Chicago Cubs: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Chicago Cubs: Scouting Reports




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, 2009.

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Chicago Cubs

Getting swept in the Division Series for the second straight year was a bitter fate for the Cubs, but it shouldn't obscure the job general manager Jim Hendry and his front office have done.

They may have fizzled in the playoffs, but the Cubs were the National League's best team during the regular season.

A club that lost 96 games in 2006 won 97 in 2008—the most for Chicago since it made its last trip to the World Series 63 years earlier. The Cubs led the NL in runs scored—fueled in part by the league's best on-base percentage, a stunning development for a team that had been consistently allergic to walks—and ranked second in runs allowed.

Chicago's 182 wins in 2007-08 are its most in consecutive years since 1937-38. The Cubs' back-to-back playoff berths are their first since 1906-08, which concluded with the last World Series triumph in franchise history.

While Chicago's championship drought may be at 100 seasons and counting, there's reason to believe it could end in the near future. Hendry and his lieutenants have built a balanced club that is the class of a weakened NL Central. Trades (Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez) and free agents (Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Alfonso Soriano) have provided the foundation for the Cubs, but their farm system has pulled its weight as well.

Geovany Soto was a near-unanimous pick as NL rookie of the year in 2008 after batting .285/.364/.504, ending a long search for a catcher. Jeff Samardzija energized the bullpen when he came up at midseason, posting a 2.28 ERA in 26 relief appearances. Carlos Marmol will take over as closer in 2009, Ryan Theriot has put an end to a revolving door at shortstop and swingman Sean Marshall has been steady for the club in a variety of roles.

Focusing on winning now and worrying less about the future, the Cubs have used several of their best prospects in trades. They gave up righthander Sean Gallagher and catcher Josh Donaldson as part of a four-player package for Rich Harden last summer, and swapped flamethrower Jose Ceda for Kevin Gregg in November.

Hendry then turned his attention to former Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy and reportedly was willing to give up third baseman Josh Vitters—the top player on this list and the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft—but couldn't agree to a deal with the Padres.

Promotions and trades have contributed to thinning out the system, and so have a series of uninspiring drafts. Chicago hasn't gotten long-term production out of a first-round pick since Kerry Wood in 1995.

Soto, an 11th-round pick in 2001, was the first position player the Cubs have signed and developed into an all-star since they drafted Joe Girardi in 1986.

The Cubs aren't expected to be affected by the bankruptcy filing of the Tribune Co., which bought the club in 1981. The Cubs and Wrigley Field aren't part of the bankruptcy proceeding.  The Tribune Co. hopes to complete the sale of the team and the ballpark by Opening Day, though it has been trying to divest itself of both since Sam Zell bought the company out in April 2007.

1.  Josh Vitters, 3b  Born: Aug. 27, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS—Cypress, Calif., 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Denny Henderson/Tim Wilken
Josh VittersBackground: Vitters starred on the showcase circuit in the summer of 2006, and his strong performance as a high school senior the following spring ensured that he'd go near the top of the first round. Picking third overall, the Cubs went to bed the night before the draft thinking the Royals would take him at No. 2, which would have left Chicago with righthander Jarrod Parker. But when Kansas City decided slugger Mike Moustakas wouldn't be too expensive, that left Vitters for the Cubs. Signed for $3.2 million minutes before the Aug. 15 deadline, Vitters needed time to start raking again. He was rusty at the end of the 2007 season and developed tendinitis in his left hand during minor league camp last spring. He missed the first two weeks of the season, then reinjured his hand while hitting three doubles in his first game at low Class A Peoria. He tried to play through the pain and went 0-for-10 in three games before Chicago shut him down for two months. When he was healthy, Vitters went to short-season Boise. The Northwest League's youngest regular, he ranked as its No. 1 prospect, led the circuit with 25 doubles and fashioned a 26-game hitting streak. Vitters' brother Christian is an infielder in the Athletics system.

Strengths: Though he has just 14 at-bats in full-season ball, Vitters is unquestionably the top position prospect in the system. With his exceptional bat speed, hand-eye coordination and ability to put the barrel on the ball, the only real question is whether he'll be more productive hitting for average than power. Using one of the smoothest righthanded strokes you'll ever see, he'll offer plenty of both. He made strides in terms of adding strength and using the whole field in 2008. The Cubs knew Vitters would hit, but they're also excited by the progress he has made at third base. He won't be a Gold Glover, but they're confident he can become an average defender. Infield instructor Bobby Dickerson improved Vitters' agility and footwork through drills, and he showed the ability to make throws from a variety of angles. He has the soft hands and strong arm for the position. His makeup is an asset, as he's extremely coachable and fits in well with teammates.

