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, 2008.

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After coming within five outs of making the World Series in 2003, the Cubs spiraled downward. They blew the National League wild card in the final week of the 2004 season, then dropped to 79 victories in 2005 and 66 in 2006 despite expecting to contend in both years.

The farm system regressed as well. Chicago topped Baseball America's organization talent rankings at the outset of the 2002 season, then steadily slipped to third, seventh, 10th, 15th and 18th over the next five years as injuries, trades and attrition took their tool.

Desperate to reverse their fortunes in 2007, the Cubs had no other choice last offseason but to plunge into the free-agent market. Chicago doled out contracts totaling $297.7 million to 10 free agents—and it worked. Returnee Aramis Ramirez and newcomers Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Mark DeRosa and Cliff Floyd played significant roles as the Cubs won 85 games, just enough to squeak by in the NL Central.

The farm system also played a significant role, as several homegrown products who had come up in previous seasons took steps forward. Carlos Marmol went from a 5.99 ERA as a starter in 2006 to a 1.43 ERA as an untouchable setup man in 2007. Rich Hill and Sean Marshall solidified the rotation by posting identical 3.92 ERAs and combining for 18 wins.

Ryan Theriot unexpectedly claimed the shortstop job and, along with former Louisiana State double-play partner Mike Fontenot, injected some much-needed energy into the lineup. Geovany Soto performed so well during his September callup that he started two of the Cubs' three playoff games behind the plate. Kevin Hart also earned a postseason roster spot after opening eyes in September.

Chicago will continue to rely heavily on veterans as it tries to build on its 2007 turnaround, though a few youngsters will get the opportunity to contribute. The catching job is Soto's to lose. Hart and Sean Gallagher will compete for jobs at the back of the rotation and in long relief, and Billy Petrick also will factor into the bullpen. Felix Pie, who lost his rookie status while serving as an extra outfielder, could play a more prominent role.

The Cubs haven't signed a position player who developed into an all-star for them since Joe Girardi in 1986, but they have high hopes for Soto, Pie and four players taken by highly regarded scouting director Tim Wilken in his two drafts for the team. Both of Wilken's first-rounders, third baseman Josh Vitters (2006) and outfielder Tyler Colvin (2005), and two other 2006 draftees, catcher Josh Donaldson and second baseman Tony Thomas, appear on this Top 10 Prospects list.

While general manager Jim Hendry and his crew are on much firmer ground after the reversal of fortune, change is still afoot. The Tribune Co., which bought the team from the Wrigley Family in 1981, plans on selling the club in order to relieve some of its debt. The process is moving slower than expected and is unlikely to occur before the start of the 2008 season, but the Cubs are expected to become the first MLB team to fetch $1 billion dollars if, as planned, Wrigley Field is included in the transaction.

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
Josh VittersBackground: Vitters pretty much cemented his status as a first-rounder in the summer before his senior year. After failing to make the U.S. junior team, he lit up the showcase circuit instead. He won MVP honors at the Cape Cod Classic, ranked as the top prospect at the Area Code Games and smacked three doubles at the Aflac Classic, all in the span of two weeks. Vitters didn't disappoint last spring, either, hitting .390 with nine homers in 24 games despite a bout with pneumonia and earning first-team All-America honors. The only question was how high he'd go in the 2007 draft. Both the Cubs (picking third) and the Pirates (fourth) coveted him, but the Royals seemed set on taking him at No. 2 the night before the draft. Then Kansas City decided California prep infielder Mike Moustakas would be signable, allowing Vitters to fall to Chicago. He became the highest draft pick in Cypress (Calif.) High history, going five spots higher than Scott Moore (a former Cubs farmhand) did to the Tigers five years earlier. Vitters held out all summer before officially signing minutes before the Aug. 15 deadline expired, landing a $3.2 million bonus. Rusty after his long layoff, he went just 6-for-51 (.118), but that didn't diminish the Cubs' enthusiasm about him. His brother Christian is an infielder in the Athletics system.

