Chat Wrap: Jim Callis took your Cubs questions
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections
of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development
personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards
of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time)
are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
On Oct. 14, 2003, the Cubs got within five outs of their first World
Series appearance since World War II. Then Luis Castillo lofted a fly
ball down the left-field line at Wrigley Field, fate intervened and
Chicago hasn’t been the same since.
The Marlins roared back with an eight-run comeback and took Game Seven
of the National League Championship Series the next day, propelling
them to a World Series meeting they would win against the Yankees. The
Cubs consoled themselves with thoughts of a bright future built around
a young pitching staff and a promising farm system.
That bright future hasn’t materialized, however, as Chicago has
underachieved at both the major and minor league levels the last two
years. The Cubs did post their first consecutive winning seasons since
1971-72 with 89 victories in 2004, but they blew the NL wild-card lead
in the final week of the season. Expect to contend again in 2005, they
finished with the 10th-best record in the NL at 79-83.
Pitching injuries have hurt terribly. Neither Mark Prior nor Kerry
Wood totaled as many wins in 2004-05 as he did in 2003, and Wood’s
future as a starter is now in doubt. Angel Guzman, then Chicago’s
top prospect and on the verge of a big league callup, tore his labrum
in July 2003 and has worked just 66 innings since. Chadd Blasko, Luke
Hagerty and Billy Petrick also have gone under the knife, while Bobby
Brownlie’s stuff has regressed and Andy Sisco was lost in the
major league Rule 5 draft. Only Carlos Zambrano among the Cubs’
potential frontline pitchers has lived up to expectations in the last
Chicago has had worse luck developing position players. Their only
homegrown regular last year was Corey Patterson, once envisioned as
a future cornerstone. But Patterson has proven a stubborn hitter who’s
either unwilling or unable to make adjustments, and his .602 on-base
plus slugging percentage was the second-worst among big leaguers with
at least 450 at-bats. The only other proven big league regular signed
by Chicago since 1998 is Eric Hinske, who was traded before he appeared
in a game for the Cubs.
There may be fresh blood in the 2006 lineup, however. Left fielder
Matt Murton, acquired from the Red Sox in the 2004 Nomar Garciaparra
trade, and shortstop Ronny Cedeno may have played well enough to win
over even manager Dusty Baker, who never met a veteran he didn’t
like. The best prospect in the system is center fielder Felix Pie, who
could have supplanted Patterson had he not injured his ankle in mid-June.
It remains to be seen what the Cubs will get out of two former Dunedin
(Fla.) High sluggers, first baseman Brian Dopirak and Ryan Harvey. Dopirak
and Harvey ranked with Pie atop this list a year ago but both raised
questions with their performances in 2005. Dopirak slumped to a .235
average and 16 homers in high Class A, while Harvey’s 100 RBIs
in low Class A couldn’t erase worries about holes in his swing
21 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 175 B-T: L-L
Dominican Republic, 2001 Signed by: Jose Serra
Background: Pie, then 14, had played only street
baseball when he stopped by a tryout in his hometown of La Romana in the
Domincian Republic in 1999. Jose Serra asked Pie to show what he could
do, and his skills impressed the Cubs scout enough that he got Pie involved
in more structured baseball and signed him once he turned 16. Pie came
to the United States at 17 and since has blazed a trail of success throughout
the minors. He won championships with each of the four teams he played
with in his first three seasons, and he played in the Futures Game in
2003-04. Both of those streaks ended in 2005 after he injured his right
ankle when he slid late into a base in mid-June. A bone bruise initially
wasn’t expected to sideline him for more than a few weeks, but he
never returned, forcing him to bow out of the Futures Game and leaving
him unable to contribute to Double-A West Tenn’s playoff run, which
ended with a loss in the Southern League finals. If he hadn’t been
hurt, the Cubs say they would have called Pie up when they shipped Corey
Patterson to the minors in early July.
Strengths: Pie has been the best athlete in the system since
he made his pro debut in 2002, and his tools are similar to those of
Carlos Beltran. Despite being one of the youngest players in his league
each year, he consistently has hit for average. He has an uncanny ability
to make hard contact even when he chases pitches out of the strike zone.
After hitting just 16 homers in his first 287 pro games, Pie started
to deliver on his power potential with 11 in 59 games in 2005. He improved
his setup, used his legs more in his swing and started to pull pitches
more often. His speed is his best tool, making him a basestealing threat
and giving him the range to cover the gaps in center field. He also
has a strong arm that would fit in right field if needed.
Weaknesses: Pie is still raw in many phases of the game. Though
it has yet to catch up to him, his plate discipline has slipped as he
has risen through the minors. He rarely walks because he lacks patience
and is able to put balls out of the zone in play. Intrigued by his newfound
power, he fell into ruts where he became too focused on trying to hit
homers. Despite his well above-average speed, he’s still figuring
out how to steal bases and was caught nine times in 22 attempts in 2005.
