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Top Ten Prospects: Chicago Cubs
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Jim Callis
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.
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