Strengths: There's still debate as to which tool is more impressive, Vitters' hitting ability or his power, but the consensus is that his future potential grades as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale in both categories. He's the rare righthanded hitter whose swing gets described as pretty, and his bat speed and feel for putting the barrel on the ball are also uncommon. He can crush the ball to all fields and hammers fastballs and offspeed pitches alike. Defense doesn't come as easily to Vitters, but he has plenty of arm strength and reliable hands, so he should become an average third baseman. His work ethic will allow him to put in all of the time he needs at the hot corner. The Cubs also love his makeup, and he fit in well with teammates at his two minor league stops and in instructional league.

Weaknesses: Vitters made five errors in nine pro games at third base, and his biggest defensive shortcomings are his agility and his ability to read hops. He addressed both areas in instructional league, doing a lot of jump-rope work to quicken his lower half and taking hundreds of ground balls. Chicago writes off his lackluster debut to being more gung-ho than prepared after three months without game action. He got a little pull-conscious, but his stroke looked as sound as ever despite his numbers. Once he fills out, he'll be a below-average runner, though he shouldn't be a liability on the bases.

The Future: Aramis Ramirez is signed through 2011, which could create a dilemma because Vitters' bat should be ready for the majors well before then. But the presence of Ramirez and the depth of third basemen throughout the system also will make it easy for the Cubs to let Vitters develop at his own pace. He'll begin his first full pro season at low Class A Peoria.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
AZL Cubs (R) .067 .094 .067 30 0 2 0 0 0 2 1 9 0
Boise (SS) .190 .261 .190 21 2 4 0 0 0 1 2 5 1
2.  Geovany Soto, c/1b   Born: Jan. 20, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS—Rio Piedras, P.R. (11th round)Signed by: Sam Hughes
Geovany Soto style=Background: Soto had done little to distinguish himself in the first two years after the Cubs put him on their 40-man roster, but he exploded in 2007. A career .262/.344/.371 in the minors before the season, he led the minors in batting average by a catcher (.353) and overall slugging percentage (.652), and won the Triple-A Pacific Coast League RBI crown (109) and MVP award. Chicago's minor league player of the year, he upped his production after a September callup and even homered in the National League Division Series.

Strengths: The key for Soto was losing 30 pounds after spring training started, allowing him to maintain his bat speed throughout the year and get to inside fastballs better than he had in the past. He also showed a knack for driving outside pitches the other way, and while his 2007 numbers may be a bit crazy, he has the ability to annually hit .275 with 20 homers in the majors. He provides good defense as well, with a strong arm, good receiving skills and improved agility behind the plate.

Weaknesses: Now that he has seen what it can do for him, Soto must continue to work hard to remain in top shape. He's a below-average runner though not bad for a catcher.

The Future: Soto has raised his ceiling from likely backup to potential all-star. He'll be the Cubs' regular catcher in 2008 and eventually should become their best all-around catcher since Jody Davis two decades ag
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Iowa (AAA)
.353 .424 .652 385
75 136 31 3 26 109 53 94 0
Chicago Cubs (MLB)
.389 .433 .667 54
21 6 0 3 8 5 14 0
3.  Tyler Colvin, of   Born: Sept. 5, 1985B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 200
 Drafted: Clemson, 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Antonio Grissom
Tyler ColvinBackground: Colvin was the surprise of 2006's first round, going 13th overall after flying under the radar at Clemson. Signed for $1.475 million, he has made the Cubs look good by drawing comparisons to Steve Finley and Shawn Green while shooting to Double-A by the middle of his first full pro season. He served as a backup for Team USA at the World Cup.

Strengths: The best athlete in the system, Colvin has average or better tools across the board. With his smooth swing and bat speed, he projects to hit for average and power. He's a slightly above-average runner whose speed plays up on the basepaths and in center field. He has average arm strength and good accuracy on his throws.