Weaknesses: Once he physically matures, Vitters' fringy speed will become below average. He's not a finished product at third base, though he has plenty of time to develop and will put in the work needed to improve. He's so geared up to make hard contact that he hasn't drawn many walks, and it may border on heresy to ask him to tone down his approach. He's still growing into his home run power, but his 28 doubles in 65 games last year are a strong indicator that he will.

The Future: Vitters got in additional work after the season by attending the Cubs' Arizona and Dominican instructional league programs. He probably could handle an assignment to high Class A Daytona, but he may spend a couple of months in Peoria first. He could develop rapidly and push for a spot in the middle of the big league lineup by late 2010.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Peoria (LoA)
.214
.214
.429
14
1
3
3
0
0
1
0
5
0
Boise (SS)
.328
.365
.498
259
38
85
25
2
5
37
13
45
1
 
2.  Jeff Samardzija, rhp   Born: Jan. 23, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 220
 Drafted: Notre Dame, 2006 (5th round). Signed by: Stan Zielinski.
Jeff SamardzijaBackground: Samardzija set every significant receiving record at Notre Dame. The Cubs initially signed him for $250,000 as a fifth-round pick in 2006, then gave him a five-year, $10 million big league contract to keep him from the NFL. By July he was pitching vital innings out of Chicago's bullpen.

Strengths: After Samardzija absorbed changes to his delivery and started turning his stuff loose, he took off. He gets good run on a fastball that touches 96 mph when he starts and 98 when he relieves. His splitter can be a devastating swing-and-miss pitch, and his slider is a plus offering at times.

Weaknesses: Samardzija is still a work in progress, and hitters solved him more easily his second time around the National League. He lacks consistency with his control and secondary pitches, which include a changeup. Despite its velocity and life, his fastball gets more groundouts than strikeouts. Slowing down his delivery has enabled him to pitch more under control, but it costs him deception and one scout said it puts more stress on his shoulder.

The Future: The Cubs would like to develop Samardzija as a starter and will do so in Triple-A if they have enough other bullpen arms. They think he can become a frontline starter, though outside observers believe it's more likely he'll be a top setup man or closer.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tennessee (AA)
3
5
4.86
16
15
0
0
76
71
6
42
44
.252
Iowa (AAA)
4
1
3.13
6
6
1
0
37.1
32
5
16
40
.241
Chicago
1
0
2.28
0
0
0
1
27.2
24
0
15
25
.226
 
3.  Andrew Cashner, rhp   Born: Sept. 11, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 185
 Drafted: Texas Christian, 2008 (1st round). Signed by: Trey Forkerway.
Andrew CashnerBackground: Cashner could have signed with the Rockies as a draft-and-follow or the Cubs as a 29th-rounder in 2007, but opted to transfer to Texas Christian instead. The move paid off as he became a closer and pitched his way into the first round, signing for $1.54 million as the 19th overall pick. He won the high Class A Florida State league championship clincher, hitting 99 mph.

Strengths: Getting outstanding whip from his long, lean frame, Cashner pitched at 96-98 mph as a reliever at TCU. His mid-80s slider can be just as electric, breaking so much that it looks like a power curveball at times. Chicago believes in his changeup too and will try to develop him as a starter.

Weaknesses: To stay in the rotation, Cashner will have to improve his command. It deserted him for much of his debut, and his velocity also was down, problems the Cubs attribute to getting rusty during a long layoff and having to reacclimate to starting. He'll also have to refine his changeup and rely on it more often.

The Future: Like Jeff Samardzija, Cashner has the raw ability to pitch in the front half of a big league rotation and can always fall back on being a late-inning reliever. He'll start for now, opening his first full season at one of Chicago's Class A affiliates.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Cubs (R)
0
0
0.00
1
1
0
0
1
1
0
0
2
.333
Boise (SS)
1
1
4.96
6
4
0
0
16.1
19
1
19
16
.302
Daytona (HiA)
0
1
13.50
1
1
0
0
2.2
4
0
4
1
.364
 
4.  Dae-Hun Rhee, rhp   Born: March 23, 1989B-T: L-RHt: 6-2Wt: 190
 Signed: Korea, 2007. Signed by: Steve Wilson.
Dae-Hun RheeBackground: The Cubs have had a significant presence in Korea for the last decade, starting with handing out seven-figure bonuses to Hee-Seop Choi and Jae-Kuk Ryu. Signed for $525,000 in July 2007, Rhee allowed just one run over his first three pro starts last April. Then he hurt his elbow in his fourth outing, leading to Tommy John surgery. He has a clean and balanced delivery, so overuse in Korea may have been the culprit.

