Cubs' Wells A Name To Watch





MESA, ARIZ.—Ben Wells was almost one who got away from the Cubs.

The top high school prospect in Arkansas in the 2010 draft, Wells slid all the way to the seventh round before the Cubs selected him, acting on the recommendation of scout Jim Crawford. It took an above-slot bonus of $530,000 to sign the righthander in talks that went right at the deadline.

Theo Epstein and his staff in the rebuilt Cubs front office are glad that Jim Hendry and Tim Wilken went the extra mile to get a deal done.

A lack of organizational pitching depth was one of the final factors leading to owner Tom Ricketts' decision for regime change, and restocking the cupboard is a priority for Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod.

"We are definitely focusing on pitching, but probably 29 other clubs would say the same thing," said McLeod, the club's senior vice president for scouting and player development. "If you're going to be successful, have a championship club you have to have dominant starting pitching, and good pitching as a whole."

McLeod, who helped build successful farm systems in Boston an San Diego, lists Wells as an example of the pleasant surprises he has identified this spring. Like at least half a dozen others, Wells appears poised for a breakout year that could significantly elevate his stock.

Wells is also notable for his youth. He'll be 19 all season and is likely to pitch in the rotation for low Class A Peoria, with a chance to move to the high Class A Florida State League at some point.

Little noticed until he dominated in his senior season at Bryant (Ark.) High, throwing a five-inning perfect game in the Arkansas Class 7-A championship game, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder, who went 4-4, 4.66 in 77 innings at short-season Boise last year, throws a heavy sinker in the low 90s and has developed a four-seam fastball he can run into the mid-90s. He is becoming more consistent with the mechanics of his hard slider and changeup.

Cubbyhole

• The Cubs sent righthander Aaron Kurcz to Boston to complete the compensation for signing Epstein. Advanced prospect Chris Carpenter, another righthander, had gone to the Red Sox earlier in the spring.

• Anthony Rizzo was outhitting Bryan LaHair during spring training, but the Cubs still planned to make LaHair their starting first baseman and send Rizzo to Triple-A. Rizzo was hitting .375 through 32 at-bats, with nine strikeouts.