Weaknesses: Colvin drew just 15 walks in 125 games, and more advanced pitchers will exploit his anxiousness, a remnant of having to cheat to catch up to good fastballs as an amateur. He handles velocity now but has trouble with offspeed stuff, and he must learn to trust his hands. He's content to serve balls to the opposite field, though he'll have more power once he gets stronger and pulls more pitches.

The Future: If Felix Pie doesn't take over Chicago's center-field job in 2008, Colvin could get a crack at it after spending the year at Triple-A Iowa. Another year of minor league at-bats to hone his approach and his pitch recognition is all he needs.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Daytona (Hi A)
.306 .336 .514 245 38 75 24 3 7 50 10 47 10
Tennessee (AA)
.291 .313 462 247 34 72 11 2 9 31 5 54 7
4.  Jose Ceda, rhp   Born: Jan. 28, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 247
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004Signed by: Felix Francisco/Randy Smith (Padres)
Jose CedaBackground: Cubs special assistant Steve Hinton spotted Ceda in the Padres' instructional league camp in 2005, and Chicago grabbed him in a deal for Todd Walker in mid-2006. Ceda opened 2007 as a starter in low Class A before missing two months with shoulder stiffness. He returned to Peoria as a reliever in mid-July and didn't allow a single hit and struck out 42 during 23 innings in that role.

Strengths: The Cubs could have another Lee Smith on their hands. When he came out of the bullpen, Ceda's fastball sat in the mid-90s and reached 99 mph. His slider also tightened up and has the chance to become a 65 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale.

Weaknesses: Ceda is still figuring out his mechanics, so his control and command are still erratic. He carried 280 pounds when he arrived in the trade, and he needs to keep the extra weight off to improve his ability to repeat his delivery. He doesn't have much of a changeup and didn't hold up well as a starter, but those aren't issues now that he's a reliever.

The Future: Chicago may jump Ceda to Double-A Tennessee so he can face hitters who actually have a chance against him. He has big league stuff and will head to Wrigley Field once he figures out how to locate his pitches better.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
AZL Cubs (R)
0 0 2.45 2 1 0 0
4 2 0 3 3 .182
Peoria (Lo A)
2 2 3.11 21 6 0 0 46 14 1
31 66 .093
5.  Sean Gallagher, rhp   Born: Dec. 30, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 225
 Drafted: HS—Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 2004 (12th round)Signed by: Rolando Pino
Sean GallagherBackground: Most clubs considered Gallagher unsignable in the 2004 draft, but the Cubs nabbed him with a 12th-round pick and a $60,000 bonus. He has been a bargain, reaching double figures in wins in each of his three full seasons, going a combined 36-15 in the minors, and making his major league debut in June at age 21.

Strengths: Gallagher has added fastball velocity since signing, going from 88-90 mph in 2005 to 90-94 last season, and he can spot his heater wherever he wants. It has surpassed his 11-to-5 curveball as his best pitch, though his bender is tough when he tightens it up and throws it in the upper 70s. His changeup is an effective third pitch and he mixes his offerings well. His mound presence never has been in question.

Weaknesses: Gallagher can get into trouble with the softer version of his curveball, which arrives at 69-74 mph. Typical of most rookies, he nibbled too much in his first taste of the majors. He'll have to watch the weight on his stocky frame, though dropping 10 pounds while in the Arizona Fall League is a good sign.

The Future: In spring training, Gallagher will get the chance to win a spot as a No. 5 starter or long reliever. Spending most of 2008 at Triple-A as a 22-year-old wouldn't be a setback, however. He has the makings of a No. 3 starter along the lines of Jon Lieber.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tennessee (AA)
7 2 3.39
11 11 0 0 61 54 3 24 54 .233
Iowa (AAA)
3 1 2.66 8 8 0 0 41
33 1 13 37 .232
Chicago Cubs (MLB)
0 0 8.59 8 0 0 1 15
19 3 12 5 .317
6.  Donald Veal, lhp   Born: Sept. 18, 1984B-T: L-LHt: 6-4Wt: 230
 Drafted: Pima (Ariz.) CC, 2005 (2nd round)Signed by: Steve McFarland
Donald VealBackground: After Veal led minor league starters with a .175 opponent batting average and shared Chicago's minor league player of the year award with Rich Hill in 2006, he had trouble getting untracked last season. He went 0-4, 10.57 in his first four starts and battled his control and command throughout the year, leading the Double-A Southern League with 73 walks.

