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When the Cubs signed Patterson to a club-record $3.7 million bonus in 1998, then-scouting director Jim Hendry told club president Andy MacPhail that Patterson would reach the majors within three years. He beat that timetable, arriving last September and hitting his first two big league homers off Juan Acevedo and Alan Benes. Patterson wouldn't have been at Wrigley Field had he made the U.S. Olympic team, but he was chosen only as an alternate and declined. That was the only disappointment in 2000 as he jumped from low Class A to Double-A West Tenn. One of the youngest players in the Southern League, he was batting just .243-6-28 at the end of May before finishing with a .274-16-54 surge over the final three months. He finished second in the league in homers and fourth in RBI, and managers rated him the circuit's top prospect. Patterson offers the best combination of athleticism and baseball skills of any prospect in the game. He's the best hitter, the fastest runner and the top outfield defender in the organization. His other two tools, power and arm strength, are both above-average. His top-of-the-line speed is probably his most impressive physical asset, and he has a chiseled physique with biceps that seem a couple of sizes too large for his 5-foot-10 frame. Patterson has more than held his own while being rushed through the minors, and the Cubs love his makeup. He still has to work on the nuances of the game. He has batted just .195 against lefthanders as a pro. He needs to tighten his plate discipline, and his ability to drive pitches that are out of the strike zone actually hampers his ability to draw walks. Despite his blazing speed, he wasn't a particularly effective basestealer in 2000, getting caught 14 times in 41 attempts. Chicago believes Patterson can correct all of those flaws with more experience. They're understandable, considering his age and how much he has been pushed. If the Cubs trade Sammy Sosa, they'll market Patterson as the cornerstone of the franchise. That would be premature, as his struggles against southpaws show he's not ready to play regularly in the majors quite yet. While he could make Chicago's Opening Day roster if he performs well in spring training, Patterson would be better served by at least half a season in Triple-A to catch his breath. When he puts it all together, he should be one of the game's superstars.
Cruz made the biggest breakthrough in baseball last season. He entered 2000 with a 7-10, 5.99 career record and went 0-5, 9.99 in his first six starts. Then everything clicked, and he went 8-0, 1.86 with 134 strikeouts in 116 innings the rest of the way. Cruz ranked as the No. 2 prospect in both the Midwest and Florida State leagues. He has the best stuff in the organization. He throws a lively 94-97 mph fastball, and wasn't clocked under 94 mph when he threw a 14-strikeout gem in the FSL playoffs. He also has a power slider and a changeup that serves as a good third pitch. He relishes pitching inside, making it difficult to dig in against him. Cruz improved his command as his career took off last year, and it still could get better. Other than that, he just needs a little more experience. It's trendy to compare wispy, hard-throwing Dominicans to Pedro Martinez these days, but Cruz makes a better case than most. He'll prove whether he's for real when he moves up to Double-A in 2001, and the Cubs certainly believe he is. If he progresses like he did a year ago, he could reach Chicago by the end of the season.
As a 19-year-old, Choi homered in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the 1998 World Championships in Italy. The following March, he became the first Korean position-player prospect to sign with a major league club when he accepted a $1.2 million bonus from the Cubs. He has done nothing but hit ever since, and he led the Arizona Fall League in homers (six) and slugging percentage (.577) after the 2000 season. Choi is a more advanced hitter than Corey Patterson at this point, thanks to his short stroke and understanding of the strike zone. Choi has tremendous power to all fields and he's a better athlete than Chicago thought he would be. He was the high Class A Florida State League's best defensive first baseman and runs well for his size and position. He has learned English so quickly that he turned down the team's offer to pay for an interpreter for the 2000 season. Choi has fanned 184 times in 211 pro games, though he also draws plenty of walks and his extra-base production more than offsets his strikeouts. A big man, he'll have to watch his weight in the future. He has had no problems staying in shape thus far. The Cubs have let Mark Grace go, but scouts who saw Choi in the AFL believe he needs Triple-A time. He could take over the first-base job toward the end of the season, and he won't let it go for a while.
Christensen always will be associated with beaning Evansville's Anthony Molina in the on-deck circle while he was warming up before a Wichita State game. But he's making a name for himself as a pitcher, permitting more than three earned runs in just two of his starts last season before he was shut down in early July with shoulder tendinitis. Christensen has two well above-average pitches in his 90-94 mph sinker and his slider. As a bonus, he has good command of both of those offerings, as well as his curveball and an improving changeup. He had nearly as many strikeouts as baserunners allowed last year. Christensen's shoulder problems aren't considered serious. He just needs a few more pro innings and more consistency with his curve and change. He hasn't shown that the Molina incident will affect him. If the Cubs decide to be cautious, they'll give Christensen a month to get going in Double-A before promoting him to Triple-A Iowa this year. Odds are he'll surface in Wrigley Field before the season is over, and he should stick in Chicago's rotation by 2002.