Defensively, he can improve his routes, especially when he comes in
on balls. Losing three months of the season cost him valuable development
time, though he did return to play with Licey in the Dominican Winter
The Future: Patterson has fallen short of his considerable potential
in part because the Cubs rushed him through the minors without forcing
him to address his shortcomings. Rather than learning from that lesson,
they’re contemplating doing the same with Pie, who still needs
to make several refinements to his game. While he’d be best served
with some time at Triple-A Iowa, he’ll tempt the Cubs to promote
him to the majors this spring.
HS—Springville, Utah, 2005 (1st round) Signed
by: John Bartsch
Background: When he went 20th overall in June,
Pawelek became the highest-drafted Utah high schooler ever, surpassing
Bruce Hurst, the No. 22 pick in 1976. Pawelek became the first 2005 first-rounder
to sign, agreeing to a $1.75 million bonus. He rated as the No. 1 prospect
in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Strengths: Pawelek is a rare lefthander with a chance
to have three plus pitches. He has a quick arm that already delivers
lively 92-95 mph fastballs, and he could add more velocity as
he fills out. Both his curveball and changeup have their moments.
Weaknesses: His secondary pitches are inconsistent, and
the Cubs had Pawelek scrap his slider and splitter because they
wanted him to focus on improving three pitches rather than five.
His mechanics are sound, though he sometimes rushes and loses
balance and command. He’ll throw more, better strikes once
he repeats his delivery better.
The Future: The Cubs kept Pawelek on tight pitch counts
last summer and will continue to exercise caution because he’s
still a teenager. He’ll move up to low Class A Peoria in
2005 Club (Class)
AZL Cubs (R)
23 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt.: 180
Venezuela, 1999 Signed by: Alberto Rondon
Background: Cedeno won the Arizona League batting
title with a .350 average in his U.S. debut in 2001, then hit just .212
the next two seasons as the Cubs rushed him through Class A. His bat has
bounced back, and he spent three months in the majors in 2005, mostly
on the bench. He was just starting to get regular playing time in September
when a Brad Hennessey pitch broke his left hand.
Strengths: Cedeno has the best actions and arm strength
among Chicago’s infield prospects, and he has proven that
he can be more than just a glove man. His strong hands and wrists
give him good bat speed that should allow him to hit for average
and maybe 15 homers per year. His speed is slightly above average.
Weaknesses: To fit near the top of the lineup, Cedeno will
need to show more patience and basestealing savvy. He can get
homer-happy, but that happens less than it did in the past.
The Future: Though the Cubs re-signed Neifi Perez, they
say he’ll be a backup. Cedeno will get the opportunity to
start at second base or shortstop, depending on further moves
the club makes this offseason.
Background: Guzman was on a roll in Double-A
and bucking for a big league callup in mid-2003 when he was diagnosed
with a slight tear in his labrum. Though he required only arthroscopic
surgery, he has pitched just 66 innings since. The Cubs were enthused
by reports he was throwing 93-96 mph in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Before he got hurt, Guzman had arguably the
best fastball, curveball and changeup in the system. The velocity
and hard sink have returned with his fastball. He always has excelled
at throwing strikes, and that hasn’t changed.
Weaknesses: Guzman needs to trust his stuff and his health.
He missed most of 2005 with forearm stiffness. He hasn’t
used his curveball much since his return, and his changeup isn’t
the plus pitch it once was. He must command both pitches better
in the strike zone.
The Future: It’s impossible to count on Guzman or
to even know what to expect from him, but he still has one of
the highest ceilings in the system. If all goes well in spring
training, he could start 2006 in Double-A and make his big league
debut later in the year.
2005 Club (Class)
AZL Cubs (R)
Peoria (Lo A)
26 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-5 Wt.: 205
Michigan, 2002 (4th round) Signed by: Scott May
Background: Hill always had a knockout curveball,
but his inability to throw strikes (6.3 walks per nine innings) held him
back in his first three seasons as a pro. The light turned on in 2005,
which he credits to improved mental focus. Hill led the minors with 13.4
strikeouts per nine innings and made his major league debut.
Strengths: Hill’s 12-to-6 curveball is often unhittable,
and batters can’t sit on it now that he can locate his 90-91
mph fastball. His changeup shows promise and would give him the
third pitch he requires to remain a starter. He has cleaned up
his delivery, which also improved his control.
Weaknesses: For all his progress, Hill didn’t throw
strikes when he joined the Cubs and big league hitters took advantage.
He needs to trust and use his changeup more often.
The Future: Hill will get a chance to crack Chicago’s
rotation in spring training, and he has the stuff to be a No.
2 starter. His curve is so good that he should at least become
a dynamic lefty specialist.
Virginia Commonwealth, 2003 (6th round) Signed by: Billy
Background: Marshall and his twin brother Brian
were part of a Virginia Commonwealth staff that led NCAA Division I with
a 2.54 ERA in 2003, when the Red Sox took Brian in the fifth round and
the Cubs selected Sean in the sixth. Sean has a 2.64 ERA in pro ball,
but missed time in 2004 with a ruptured tendon in his left middle finger
and again in 2005 with shoulder soreness.
Strengths: Marshall picks up plenty of groundballs and
strikeouts thanks to an 88-92 mph sinker that can reach 95. He
keeps batters off balance with his curveball, a sharp downer he
can change speeds with. He commands both pitches well.
