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Background: The third pick (and first high schooler) in the 1998 draft, Patterson has been well known to scouts since his freshman year in high school. Unlike many phenoms, he only got better under the spotlight. In front of more than 100 scouts at a summer showcase after his junior year, he was clocked at a blazing 6.38 seconds over 60 yards. As a senior, Patterson added power to his resume, hitting 22 home runs in just 123 high school at-bats. Patterson sat out all summer and was rewarded by the Cubs, who signed him to a unique contract that guarantees him $3.7 million over the next five years--the largest bonus in draft history. Though he didn't play football as a high school senior, Patterson was regarded as one of the top wide receiver prospects in the country. Because the letter-of-intent he signed at Georgia Tech stated he was welcome to play both baseball and football, the Cubs took advantage of baseball's dual-sport contract language to construct a five-year payout. Strengths: With his increased strength and power potential, Patterson is a legitimate five-tool talent. Despite his superior speed and athletic skills, the Cubs have focused on his hitting ability as his most immediate, high-ceiling skill. Patterson's swing is short and direct--and he generates surprising power for a player his size. Defensively, he is a pure center fielder with average to above-average arm strength and the ability to chase down balls in the gaps. Weaknesses: An athlete of Patterson's caliber often runs into one of three pitfalls: injuries, adjustment problems or hitting difficulty. Patterson has never been seriously hurt and he sat out his senior football season in large part to lessen the risk of injury. He should be well adjusted to all the attention he'll receive since he has played in countless national-level events. And as a hitter, he already shows an advanced knowledge of controlling the strike zone and making contact. The Future: While his speed is ideal for a leadoff hitter, Patterson's power and overall hitting ability could make him better suited for the No. 3 spot in the order. He will start his pro career in the Class A Midwest League but the Cubs will move him aggressively as he proves he can handle each level of competition.
Background: A draft-and-follow from 1994, Farnsworth has moved quickly through the system but he was hit hard in his Triple-A debut. Strengths: Farnsworth has the strongest arm in the Cubs system and throws a dominating, heavy fastball that is consistently in the 93-95 mph range. He also throws a hard slider, a split-finger and a straight change. Weak and skinny when he signed, Farnsworth has developed a strong, durable body and he maintains his stuff well in the later innings. Weaknesses: At Iowa, Farnsworth may have tried too hard instead of letting his natural ability take over. He still needs to work on command of his offspeed pitches. The Future: Farnsworth is the leader of a collection of young starters that the organization sees joining Kerry Wood as the core of the future big league staff. Chicago's rotation is probably set for the start of 1999, but much like Wood last year, the Cubs will be keeping a close eye on Farnsworth's early-season performances.
Background: Gissell was typical of the young projectable pitchers from the Northwest when he signed, and after two years of refining his skills and gaining strength, his raw stuff took off in 1998. Strengths: As he's become stronger, Gissell's velocity has increased to a consistent 90-92 mph. He still has room for growth and could add yet another notch to his fastball. His curveball is already a quality second pitch. Gissell's arm action and delivery are smooth and coordinated. He's also given high marks for his makeup on and off the field. Weaknesses: One school of thought is that Gissell is too nice on the mound and needs to become more aggressive at pitching inside. He still needs to further develop his offspeed pitches. The Future: The Cubs promoted Gissell twice last year. They have a lot of confidence in the 21-year-old's makeup and poise. He is expected to start at Double-A in 1999.
Background: Randolph attended the same high school that developed big leaguers Carl Everett, Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield. Strictly a righthanded hitter in high school, he learned to switch-hit in instructional league following the 1997 season. Strengths: Randolph is looked at as a model center fielder/leadoff hitter. He runs 60 yards in better than 6.4 seconds, has outstanding range in the outfield and the ability to be disruptive on the bases. The Cubs feel he has just begun to scratch the surface of his ability. Weaknesses: Despite the aptitude Randolph has shown in learning to switch-hit, he's still raw on the finer points of the game, especially when it comes to baserunning. If he is to excel as a leadoff hitter, Randolph will have to cut down on his strikeouts. The Future: Randolph is already ahead of schedule. He plays the same position as the organization's crown jewel, Patterson, so he might be forced to move to a corner outfield spot eventually. His leadoff skills, though, could help push Patterson into the middle of the lineup.