Strengths: Hitters don't see many pitchers like Veal, a big lefthander with quality stuff and an unorthodox delivery. He has a swing-and-miss fastball in the low 90s and he likes to work both corners with it. His curveball shows flashes of being a plus pitch, while his changeup is solid at times.

Weaknesses: Veal lacks consistency in most phases of his game. He has a tough time maintaining his delivery, which includes a big leg kick, and his high three-quarters arm slot. When he falls behind in the count, he'll short-arm the ball and try to aim it, making matters worse. He has trouble staying on top of his curveball, and some scouts wonder if he might need to go to a splitter. Too often in 2007, his fastball was his only reliable pitch.

The Future: He has a ceiling as a No. 2 starter, but Veal also could wind up as a reliever in the mold of Arthur Rhodes. The Cubs sent him to instructional league rather than to the Arizona Fall League so he could build up confidence against lesser hitters, and they'll probably send him back to Double-A to start 2008.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tennessee (AA)
8 10 4.97 28 27 0 0 130 126 11 73 131 .256
7.  Josh Donaldson, c   Born: Dec. 8, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 195
 Drafted: Auburn, 2007 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Bob Rossi
Josh DonaldsonBackground: Previously a third baseman, Donaldson started catching as a sophomore at Auburn in 2006. The position shift and a strong summer in the Cape Cod League sent his draft stock skyrocketing, and he went 48th overall in June. After signing for $652,500, he rated as the short-season Northwest League's top position prospect and led the circuit with a .470 on-base percentage.

Strengths: Donaldson provides more offense and athleticism than most catchers. He's aggressive and looks to pull pitches for power early in counts, but he also adjusts when pitchers get ahead of him, shortening his stroke and using the opposite field. He controls the strike zone and projects as a .280 hitter with 15-20 homers per season. He has slightly above-average arm strength and threw out 38 percent of basestealers in his pro debut. His speed is average.

Weaknesses: His inexperience shows behind the plate, though the Cubs believe he'll become a solid defender in time. He committed 11 passed balls in 45 games and sometimes hurried his release and undermined his arm strength. He made progress in both areas during the summer.

The Future: Chicago has built up its catching depth, so it may take things slow with Donaldson and let him concentrate o his work behind the plate. He'll probably open 2008 in low Class A.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
AZL Cubs (R)
.182 .308 .364 11 1 2 2 0 0 0 2
4 0
Boise (SS)
.346 .470 .605 162 37 56 11 2 9 35 37 34 6
8.  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 and would have been a first-day pick in the 2007 NFL draft. The Cubs, who had signed him for $250,000 as a fifth-rounder in 2006, ponied up a five-year major league contract worth $10 million last January to get him to commit full-time to baseball. In his first outing in big league camp, he retired Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis and Travis Buck on eight pitches and broke two bats.

Strengths: It's easy to dream on Samardzija, who has size, athleticism, makeup and a nasty fastball. His heater has a rare combination of velocity (sitting in the low to mid-90s, touching 98 mph) and sink. He has the chance to have two plus-plus pitches with his fastball and slider, though the latter pitch is inconsistent. He stayed healthy, maintained his velocity and threw strikes throughout 2007 despite pitching far more than ever before.

Weaknesses: For a guy with Samardzija's stuff, his statistics make no sense. Opponents batted .306 and he averaged just 4.1 strikeouts per nine innings last season. Though he has made progress, his slider and changeup need a lot more polish. When he opens up with his front shoulder too early in his delivery, he slings the ball and is much more hittable.