Weaknesses: The tendon injury was a fluke and his shoulder
problems were probably related to compensating for the finger,
but Marshall still hasn’t proven he can hold up over a full
season. He’ll have to improve his changeup to remain a starter,
and he’s working on a slider.
The Future: The Cubs believe Marshall is on the verge
of a breakthrough season in 2006. He’ll probably open the
year in Double-A but isn’t too far from the majors if he
can stay healthy.
HS—Rialto, Calif., 2001 (4th round) Signed
by: Spider Jorgensen
Background: For years, Nolasco had been overshadowed
by fellow 2001 Cubs draftees Mark Prior, Andy Sisco and Sergio Mitre,
as well as several other young pitchers in the system. Nolasco previously
was most notable for being included in a 2003 trade with the Rangers that
Rafael Palmeiro vetoed. That all changed in 2005, when he was named Southern
League pitcher of the year after leading the league in wins and strikeouts.
Strengths: Nolasco has above-average pitches with his
low-90s fastball and his curveball, and he throws his changeup
for strikes. Managers rated his command the best in the Southern
League. He has a tremendous feel for pitching.
Weaknesses: When Nolasco was sent to Triple-A before he
was ready in 2004, he didn’t handle it well. He dropped
down with his breaking ball, trying to aim it for strikes, and
didn’t have the confidence to use his changeup.
The Future: After spending most of the last two seasons
in Double-A, Nolasco will get another shot at Triple-A in 2006.
If he passes that test, he’ll get called up later in the
year. The Cubs have a number of starting candidates, so he could
wind up in the bullpen.
2005 Club (Class)
West Tenn (AA)
21 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt.: 225
HS—Dunedin, Fla., 2003 (1st round) Signed by:
Background: Though he blew out his right knee
at a high school showcase the previous fall, Harvey recovered in time
to go sixth overall in the 2003 draft and sign for $2.4 million. He made
his full-season debut in 2005 and was a low Class A Midwest League all-star,
leading the league in homers and losing the RBI title on the last day
of the season.
Strengths: Harvey has massive power potential and is an
incredible athlete for a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder. He looks like
the blueprint scouts would draw up for a right fielder. He has
plus speed and a plus-plus arm that unleashed 90-93 mph fastballs
when he pitched in high school.
Weaknesses: Harvey has a huge ceiling but will have to
make several adjustments at the plate to reach it. He’s
a free swinger with a long stroke who struggles against inside
fastballs and chases wayward breaking balls. His two-strike approach
The Future: It remains to be seen how well Harvey will
do against more advanced pitching, and he’ll probably never
hit for a high average. But his tools excite the Cubs, and they’ll
see how he fares at high Class A Daytona in 2006.
HS—Dunedin, Fla., 2002 (2nd round) Signed
by: Tom Shafer
Background: Dopirak ranked No. 1 on this list
a year ago, when he was coming off a 39-homer season and an MVP award
in the Midwest League. The wheels came off in high Class A in 2005, however,
as his average dropped 72 points while he dipped to 16 homers. He’s
a product of Dunedin (Fla). High, as are two other prominent Cubs—general
manager Jim Hendry and Ryan Harvey.
Strengths: Dopirak has power comparable to Harvey’s,
and who has more is a popular debate among Cubs officials. Dopirak
can hit the ball out of any part of any park and doesn’t
need a long swing to do it. He has worked hard to improve defensively.
Weaknesses: He typically has needed time to adjust to a
new level, but Dopirak seemed to panic in 2005. After he started
slowly again, he lengthened his stroke and tried to pull everything
in an attempt to pump up his homer totals. He has below-average
speed and will never be more than adequate at first base.
The Future: With Derrek Lee in the majors, Chicago can
be patient with Dopirak. They’ll move him up a level to
Double-A in 2006 and hope he can bounce back.
2005 Club (Class)
Daytona (Hi A)
22 B-T: L-R Ht: 5-11 Wt.: 170
Georgia Tech, 2004 (8th round) Signed by: Sam
Background: Patterson may seize the Cubs’
leadoff job that his brother Corey has failed to fill. An eighth-round
pick who signed for fourth-round money ($300,000), Patterson won the Midwest
League batting title and the Cubs’ minor league player of the year
award in his pro debut.
Strengths: Patterson isn’t as strong or as fast
as his brother Corey, but he still stands out in both areas. He
has 65 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale and surprising pop for
his size. Unlike Corey, Eric isn’t allergic to walks. He
should become an average defender at second base.
Weaknesses: Patterson can have too much power for his own
good, as he sometimes worries too much about homers at the expense
of getting on base. He’d be better off shortening his stroke.
He’s still rough at second base, where he can look stiff
and needs to continue to clean up his double-play pivot.
The Future: Patterson will return to Double-A, where he
spent the last week of his first pro season. He has passed Mike
Fontentot and Richard Lewis on the organization depth chart and
could be starting for the Cubs at some point in 2007.
2005 Club (Class)
Peoria (Lo A)
West Tenn (AA)
Guzman, Pawelek: Bill Mitchell
Dopirak, Harvey, Marshall: Steve Moore
Hill, Patterson, Pie: Rodger Wood