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Chicago Cubs Top 10 Prospects 2011

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After the Ricketts family completed its $845 million purchase of the Cubs and related assets in October 2009, the team unveiled its marketing campaign for 2010: "Year One."

Unfortunately, Year One was a lot like the previous 101. Chicago still is seeking its first World Series championship since 1908 and first appearance since 1945, and the big league club is trending in the wrong direction.

The Cubs won 97 games and a second straight National League Central title in 2008, then dropped to 83 victories in 2009 and 75 a year ago. That's not exactly what the Ricketts family thought it was getting with a $146.6 million Opening Day payroll that trailed only the Yankees and Red Sox among major league teams.

Chicago still is paying the price for overaggressive spending, first when it was rebuilding following a 96-loss season in 2006, then when it was trying to get over the hump after getting swept out of the playoffs the next two years. The Cubs signed Ryan Dempster, Kosuke Fukudome, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano to long-term deals totaling $404.5 million during that period, and they owe those five players $77.5 million for 2011 alone.

There were some silver linings during a disappointing 2010 season. Chicago promoted several prospects to Wrigley Field, and they acquitted themselves well. Starlin Castro nearly made the team out of spring training and came up for good May 7, homering in his first at-bat and driving in six runs in his first game. He became just the third shortstop age 20 or younger to hit .300 while qualifying for the batting title, joining Hall of Famer Arky Vaughan and Alex Rodriguez.

Andrew Cashner made tremendous progress as a starter in the minors before getting summoned to the big league bullpen at the end of May. He held his own with a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider, and he'll move into the rotation for 2011. Casey Coleman, Tyler Colvin and Scott Maine also made successful major league debuts and claimed jobs for the upcoming seasons. Chicago used 10 rookies in an Aug. 18 game against the Padres, including a major league-record six rookie pitchers.

The Cubs responded well to an unanticipated managerial change, playing their best ball after Lou Piniella abruptly resigned Aug. 23 to take care of his ailing mother. They went 51-74 under Piniella and 24-13 under former third-base coach Mike Quade. Quade instilled a greater sense of accountability, including benching Castro for two games for concentration lapses, and had "interim" removed from his job title after the season.

Life was better down on the farm than it was at Wrigley Field. Righthanders Chris Archer and Trey McNutt went a combined 25-4, while outfielder Brett Jackson pounded Double-A pitching in his first full pro season, establishing themselves as the best prospects in the system. Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee had the best regular-season records in their leagues, and both Class A affiliates had winning marks, with legitimate talent driving all those victories. One pro scout who covered the Cubs opined that they had more future big leaguers than any other organization.

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