Strengths: Rhee wowed scouts before he got hurt. Pitching in the April chill of the Midwest League, he showed precocious feel for three pitches. His changeup is the best in system, and it dives at the plate with splitter action. His fastball sat at 90-92 mph and touched 94, while his curveball was a solid-average pitch. He fearlessly threw all of his pitches for strikes, and they all could develop into plus pitches once he's healthy. He has put his downtime to use by improving his English and his conditioning.

Weaknesses: Rhee won't see game action until midseason at the earliest. The good news is that he's so young that he'll still be ahead of the development curve when he returns. Once he does and builds his arm back up, he won't need much beyond more experience.

The Future: If he can stay healthy and regain his feel and stuff, Rhee may have a more realistic chance of becoming a quality starter than Jeff Samardzija or Andrew Cashner. Rhee won't be at full strength and effectiveness in 2009, so the Cubs will be patient.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Peoria (LoA)
4
1
1.80
10
10
0
0
40
28
0
16
33
.194
 
5.  Welington Castillo, c   Born: April 24, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 200
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004. Signed by: Jose Serra.
Welington CastilloBackground: After finally developing an all-star catcher in Geovany Soto, the Cubs have another possible regular on the way. Castillo was the Double-A Southern League's youngest catcher in 2008, when he also appeared in the futures game. He has drawn Yadier Molina comparisons since arriving in the United States in 2006.

Strengths: He has the ingredients to become Molina's equal behind the plate—and a more dangerous hitter. Castillo handles the bat well and has the strength to hit at least 10-15 homers annually in the majors. His plus arm is his standout tool, and he threw out 36 percent of basestealers last year.

Weaknesses: Castillo is still raw in many phases of the game. He doesn't control the strike zone yet and has yet to decipher breaking pitches, which is why righthanders manhandled him to the tune of .228/.283/.293 in 2008. His receiving skills are good but he loses focus too often, resulting in 23 errors and 34 passed balls over the last two years. He sits back too far from the plate and gets too flashy at times. He's a well below-average runner.

The Future: With Soto in Chicago, there's no need to rush Castillo. He'd benefit from a full season in Double-A to make several adjustments offensively and defensively.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Daytona (HiA)
.273
.299
.339
121
15
33
8
0
0
12
4
23
1
Tennessee (AA)
.298
.362
.414
198
25
59
11
0
4
24
14
50
0
Iowa (AAA)
.200
.200
.200
5
0
1
0
0
0
1
0
1
0
 
6.  Kevin Hart, rhp   Born: Dec. 29, 1982B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 220
Drafted: Maryland, 2004 (11th round). Signed by: Ty Brown (Orioles).
Kevin HartBackground: Hart floundered in the Orioles system before joining the Cubs in a December 2006 trade for Freddie Bynum. Once Double-A Tennessee pitching coach Dennis Lewellyn taught Hart a cut fastball, he shot to the majors and finished 2007 on Chicago's playoff roster.

Strengths: Though the Cubs used Hart in a variety of roles in Triple-A, he's just plain nasty as a reliever. Coming out of the bullpen, he can blow hitters away with 94-96 mph fastballs and chew up their bats with cutters. When he has his confidence and goes after batters, he's tough to hit. His arm is resilient, allowing him to pitch multiple innings at a time or on consecutive days.

Weaknesses: When major leaguers got the better of Hart last April, he started nibbling instead of challenging them. His control deteriorated, as did manager Lou Piniella's trust in him. Hart's curveball and changeup can throw hitters off balance but are fringe average.

The Future: The Cubs have determined that Hart's future is as a reliever. He can make the big league bullpen with a good spring, and doing so would make it easier for Chicago to develop Jeff Samardzija as a starter. The Padres asked for Hart during the Jake Peavy trade talks in December.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Chicago
2
2
6.51
21
0
0
0
27.2
39
2
18
23
.325
Iowa (AAA)
4
2
2.81
26
10
0
5
57.2
38
3
20
63
.187
Tennessee (AA)
0
0
3.00
1
1
0
0
3
2
0
2
3
.200
 
7.  Starlin Castro, ss   Born: March 24, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 160
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006. Signed by: Jose Serra.
Starlin CastroBackground: The Rookie-level Arizona League Cubs had three legitimate shortstop prospects last summer in Castro, fellow Dominican Junior Lake and $500,000 bonus baby Logan Watkins. Castro and Lake shared shortstop and moved around the infield, while Watkins played both second base and left field.

Strengths: Castro flashes an interesting package of tools. He has a good approach at the plate and isn't overmatched by breaking balls. His hands and wrists work well, giving him some power. He has average speed with the potential for more. At shortstop, he has plus range, steady hands and a solid arm with good accuracy. He displays fine instincts at the plate and in the field.

Weaknesses: Carrying just 160 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame, Castro needs to get stronger. Once he does, he could have close to average power and plus speed. He's still learning how to steal bases after getting caught five times in 11 tries last season.