The Future: Samardizja remains an enigma, still capable of becoming a frontline starter, a closer or a bust. After pitching better following a promotion to Double-A, he'll return to Tennessee to start 2008.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Daytona (Hi A)
3 8 4.95 24 20 1 0 107 142 8 35 45 .323
Tennessee (AA)
3 3 3.41 6 6 0 0 34 33 8 9 20 .250
9.  Tony Thomas, 2b   Born: July 10, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 5-10Wt: 180
 Drafted: Florida State, 2007 (3rd round)Signed by: Keith Stohr
Tony ThomasBackground: Thomas hit just .265 with 141 strikeouts in 137 games over his first two seasons at Florida State, prompting him to adopt a more open stance in 2007. The results were spectacular, as he batted .430 and led NCAA Division I in runs (91), doubles (33) and total bases (189). The Cubs didn't think they'd get him after passing on him in the sandwich round and were elated to grab him in the third round for $360,000.

Strengths: Thomas continued to hit in his pro debut and the consensus within the organization is that he has more pure batting ability than 2007 first-rounder Josh Vitters. He employs a level swing to make consistent line-drive contact to all swings. He's strong for his size and doesn't have to cheat to catch up to quality fastballs, which allows him to stay back on offspeed stuff. He has average speed and outstanding basestealing instincts, succeeding in 28 of his 30 pro attempts.

Weaknesses: Thomas isn't as instinctive at second base as he is at the plate or on the bases, and his defensive ceiling is average at best. He has adequate range and a fringy arm, and he doesn't read grounders well. There's not another good fit for him elsewhere on the diamond, but Chicago thinks roving infield instructor Bobby Dickerson will be able to help him out.

The Future: His bat is so advanced that Thomas will jump to high Class A Daytona. If he can make progress with his glove, he could reach Chicago by the end of 2009.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
AZL Cubs (R)
.176 .286 .412 17 7 3 0 2
0 6 2
5 0
Boise (SS)
.308 .404 .544 182 44 56 12 8 5 33 25 31 28
10.  Kevin Hart, rhp   Born: Dec. 29, 1982B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 215
 Drafted: Maryland, 2004 (11th round)Signed by: Ty Brown (Orioles)
Kevin HartBackground: Easily the biggest surprise in the system last season, Hart hadn't had much success or pitched above high Class A when the Cubs acquired him for Freddie Bynum in December 2006. But he responded to the tutelage of Tennessee pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn and finished the year on the playoff roster.

Strengths: Lewallyn taught Hart a cut fastball that made all the difference in the world. Once he mastered it, he allowed just 13 earned runs over his final nine Double-A starts and pitched better as he moved up the ladder. He also improved his fastball, which sat at 91-92 mph in the minors and 93-94 mph when he relieved in the majors, as well as his changeup. He has a durable frame, repeats his delivery well and throws strikes.

Weaknesses: A quality cutter should allow a righthander to hold lefty hitters at bay, but they batted .316/.383/.453 against Hart in the minors. Oddly enough, they went 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts against him in the majors. He has a curveball, but it's nothing more than a show-me pitch.

The Future: Hart thrived as a big league reliever in September, but the Cubs haven't given up on him as a starter. He could open the season in their rotation if he pitches well in spring training. He's versatile enough to project as a No. 4 starter, a middle reliever or a seventh-inning setup man.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tennessee (AA)
8 5 4.24
18 17 0 0 102 100 13 27 92 .255
Iowa (AAA)
4 1 3.54 9 8 1 0 56 56 6 23 39 .271
Chicago Cubs (MLB)
0 0 0.82 8 0 0 0 11 7 0 4 13

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
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Photo Credits:
Bill Mitchell (Vitters, Donaldson, Thomas)
Robert Gurganus (Colvin)
Rodger Wood (Ceda, Veal, Hart)