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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, 2005.
Background: There must be something in the water at Dunedin (Fla.) High, because two of the minors’ most dangerous power hitters came out of that program just a year apart. The Cubs drafted Dopirak in the second round in 2002, then took former teammate Ryan Harvey with the sixth overall pick in 2003. Dopirak, who had committed to St. Petersburg (Fla.) Junior College, turned pro for a $740,000 bonus. Though he was considered to have the most raw power in the 2002 draft—even more than Prince Fielder—the consensus among scouts was that Dopirak was a hit-or-miss player who could just as easily flame out in Double-A as succeed in the majors. The latter looks like the more realistic possibility now. He earned short-season Northwest League all-star honors in 2003, setting the stage for last season, when he destroyed the low Class A Midwest League. Dopirak tied for third in the minors in homers, finishing three shy of the MWL record, and led the league in hits, doubles, total bases and extra-base hits. He was named Midwest League MVP and Cubs minor league player of the year.
Strengths: With quick hands, Dopirak generates tremendous bat speed and can hit the ball out to any part of any ballpark. If pitchers let him get his hands extended, they’re dead. “When the ball comes off his bat,” Kane County manager Dave Joppie said, “it’s like hitting a golf ball with an aluminum bat.” For a big guy, Dopirak has a short swing, and while he’s not the most disciplined of hitters, he already has a sound approach and has shown improvement at working counts. He showed he could adjust against better pitching when Chicago decided to push him after the regular season with an assignment to the Arizona Fall League, where at 20 he was one of the youngest players. He responded to that challenge by hitting .274 with seven homers (one off the AFL lead) in 95 at-bats. In addition to hitting 35-plus homers on an annual basis, Dopirak may be able to hit for average as well. Unlike some young sluggers, he also appreciates the value of defense and has worked hard on that aspect of his game.
Weaknesses: For all his effort, Dopirak never will be more than an adequate first baseman. He doesn’t cover much ground and his hands are somewhat shaky, which is why he led MWL first basemen with 15 errors in 2004. He’s also limited as a baserunner. Dopirak is going to produce a lot of strikeouts to go with his homers, a tradeoff the Cubs will accept. He’ll be more valuable, however, if he can continue to increase his walk rate. Already a big man, he’ll have to watch his weight as he gets older.
The Future: If Dopirak moves up one level to high Class A Daytona, he should make a run at the Florida State League homerun record of 33. But given how he handled the AFL, he could make a push for Double-A West Tenn in spring training. With Derrek Lee signed through 2006, there’s no immediate need to rush Dopirak. When his bat is ready, the Cubs will gladly find a spot for him.
Background: Pie has won championships with each of the four teams he has played for as a pro. He kept another streak going in 2004 by playing in his second straight Futures Game.
Strengths: Florida State League managers recognized Pie’s varied tools, voting him the circuit’s best batting prospect, fastest baserunner, best defensive outfielder and most exciting player. From the Cubs’ perspective, he’s their best athlete, top defensive outfielder and strongest outfield arm. His speed stands out the most, and he consistently has hit for average despite being young for his leagues.
Weaknesses: While Pie has more than held his own, his skills remain raw. His plate discipline slipped in 2004, and he won’t show much power until he adds strength and lift to his swing. He’s still honing his basestealing instincts, getting caught 16 times in 47 tries last year. He plays a shallow center field because he’s not smooth coming in on balls, and needs to improve his routes.
The Future: Pie has a lot of work to do, but he’s just 20 and has plenty of time to do it. He’ll move up to Double-A this year and is on course to arrive in Chicago in 2007.
Background: Because he was recovering from blowing out his right knee at a high school showcase, Harvey barely played after signing for $2.4 million in 2003. His first real exposure to pro ball came last season, which he capped by homering four times in three games to lead short-season Boise to a Northwest League playoff sweep.
Strengths: Harvey’s power is comparable to Brian Dopirak’s, and Harvey is unquestionably a more well-rounded player. He has solid-average speed, and his strong arm delivered 90-93 mph fastballs when he pitched in high school. His size and physical gifts have prompted comparisons to Dale Murphy.
Weaknesses: As with Dopirak, the Cubs realize strikeouts will accompany Harvey’s homers. But he needs to do a better job working counts, and his naturally long swing can get exploited by quality pitching. After getting injured in a collision, he’s still tentative in right field.
The Future: Harvey could be on the verge of a low Class A breakout like Dopirak had last year. At least three years away from the majors, he’ll be Sammy Sosa’s long-term successor in right field.
Background: Guzman was pushing for his first big league promotion in June 2003 before his shoulder acted up. Following his arthroscopic surgery to repair a slight labrum tear, the Cubs handled him cautiously in 2004, shutting him down in July because he was tired after working nonstop on his rehab.
Strengths: Before he got hurt, Guzman had an explosive 91-96 mph sinker, a sharp curveball and a deceptive changeup. All were plus-plus pitches at times. His velocity came back last summer, as did his above-average control. He throws strikes and keeps the ball down in the zone.
Weaknesses: Guzman’s secondary pitches and location haven’t gotten back to where they were, though that was expected. They should return in 2005. He still has to prove his health and durability, as he has worked more than 90 innings just once in five pro seasons.
The Future: Assuming Guzman recaptures his previous stuff, he would give Chicago a fourth homegrown frontline starter alongside Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano. The Cubs will continue to bring him back slowly, probably starting him in Double-A this year.
Background: Petrick was one of the nation’s top long snapper recruits and was headed to Washington State to play football before the Cubs made him a third-round pick and signed him for $459,500. Moved one level at a time, he has made significant progress in three pro seasons.