Background: Nieves was originally signed by the Brewers in 1992 but was released after hitting .201 in the Dominican Summer League in 1993. The Cubs signed him a year later to plug a gap on their DSL roster, but Nieves proved to be more than just a roster filler. Strengths: Nieves is a plus fielder with excellent arm strength, above-average range and smooth, easy actions. He's also strong for a shortstop and shows above-average power for his position. He is a mature player with excellent knowledge of the game. Weaknesses: The 113 games Nieves played in 1996 were a career high, so his durability is in question. He missed time with a torn oblique muscle in 1997 and a severely sprained ankle in 1998. While Nieves makes consistent contact at the plate, he also draws few walks. The Future: Nieves is considered the Cubs' shortstop of the future, an important distinction given the revolving door the team has had there the past few years. The most important steps Nieves can take in 1999 are to stay healthy and handle Triple-A pitching with the same skill he showed in Double-A.
Background: Another Cubs draft-and-follow, Lohse paid off as he added 5-6 mph on his fastball as a freshman at Butte (Calif.) Junior College. In 1998, he ranked first among minor league teenagers in wins and innings pitched. Strengths: Lohse is a bulldog competitor who challenges hitters well, especially for a young pitcher from a small school. His best pitch is his slider, which he complements with a solid-average fastball and a straight change. He also has shown the potential to have above-average command of his pitches. Weaknesses: Lohse has a mature body, three solid pitches and an advanced approach to pitching. His main challenge will be to stay healthy while he refines his command and changeup. The Future: While Lohse's performance wasn't a total surprise last season, he still created quite a stir within the organization. Because of Lohse's age, the Cubs will have the luxury of advancing him one step at a time through the system.
Background: Cline has been one of the Cubs top prospects since 1995, when the organization's master plan had him assuming the big league catching job in 1999. Though Cline had a strong offensive season in Triple-A last year, defensive problems prevented him from getting a September callup. Strengths: Even with the rigors of catching, Cline remains one of the organization's top athletes. He runs the 60 in 6.7 seconds and has plenty of power. Defensively, he has plus arm strength and quickness with his hands and feet. Weaknesses: Cline's problems defensively are mental and mechanical. He has not made enough progress calling a game and he has struggled with his footwork on throws, leading to poor accuracy. Minor League Manager of the Year Terry Kennedy worked with him at Iowa last year, but Cline did not take the step forward that the Cubs hoped for. The Future: With Cline's strong offensive performance in '98, he's still the catcher of the future. Another season with Kennedy should help his defensive shortcomings.
Background: Norton was unheralded as a junior college pitcher, but he led all Cubs minor league pitchers in innings in 1998 and was the co-leader in strikeouts. Strengths: Norton's curveball is a plus big league pitch and the best breaking ball in the organization. He also has an 89-91 mph fastball and a straight change. As a professional, Norton has shown excellent durability and a determined approach. Weaknesses: Not a physically imposing pitcher, Norton tends to lose the edge on his fastball when he tires. He still needs to work on perfecting his changeup. The Future: With the Cubs bullpen short on lefthanders, Norton could get a long look in spring training--even though he's only relieved five times in his career and has never pitched above Double-A. His curveball could give him an advantage in the competition for a big league job.
Background: Despite McNichol's high draft status, he failed to register on the prospect charts until this year. He missed much of 1996 with elbow tendinitis and spent 1997 getting by on guile and a mid-80s fastball. A healthy McNichol shared the Cubs minor league lead in strikeouts last year. Strengths: McNichol's best pitch is a deceptive changeup that he can throw for strikes at any count. His fastball returned to its college velocity of 88-91 mph and he was able to keep hitters honest with it. When he's in a groove, McNichol has above-average command of his pitches. Weaknesses: McNichol has a power pitcher's body but relies on finesse to get hitters out. His curveball, though, is his weakest pitch and it often limits his effectiveness against lefthanded hitters, reducing his versatility on a pitching staff. The Future: Lefthanded pitchers with McNichol's stuff, command and strikeout ability almost always get an opportunity to start in the big leagues, even if scouts downplay their ceilings. McNichol's first real shot at the Chicago rotation should come in 2000.
Background: Kelton was considered a premium infield prospect after his junior year in high school but he severely separated his right shoulder in a summer tournament. Teams shied away after Kelton's surgery but he had only minor episodes of discomfort in his shoulder last summer. Strengths: Kelton has above-average bat speed and the power to reach the fences to all fields. His hitting mechanics are ideal for a wood bat and he had little trouble adapting to professional pitching. A shortstop in high school, Kelton has excellent range and soft hands at third. He has average speed but good baserunning instincts. Weaknesses: Doctors say Kelton is far ahead of schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery. His arm strength should gradually grow, along with his confidence. The Future: Over the course of his Rookie-level season, Arizona League managers said Kelton improved the most of any of the players they saw. He has a chance to be an above-average offensive third baseman.