The Future: If everything comes together for Castro, the Cubs think he can become their first all-star shortstop since Shawon Dunston in 1990. Figuring out how to get time at shortstop for Castro, Lake, Watkins and 2008 supplemental first-rounder Ryan Flaherty poses a dilemma. Chicago will make sure Castro plays regularly there in 2009, most likely at Boise.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Cubs (R)
.311
.364
.464
196
33
61
11
5
3
22
14
33
6
 

8.  Ryan Flaherty, ss   Born: July, 27, 1986B-T: L-RHt: 6-3Wt: 200
 Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2008 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Antonio Grissom.
Ryan FlahertyBackground: Flaherty batted cleanup behind No. 2 overall pick Pedro Alvarez (Pirates) at Vanderbilt, where he set a school record with a 38-game hitting streak. Drafted 39 picks after Alvarez in June, Flaherty signed for $1.5 million and earned Northwest League all-star honors in his debut.

Strengths: Flaherty's sweet swing and hand-eye coordination make him a consistent hitter, and he should develop at least average power as he fills out his lanky frame. He's a solid athlete, featuring average speed and a strong arm.

Weaknesses: Scouts don't believe Flaherty has the range to play shortstop in the majors, though the Cubs caution not to bet against his desire. Usually a dependable fielder, he made 16 errors in 52 pro games. He profiles well at third base, though Aramis Ramirez and Josh Vitters would loom as two huge obstacle should Flaherty move there. He can get pull-conscious and expand his strike zone when he's thinking of home runs, and he's better off just letting his power come naturally.

The Future: Chicago has a glut of shortstop prospects at the lower levels of the system, but remains committed to playing Flaherty there for now. As the oldest and most advanced hitter of that group, he could jump to high Class A to help lessen the logjam.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Boise (SS)
.297
.369
.511
219
39
65
19
2
8
26
24
51
4
 
9.  Jay Jackson, rhp   Born: Oct. 27, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 195
 Drafted: Furman, 2008 (9th round). Signed by: Antonio Grissom.
Jay JacksonBackground: The Cubs sought athletic pitchers in the 2008 draft, and Jackson, a two-way star at Furman, fit the bill. He already has blown away expectations for a ninth-round pick since signing for $90,000.

Strengths: Jackson has the chance to have four average or better pitchers. His two best weapons are a 90-93 mph fastball that reaches 95, and a mid-80s slider with hard bite. He also has an average 75-78 mph curveball and a feel for a changeup. He works quickly and confidently, challenging hitters by pounding the strike zone.

Weaknesses: Jackson's control is ahead of his command, and his next step will be to refine his ability to locate his pitches within the strike zone. He's not especially tall, so he has to stay on top of his pitches to work in the bottom of the zone. He may not have much projection remaining, but he's not lacking for stuff.

The Future: In a system short on legitimate starting pitchers, Jackson already has moved near the top of the depth chart. He'll begin 2009 no lower than high Class A and could advance to Double-A before season's end.
 
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Boise (SS) 0
0
5.00
3
1
0
0 9 7
1
1
14
.212
Peoria (LoA) 2
2
3.00
6
1
0
0 24
22
3
5
37
.253
Daytona (HiA) 2
0
1.59
4
3
0
0 17
11
0
7
21
.183
 
10.  Hak Ju Lee, ss   Born: Nov. 4, 1990B-T: L-R Ht: 6-2Wt: 175
 Signed: Korea, 2008. Signed by: Paul Weaver/Steve Wilson.
Hak-Ju LeeBackground: Lee was the prize among the Cubs' 2008 international signees, agreeing to a $725,000 bonus in June. Lee reported to MLB's Australian Baseball Academy to prepare for coming to the United States. He injured his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery.

Strengths: With his array of tools, Lee has a chance to be a special shortstop. He's a lefthanded hitter who stays inside the ball well and uses the whole field. He may even have some power once he fills out his exceedingly skinny frame. He has the plus-plus speed to create havoc once he reaches bases. He had a strong arm before he got hurt, and he exhibits fluid actions at shortstop.

Weaknesses: The Tommy John surgery actually isn't a major setback because he's still just 18 and the Cubs expect him to be ready for spring training. Bigger concerns are his need to add strength and adapt to a new culture. He has a reputation for being a bit of a hot dog. One international scout who wasn't a huge fan thought he was a slap hitter whose hands and arm were questionable for a shortstop.

The Future: Lee could be the first Korean middle infielder to reach the big leagues. Because he has no pro experience and the Cubs have several lower-level shortstop prospects, he'll head to the Arizona League in June.
 
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did Not Play—Signed 2009 Contract

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
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