Chicago Cubs Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Jim Callis
1. Corey Patterson, of
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS--Kennesaw, Ga., 1998 (1st round). Signed by: Oneri Fleita.
Background: When the Cubs signed Patterson to a club-record $3.7 million bonus in 1998, Jim Hendry told club president Andy MacPhail that Patterson would reach the majors within three years. He beat that timetable, arriving last September and hitting his first two big league homers off Juan Acevedo and Alan Benes. Patterson wouldnt have been at Wrigley Field had he made the U.S. Olympic team, but he was chosen as an alternate and declined. That was the only disappointment in 2000 as he jumped from low Class A to Double-A West Tenn. One of the youngest players in the Southern League, he was batting just .243-6-28 at the end of May before finishing with a .274-16-54 surge over the final three months.
Strengths: Patterson offers the best combination of athleticism and baseball skills of any prospect in the game. Hes the best hitter, the fastest runner and the top outfield defender in the Cubs farm system. His other two tools, power and arm strength, are both above average. His top-of-the-line speed is probably his most impressive physical asset, and he has a chiseled physique with biceps that seem a couple of sizes too large for his frame. Patterson has more than held his own while being rushed through the minors, and the Cubs love his makeup.
Weaknesses: Patterson still has to work on the nuances of the game. He has batted just .195 against lefthanders as a pro. He needs to tighten his plate discipline, and his ability to drive pitches that are out of the strike zone actually hampers his ability to draw walks. Despite his blazing speed, he wasnt a particularly effective basestealer in 2000, getting caught 14 times in 41 attempts. He can correct all those flaws with experience. Theyre understandable, considering his age and how he has been pushed.
The Future: If the Cubs trade Sammy Sosa, theyll market Patterson as the cornerstone of the franchise. That would be premature, as his struggles against lefties show hes not ready for the majors quite yet. While he could make Chicagos Opening Day roster with a good spring, Patterson would be better served by at least half a season in Triple-A. When he puts it all together, he should be one of the games superstars.
2. Juan Cruz, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 155. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1997. Signed by: Jose Serra.
Background: Cruz made the biggest breakthrough in baseball last season. He entered 2000 with a 7-10, 5.99 career record and went 0-5, 9.99 in his first six starts. Then everything clicked, and he went 8-0, 1.86 with 134 strikeouts in 116 innings the rest of the way. Cruz ranked as the No. 2 prospect in both the Midwest and Florida State leagues.
Strengths: Cruz has the best stuff in the organization. He throws a lively 94-97 mph fastball, and wasnt clocked under 94 mph when he threw a 14-strikeout gem in the FSL playoffs. He also has a power slider and a changeup that serves as a good third pitch. He relishes pitching inside, making it difficult to dig in against him.
Weaknesses: Cruz improved his command as his career took off last year, and it still could get better. Other than that, he just needs a little more experience.
The Future: Its trendy to compare hard-throwing Dominicans to Pedro Martinez, but Cruz makes a better case than most. Hell prove whether hes for real in Double-A in 2001. If he progresses as he did a year ago, he could reach Chicago by the end of the season.
3. Hee Seop Choi, 1b
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 235. Signed: Korea, 1999. Signed by: Leon Lee.
Background: As a 19-year-old, Choi homered in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the 1998 World Championship. The following March, he became the first Korean position player to sign with a major league club when he accepted a $1.2 million bonus from the Cubs. He has hit ever since and led the Arizona Fall League in homers (six) and slugging percentage (.577) after the 2000 season.
Strengths: Choi is an advanced hitter, thanks to his short stroke and understanding of the strike zone. He has tremendous power to all fields and is a better athlete than expected. Hes a good defensive first baseman and runs well for his size and position. He turned down an interpreter so he could learn English more quickly.
Weaknesses: Choi has fanned 184 times in 211 games, though he draws plenty of walks and his extra-base production more than offsets his strikeouts. A big man, hell have to watch his weight in the future.
