physically, tired by this point in the season.

The Cubs finished the season with an 18-37 record and lost their final 6 games. This was the first managerial assignment for Nick Lovullo and he had a strong staff of coaches supporting him and as a group, they had the team ready for each game. While the goal at every level is to win games, the focus in the minor leagues is on development and seeing improvement in players as the season progresses. Another challenge at the rookie level is that as players do improve, they often move up a level (which is what the organization desires). But it adds additional challenges for the team who often loses their highest level of talent to the next level, so they are in a constant state of adjustment. To provide some context, the Cubs used 35 position players and 40 pitchers for the season.

2023 ACL Staff

The Roster:

During the back half of the season, the team added some reinforcements to the position player group from the draft class. Alfonsin Rosario, Zyhir Hope, Yahil Melendez, Drew Bowser and Carter Trice played with the team through the completion of the season. Several of the pitchers made one appearance to get acclimated to pro ball and then were dispatched to a full season affiliate – Sam Armstrong, Landon Ginn, Grayson Moore and Luis Martinez-Gomez. It was nice to get a brief look at some of the other draft picks who passed through the ACL – Matt Shaw, Josh Rivera, Brett Bateman, Jonathan Long, Brian Kalmer and Michael Carico – before they headed off to South Bend and Myrtle Beach.

Because the Spring Training facility is a state-of-the-art operation, players rehabbing from injury are often recovering and doing their rehab in Arizona. Once they are ready to begin competing again, a frequent first step is to send them on a rehab assignment in the ACL. There were a lot of familiar faces who saw some time in the ACL this season, including: Alexander Canario, Kevin Alcantara, Brennen Davis, Ed Howard, Christian Franklin, Drew Gray, Scott Kobus, Brailyn Marquez, Luis Devers, Derek Casey, Max Bain and Yovanny Cruz.

Season Highlights:

  • The team had a pair of walk-off wins during the season. There’s just something about seeing a team flood onto the field after a victory and the joy that ensues which reminds me that at the core, these are still kids playing a game.
7/3 Walkoff Celebration
  • Alexis Hernandez was the most impressive player to me through the entire season. Entering the season, he was frequently referenced as ‘Cristian’s brother’ but he came out of that shadow with his production this season. He primarily played shortstop, but also saw action around the infield and looked good at all positions. He led the team with a .315 BA and a .922 OPS.
Alexis Hernandez
  • Leonel Espinoza began the season as an infielder and then moved to the outfield. His first few games in the outfield were a bit of an adventure, but his routes and comfort level improved through his work with the coaches. He put up strong offensive numbers as he tied for the team lead in hits (41) and doubles (9) while batting .339 with an .867 OPS before being promoted to Myrtle Beach on August 15th.
Leonel Espinoza
  • Pitcher Gabriel Agrazal was used in multiple roles throughout the season but was frequently called upon to close out games. He appeared in 19 games with 23.2 IP. His WHIP was 1.563 with a 2.3 BB/9 and 8.0 SO/9. One of the biggest challenges for the ACL Cubs staff as a whole was throwing strikes and Gabriel did well in this area.
Gabriel Agrazal

Closing the Loop to the Preseason Preview:

In my preseason article, I identified 6 players I believed were players to watch: Carlos Garcia, Mason McGwire, Gleiber Morales, Chris Paciolla, Adán Sanchez and Jefferson Rojas. Jefferson Rojas played in the opening night game, and then was immediately promoted to Myrtle Beach and hasn’t looked back. The performance of the 3 pitchers (Garcia, McGwire and Morales) would best be described as inconsistent. There were nights for each of them when they appeared dominating and had all of their pitches working, but other times when they struggled to make it through a single inning. (That’s not unusual for pitchers in the ACL.) Early in the season Adán Sanchez appeared to be overmatched at the plate, but in the last weeks of the season, his AB’s and his contact were greatly improved. His defense behind the plate is going to require continued work and I suspect there will be a lot of time spent on that this winter. Chris Paciolla finished the season leading the team in both HR’s (4) and RBI’s (23) while playing steady defense all around the infield. It looks like the next step for Chris is for him to fill out more physically and if he can add some additional muscle, the power might grow quite a bit.

Chris Paciolla

Wrapping it up:

Thanks for hanging with me and reading these recaps of the ACL season this summer. When Todd Johnson asked if I wanted to take over this assignment for North Side Bound, I wasn’t sure what I would write about each week. But the players, staff, and games inspired me to share stories and summarize each week’s activity. I’m not sure what my next article will be, but there will still be Fall Instructs and the Arizona Fall League happening, so you may see me pop up with something over the next few months. Until next time…