Cubs Spend Big For A Brighter Future

CHICAGO—At the end of his second year as Cubs owner, Tom Ricketts financed an unprecedented wave of spending on amateur talent.

The signing of righthander Dillon Maples, a 14th-round pick out of a North Carolina high school, for $2.5 million capped an investment of nearly $20 million on the draft and players from Latin America.

Scouting director Tim Wilken, who was running his sixth draft with the Cubs, said he had to go back 20 years—to his days in Toronto—to find a time when he had the kind of ownership commitment he received from Ricketts.

Ricketts was in the draft room when Maples fell because he was considered unsignable. He has a mid- to high-90s fastball, and the Cubs ranked his curveball and overall pitchability among the top pitching prospects in the draft. But Maples seemed headed to North Carolina to pitch and be a football kicker.

Wilken says Ricketts encouraged the Cubs to take Maples and see if they could sign him. "This is the kind of a guy that we could never get before," Wilken said.

Jim Hendry, who was fired as general manager on Aug. 18, and scout Sam Hughes traveled to North Carolina to visit Maples' family in late July.

"I think that might have made a lot of difference," Wilken said. "It shows parents that you really care about the person."

Maples was one of four prospects signed to a seven-figure bonus in the hours before the deadline. The Cubs signed first-rounder Javier Baez ($2.65 million), second-rounder Dan Vogelbach ($1.6 million) and 11th-rounder Shawon Dunston Jr. ($1.275 million) to big deals. Baez, a shortstop, and Vogelbach, a first baseman, are considered power hitters. Dunston Jr. is a center fielder whom Wilken believes could develop more power than his father, who was the Cubs' shortstop in 1985-95 and again in '97.

This was the sort of haul the Cubs couldn't make before Ricketts opened his wallet in what could be the last year before a hard slotting system limits high-spending teams.

The philosophy has changed. Will the results?


• Taiwanese righthander Yao-Lin Wang, 20, was opening eyes with short-season Boise. He went 4-4, 3.22 in 14 starts, including an eight-strikeout performance on Aug. 24. He had 77 strikeouts in 67 innings.

• Triple-A Iowa outfielder Bryan LaHair, 28, received a September promotion after chasing a triple crown in the Pacific Coast League. He led the PCL with 38 home runs and 109 RBIs while hitting .331/.405/.664, finishing sixth in the batting race. The Cubs could have traded Carlos Pena to take a long look at him at first base but held onto Pena, who is eligible for free agency after the season.