The Future: The Cubs have let Mark Grace go, but scouts who saw Choi in the AFL believe he needs Triple-A time. He could take over the first-base job toward the end of the season, and he wont let it go.
4. Ben Christensen, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Wichita State, 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Mark Servais.
Background: Christensen always will be associated with beaning Evansvilles Anthony Molina while he was warming up before a Wichita State game. But hes making a name for himself as a pitcher, permitting more than three earned runs in just two of his starts last season before he was shut down in early July with shoulder tendinitis.
Strengths: Christensen has two well-above-average pitches in his 90-94 mph sinker and his slider. As a bonus, he has very good command of both of those offerings, as well as his curveball and an improving changeup. He had nearly as many strikeouts as baserunners allowed last year.
Weaknesses: Christensens shoulder problems arent considered serious. He just needs more innings and more consistency with his curve and change. He hasnt shown the Molina incident will affect him.
The Future: If the Cubs decide to be ultra-cautious, theyll give Christensen a month to get going in Double-A before promoting him to Triple-A Iowa this year. Odds are hell surface in Wrigley Field before the season is over, and he should stick in Chicagos rotation by 2002.
5. Carlos Zambrano, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 220. Signed: Venezuela, 1997. Signed by: Alberto Rondon.
Background: The Cubs have aggressively moved their best prospects through the minors, most obviously with Zambrano. After modest success in low Class A in 1999, he opened 2000 in Double-A and was promoted to Triple-A before he turned 19. Upon reaching Iowa, he was converted from a starter to a reliever.
Strengths: Zambrano has a strong pitchers body and a live, loose arm. He owns the best fastball in the system, a nasty mid-90s sinker that has reached 99 mph. He throws it from two arm slots, making it tougher. At times, his slider is a very good second pitch.
Weaknesses: Pacific Coast League managers liked Zambranos arm but couldnt understand why he was rushed to Triple-A and forced to change roles. His slider is inconsistent, his changeup is nothing special yet and his curveball is more of the get-me-over variety.
The Future: Zambrano was switched to relief when the major league bullpen was killing the Cubs. With Tom Gordon on board as the closer, Zambranos future may be as a starter again. Hell probably pitch in a rotation this year, likely in Triple-A.
6. Luis Montanez, ss
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HSMiami, 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Mike Soper.
Background: The Cubs selected Montanez third overall last June, then announced his signing in the middle of the third round. They agreed to a predraft deal worth $2.75 million but said they would have taken him regardless. His debut in the Arizona League was spectacular, as he was named MVP and managers rated him as the Rookie circuits top prospect.
Strengths: Montanez has been compared athletically to Alex Gonzalez, and hes a better hitter than the Toronto shortstop. Montanez uses the entire field and the ball jumps off his bat, so he should develop above-average power for a middle infielder. Hes a smooth defender with a strong arm.
Weaknesses: Montanez isnt a blazer and wont be a big-time basestealer, though he has enough quickness to remain at shortstop. Despite exhibiting good plate discipline in his debut, hell need to make better contact as he moves up the ladder.
The Future: The Cubs have had one all-star shortstop in the last 25 years (Shawon Dunston), but Montanez should end that drought. Hell likely begin 2001 at Lansing and has a big league ETA of late 2003.
7. David Kelton, 3b
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HSLa Grange, Ga., 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Oneri Fleita.
Background: Which will happen first: Ron Santo makes the Hall of Fame, or the Cubs find their first long-term replacement for him since he left following the 1973 season? The veterans committee is running out of time because Chicago has a deep crop of third-base prospects. The most promising is Kelton, who rebounded from a slow start to lead high Class A Daytona to a championship in the Florida State League last year.
Strengths: Kelton has legitimate 30-homer power. His swing is so pure that the Cubs forbade their minor league instructors from messing with it. He has average speed, very good hands and an arm strong enough for third base.
