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1st-round pick Hoerner getting on track in AFL

Steele, Giambrone among prospects on display in Mesa
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Nico Hoerner missed playing time this season because of a left elbow injury, but the Cubs' first-round Draft pick is back in action in the Arizona Fall League, which got underway Tuesday night.

Hoerner went 0-for-4 for the Mesa Solar Sox, which won, 4-3, on Luis Barrera's inside-the-park home run with two outs in the ninth inning against the Scottsdale Scorpions in the AFL opener.

CHICAGO -- Nico Hoerner missed playing time this season because of a left elbow injury, but the Cubs' first-round Draft pick is back in action in the Arizona Fall League, which got underway Tuesday night.

Hoerner went 0-for-4 for the Mesa Solar Sox, which won, 4-3, on Luis Barrera's inside-the-park home run with two outs in the ninth inning against the Scottsdale Scorpions in the AFL opener.

The Cubs have nine prospects on the Solar Sox roster, including Hoerner, the 24th overall pick in last June's Draft, who played 14 Minor League games before sustaining a ligament strain in his left elbow. The other Cubs prospects on the Solar Sox roster are pitchers Bailey Clark, Erick Leal, Manuel Rondon and Justin Steele; catchers P.J. Higgins and Jhonny Pereda; infielder Trent Giambrone and outfielder D.J. Wilson. Pareda and Giambrone are both listed on the taxi squad.

Hoerner, 21, ranked No. 6 on MLB Pipeline's list of top 30 Cubs prospects, started hitting in mid-September and was expected to play shortstop, second base and possibly third base, Cubs player development director Jaron Madison said.

"He'll just get in the lineup and try to catch up on some at-bats and be challenged by some better pitching," Madison said. "It should be fun for him and a good experience. The only other guy we sent to the Fall League in his first year was Kris Bryant, and he ended up turning into a pretty good player.

"Nico has a special makeup, he's a special kid and presence and leader," Madison said. "I only got a chance to spend a couple days with him when we did our rookie orientation, but he really stands out as a leader and a guy who is going to be an impact player in the clubhouse and on the field. He's going to be fun to watch. I think this Fall League will be a fun challenge for him."

Hoerner got a chance to meet some of the Cubs in mid-July when he came to Chicago to have his elbow examined.

"He's a humble kid," Madison said. "He's confident but not cocky by any means, and he wants to get better and wants to learn and understands he has work to do and wants to continue to grind away at it. It's a special package."

Steele, 23, is coming back from Tommy John surgery in August 2017 and made 11 starts this season at three different levels, finishing at Double-A Tennessee. He's ranked eighth by MLB Pipeline.

"He's a guy who has put himself on the map with a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a plus breaking ball and a changeup that's coming," Madison said. "He's coming off Tommy John and worked his butt off and came back pretty quick. It'll be a good challenge to help him build up some innings."

Giambrone, 24, who was the Cubs' 25th-round pick in 2016, is the "new Bote," Madison said, comparing the infielder to the versatile David Bote, who had an impact on the big league team this season.

"[Giambrone] is the same mold, same versatile guy," Madison said. "He's not as physical as Bote but the ball just jumps off his bat and it's fun to watch."

Giambrone, whom MLB Pipeline ranked No. 29 in the Cubs' system, batted .251 in 116 games with 17 home runs, 20 doubles, 26 stolen bases and 49 RBIs at Tennessee.

Adbert Alzolay, 23, ranked second on MLB Pipeline's list, was shut down in late May because of a strained right lat. He has been rehabbing at the Cubs' complex in Mesa, Ariz., but will not throw off a mound until January.

"He's just working on his body and flexibility and continuing to work on the support muscles so he comes back 100 percent healthy and is ready to help the big league club at some point [in 2019]," Madison said.

Alzolay will take part in instructional league, which the Cubs have moved from September to January. Part of the reason for the switch is to give the players more time to rest after the 2018 season.

"The work we do [in January] will lead them right into the season," Madison said. "In instructs, we can start to make changes that will stick and help them during the [2019] season. It's a way to make sure we have our hands on them and make sure they've done what they're supposed to do with their throwing programs."

• At the end of October, Madison will accompany a group of 10 Cubs prospects from the U.S. to the team's academy in the Dominican Republic. It's part of what the Cubs call their "ambassador program," which they started last year.

"It was really impactful for some of our guys," Madison said. "It puts stuff in perspective. Guys complain about the fields and stuff they grew up with [in the U.S.], and you go down there and there's literally grass that's up to mid-ankle or mid-calf. Those guys [in the Dominican Republic] are just happy to play and run around. They don't have all the equipment, but just the passion for the game is just awesome and the energy is awesome."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Adbert Alzolay