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Top Ten Prospects: Chicago Cubs
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Jim Callis
November 28, 2005


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 two seasons.

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 and approach.


1. FELIX PIE, of      Age: 21 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 175 B-T: L-L
Signed: 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 League.

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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
West Tenn (AA) .304 .349 .554 240 41 73 17 5 11 25 16 53 13 9


2. MARK PAWELEK, lhp        Age: 19 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt.: 180
Drafted: 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 2006.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
AZL Cubs (R) 0 3 2.72 14 13 0 0 43 25 0 21 56 .170
Boise (SS) 0 0 0.00 1 1 0 0 3 6 0 1 4 .462


3. RONNY CEDENO, ss       Age: 23 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt.: 180
Signed: 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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Iowa (AAA) .355 .403 .518 245 42 87 14 1 8 36 20 31 11 3
Chicago (NL) .300 .356 .375 80 13 24 3 0 1 6 5 11 1 0


4. ANGEL GUZMAN, rhp        Age: 24 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 190
Signed: Venezuela, 1999  Signed by: Hector Ortega

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) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
AZL Cubs (R) 0 0 1.50 4 4 0 0 12 10 0 1 17 .217
Peoria (Lo A) 0 1 4.26 2 2 0 0 6 10 1 0 7 .345


5. RICH HILL, lhp       Age: 26 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-5 Wt.: 205
Drafted: 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.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
West Tenn (AA) 4 3 3.28 10 10 0 0 58 47 9 21 90 .200
Iowa (AAA) 6 1 3.60 11 10 1 0 65 53 11 14 92

.218

Chicago (NL) 0 2 9.13 10 4 0 0 24 25 3 17 21 .260
Peoria (A) 1 0 1.13 1 1 0 0 8 5 0 0 12 .179


6. SEAN MARSHALL, lhp        Age: 23 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-6 Wt.: 195
Drafted: Virginia Commonwealth, 2003 (6th round)   Signed by: Billy Swoope

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.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Daytona (Hi A) 4 4 2.74 12 12 1 0 69 63 7 26 61 .246
West Tenn (AA) 0 1 2.52 4 4 0 0 25 16 1 5 24 .180


7. RICKY NOLASCO, rhp       Age: 23 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt.: 200
Drafted: 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) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
West Tenn (AA) 14 3 2.89 27 27 1 0 162 151 13 46 173 .245


8. RYAN HARVEY, of      Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt.: 225
Drafted: HS—Dunedin, Fla., 2003 (1st round)   Signed by: Rolando Pino

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 is poor.

  

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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Peoria (Lo A) .257 .302 .484 467 71 120 30 2 24 100 24 137 8 4


9. BRIAN DOPIRAK , 1b       Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt.: 235
Drafted: 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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Daytona (Hi A) .235 .289 .381 507 53 119 26 0 16 76 37 107 1 4


10. ERIC PATTERSON, 2b       Age: 22 B-T: L-R Ht: 5-11 Wt.: 170
Drafted: Georgia Tech, 2004 (8th round)    Signed by: Sam Hughes

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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Peoria (Lo A) .333 .405 .535 432 90 144 26 11 13 71 53 94 40 11
West Tenn (AA) .200 .324 .267 30 5 6 2 0 0 2 6 7 3 2


Photo Credits:
Guzman, Pawelek: Bill Mitchell
Dopirak, Harvey, Marshall: Steve Moore
Hill, Patterson, Pie: Rodger Wood

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