Weaknesses: Kelton has had periodic problems with his right shoulder, which required surgery before his senior year of high school. His shoulder acted up at the start of last season, limiting him to DH duty for a month. He has a 299-100 strikeout-walk ratio as a pro, something more advanced pitchers may exploit.
The Future: Kelton is ready for Double-A and is 18-24 months away from Chicago. Hell have to hold off players such as Eric Hinske, Ryan Gripp, Brandon Sing and J.J. Johnson, and the Cubs think he will.
8. Bobby Hill, ss/2b
Age: 22. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 170. Drafted: Newark (Atlantic League), 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Joe Housey.
Background: Hill would have been given a chance to win the White Sox starting shortstop job in 2000 had he signed as a 1999 second-round pick after leading Miami to the College World Series title. But the two sides never came to terms, so he turned pro with Newark in the independent Atlantic League before the Cubs took him in the second round last June. Hill led the league in hits and on-base percentage (.442) before signing with the Cubs in November for $1.425 million.
Strengths: Hill is the quintessential leadoff man and has been compared to a young Chuck Knoblauch. Hill hits for average, makes contact and draws walks, and hes a basestealing threat once he gets on. He has solid range and hands for a middle infielder.
Weaknesses: While the Cubs believe Hill can play shortstop, they might be in the minority. Most scouts think he doesnt have enough arm to stick at short, prompting an eventual move to second base.
The Future: Hill will break into the organization in Double-A, where the presence of shortstop Nate Frese may push him to second base. Big league second baseman Eric Youngs contract expires after 2001, and in a perfect world Hill would be ready to take over next season.
9. John Webb, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Manatee (Fla.) CC, 1999 (19th round). Signed by: Harry Von Suskil.
Background: Webb was primarily a shortstop at West Florida and Manatee (Fla.) Community College, but attracted the Cubs with his work as a late-inning reliever. He stayed in the bullpen for his pro debut, then made a smooth transition to starting last season.
Strengths: Webb has what Jim Hendry calls Wrigley Field stuff. He keeps his 90-92 mph sinker and plus slider down in the strike zone, permitting just five homers in 152 innings in 2000 (and only one in 210 at-bats against lefthanders). His changeup is a solid third pitch, and he can throw his entire repertoire for strikes. Hes athletic and very projectable, so he could add a touch more velocity.
Weaknesses: Webb has no glaring need except experience. He has three pitches, command and durability, and he gets lefthanders out.
The Future: Webb will begin 2001 by returning to Daytona, and he likely will get promoted to Double-A by the end of the year. He hasnt attracted the hype of the higher-ceiling pitchers ahead of him, but hes a legitimate prospect. He projects as a No. 3 starter, and if the big league rotation gets too crowded, Webb might turn into a closer.
10. Nate Frese, ss
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Iowa, 1998 (10th round). Signed by: Mark Servais.
Background: Frese is the great-great-nephew of former Indians slugger Hal Trosky and a cousin of former White Sox righthander Hal Trosky Jr. A first baseman/righthander in his first two seasons in college, Frese didnt become a full-time shortstop until 1998. He was bothered by a hernia in his pro debut that summer, batting just .218. He has made significant offensive improvements in the two seasons since.
Strengths: He may not be the flashiest shortstop, but Frese is very effective. He has the most accurate infield arm in the system and made just 13 errors in 113 games at short last year. He has fine on-base ability and possesses unusual size and strength for a shortstop.
Weaknesses: Frese lacks the speed associated with a shortstop and isnt an effective basestealer. He still has work to do to translate his strength into home run power.
The Future: Ricky Gutierrez will be a free agent after 2001, so the Cubs will need a shortstop for next season. Frese might not be quite ready by then, though hell probably be the systems best candidate to fill the opening. Hell start this year in Double-A.
Rest of the Best:
11. Eric Hinske, 3b
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