Strengths: Petrick has a tall, thick frame with a lower half that resembles Mark Prior’s, and he uses it to launch heavy 90-93 mph sinkers deep in the strike zone. He led the Midwest League in fewest homers per nine innings (0.2) last year and has allowed just seven longballs in three years. He has shown more aptitude for a slider than the loopy curveball he used to throw, and has improved his changeup. Chicago loves his makeup and his willingness to attack hitters inside.
Weaknesses: While Petrick throws strikes, he needs to improve his command of all three of his pitches so he won’t be so hittable. He tends to telegraph his changeup by slowing his arm speed, one reason lefthanders batted .297 against him in 2004.
The Future: With Petrick’s strong build and stuff, he could grow into a dominant pitcher. He’s ready for high Class A in 2005.
Background: Pinto went 21-31, 4.22 over his first five pro seasons and spent 2001-03 in Class A before he broke out last season. He led the Double-A Southern League in ERA and strikeouts, and was the Cubs’ minor league pitcher of the year.
Strengths: Pinto’s best pitch is a plus changeup with good deception, sink and fade. His lively 92-94 mph fastball darts in and out of the strike zone. He may throw harder as he fills out his lanky frame, and even if he doesn’t, hitters have trouble picking up his pitches from his low three-quarters delivery. His slider shows flashes of becoming a third above-average pitch.
Weaknesses: Pinto’s biggest need is to keep his fastball in the zone, because when hitters don’t chase it he gives up too many walks. He needs added consistency with his slider. Some scouts think his stuff grades better than he pitches and question whether he can win in the majors without better command.
The Future: Pinto will return to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League after pitching well there in the playoffs. Chicago has several lefty relief options, so he’ll probably stay in the Iowa rotation all year.
Background: Marshall and his twin brother Brian helped Virginia Commonwealth top NCAA Division I with a 2.54 ERA in 2003, when Boston drafted Brian in the fifth round and Chicago grabbed Sean in the sixth. He excelled in his first two pro stops before partially rupturing a tendon in his left middle finger while throwing a breaking pitch in mid June, and the problem recurred in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Marshall’s 88-92 mph sinker tops out at 95 and generates a lot of groundballs and strikeouts. His No. 2 pitch is a sharp downer curveball that he can change speeds with. His command and stuff allowed him to reach Double-A after 22 pro starts.
Weaknesses: Marshall also throws a slider and changeup, and improving the latter pitch is the key to him remaining a starter. His finger injury has perplexed the Cubs, but he saw a specialist in January and is expected to be ready for spring training.
The Future: He got knocked around in Double-A before he got hurt, so Marshall will return there in 2005. He and Renyel Pinto are close to giving the Cubs a much-needed quality lefthanded starter.
Background: Area scout Mark Adair did a tremendous job seeing the potential in Leicester, who was better as a shortstop in college and went 0-11, 6.72 during his draft year. He never posted a winning record until 2004, when he made the transition from the Triple-A rotation to the big league bullpen and was one of the Cubs’ most effective relievers in the second half.
Strengths: When Leicester pitches in short stints, his fastball sits at 95-96 mph and reaches 98. He can overmatch righthanders with his slider, and lefties with a splitter that serves as his changeup. He finally has gained the confidence he needs to win. Strong and durable, he can handle any role.
Weaknesses: Leicester’s control wavers and he’s hittable when he leaves his pitches up in the zone. His secondary pitches aren’t always reliable, sometimes leaving him with nothing but his fastball. Surprisingly, those problems occurred less in the majors.
The Future: Though he has earned manager Dusty Baker’s trust, Leicester isn’t guaranteed a bullpen spot in 2005. It’s conceivable he could get a chance to start in the majors down the road.
Background: The Cubs scouted Johnson heavily as an Illinois high schooler, but backed off because of his commitment to Notre Dame. He established himself as a potential first-rounder with the Irish before tearing his labrum and missing all of 2003. After he returned to lead the Big East Conference with a 1.87 ERA in 2004, Chicago made him its top pick and signed him for $1.26 million, easily the highest bonus in the second round.
Strengths: Johnson consistently threw 92-94 mph last spring, showing he’s fully healthy. His slider was better than his fastball before he got hurt. The Cubs rave about his mound presence as much as his stuff.
Weaknesses: Johnson pitched just 58 innings in college the last two years, then signed late and skipped instructional league to work toward his marketing degree. He needs mound time to get his old slider back and improve his changeup.
The Future: Chicago won’t take any chances with Johnson, so he may avoid the cold April climate in the Midwest League and start his pro career in the Florida State League. He has the makeup to handle high Class A and move rapidly through the system.
Background: The Cubs didn’t protect Dubois after he led the Florida State League with a .562 slugging percentage in 2002, and they temporarily lost him to the Blue Jays in the major league Rule 5 draft. After returning to Chicago, he won the Arizona Fall League MVP award in 2003 and led the system in slugging last year.
Strengths: Managers rated Dubois the best power hitter in the Pacific Coast League. Though some scouts think he doesn’t pull enough pitches, he’s strong enough to drive the ball out to the opposite field with ease. He has a strong arm, no surprise considering he won 19 games as a pitcher at Virginia Commonwealth, and decent defensive instincts.
Weaknesses: Though Dubois draws a fair amount of walks, he can get impatient and needs to do a better job of waiting for pitches he can punish. He has below-average speed and range, thus rendering him just adequate at an outfield corner or first base.
The Future: After declining to pick up Moises Alou’s $11.5 million option, the Cubs will turn to some combination of Dubois and Todd Hollandsworth in left field. Dubois offers more offensive upside.