The Cubs have been aggressively moving their best prospects through the minors, most obviously with Zambrano. After modest success in low Class A in 1999, he opened 2000 in Double-A and was promoted to Triple-A before he turned 19. Upon reaching Iowa, he was converted from a starter to a reliever. Zambrano has a strong pitcher's body and a live, loose arm. He owns the best fastball in the system, a nasty mid-90s sinker that has reached 99 mph. He throws it from two different arm slots, making it tougher. At times, his slider is a good second pitch. Pacific Coast League managers acknowledged Zambrano's quality arm, but they couldn't understand why he was rushed to Triple-A and forced to change roles. His slider is inconsistent, his changeup is nothing special yet and his curveball is more of the get-me-over variety. He needs time to work on his control and his secondary pitches. Zambrano was switched to relief at a time when the major league bullpen was killing the Cubs. With Tom Gordon now on board as the closer, Zambrano's future may be as a starter again. He'll pitch in a rotation this year, likely in Triple-A, to get him as many innings as possible.
The Cubs selected Montanez third overall last June, then announced his signing on the draft conference call in the middle of the third round. They agreed to a predraft deal worth $2.75 million but insisted they would have taken him regardless. His debut Rookie-level Arizona League was spectacular, as he was named MVP and managers rated him as the circuit's top prospect. Montanez has been compared athletically to Alex Gonzalez, and he's a better hitter than the Toronto shortstop. He uses the entire field and the ball jumps off his bat, so he should develop above-average power for a middle infielder. He's a smooth defender with a strong arm. He isn't a blazer and won't be a big-time basestealer, though he has enough quickness to remain at shortstop. Despite exhibiting good plate discipline in his debut, he'll need to make better contact as he moves up the ladder. The Cubs have had just one all-star shortstop in the last 25 years (Shawon Dunston in 1988 and 1990), but Montanez should end that drought in the near future. He'll likely begin 2001 at Lansing and has a big league ETA of late 2003. Chicago also likes shortstop prospects Nate Frese and Jason Smith, but they won't stand in Montanez' way when he's ready.
Which will happen first: Ron Santo makes the Hall of Fame or the Cubs find their first long-term replacement for him since he left following the 1973 season? The veterans committee is running out of time to win the race because Chicago has a deep crop of third-base prospects. The most promising is Kelton, who rebounded from a slow start to lead Class A Daytona to a second-half division title and playoff championship in the Florida State League last year. Kelton has legitimate 30-homer power and ranked sixth in the FSL in longballs in 2000. His swing is so pure that the Cubs forbade their minor league instructors from messing with it. He has average speed, good hands and an arm strong enough for third base. Kelton had periodic problems with his right shoulder, which required surgery before his senior year of high school. His shoulder acted up at the start of last season, limiting him to DH duty for a month. He has a 299-100 strikeout-walk ratio as a pro, something that more advanced pitchers may exploit. Kelton is ready for Double-A and is 18-24 months away from Wrigley Field. He'll have to keep producing to hold off players such as Eric Hinske, Ryan Gripp, Brandon Sing and J.J. Johnson, and the Cubs are confident he will.
Hill would have gotten a chance to win the White Sox' starting shortstop job in 2000 had he signed as a 1999 second-round pick after leading Miami to the College World Series title. But the two sides never came to terms, so he turned pro with Newark in the independent Atlantic League before the Cubs took him in the second round last June. Hill led the league in hits and on-base percentage (.442) and was named the shortstop on the postseason all-star team. He finally signed with Chicago in November for $1.425 million. Hill is the quintessential leadoff man and has been compared to a young Chuck Knoblauch in that regard. Hill hits for average, make contact and draws walks, and he's a basestealing threat once he gets on. He has solid range and hands for a middle infielder. While the Cubs believe Hill can play shortstop, they might be in the minority. Most scouts think he doesn't have enough arm to stick at short, prompting an eventual move to second base. Hill will break into the organization at Double-A, where the presence of shortstop Nate Frese may push him to second base. Big league second baseman Eric Young's contract expires after 2001, and in a perfect world Hill would be ready to take over then.
Webb was primarily a shortstop in his amateur career, but he attracted the Cubs with his work as a late-inning reliever. He stayed in the bullpen for his pro debut, then made a smooth transition to starting last season. Webb has what assistant GM Jim Hendry calls Wrigley Field stuff. He keeps his 90-92 mph sinker and plus slider down in the strike zone, permitting just five homers in 152 innings in 2000 (and only one in 210 at-bats against lefthanders). His changeup is a solid third pitch, and he can throw his entire repertoire for strikes. He's athletic and very projectable, so he could add a touch more velocity. Webb has no glaring need except for added experience. He has three pitches, fine command and durability, and he gets lefthanders out. He will begin 2001 by returning to Daytona, and he likely will get promoted to Double-A by the end of the year. He hasn't attracted the hype of the higher-ceiling pitchers ahead of him, but he's a legitimate prospect in his own right. He projects as a No. 3 starter, and if the big league rotation gets too crowded, Webb might turn into a closer.
Frese is the great-great-nephew of former Indians slugger Hal Trosky and the cousin of former White Sox righthander Hal Trosky Jr. A first baseman/righthander in his first two seasons at Iowa, Frese didn't become a full-time shortstop until 1998. He was bothered by a hernia in his pro debut that summer, batting just .218. He has made significant offensive improvements in the two seasons since. He may not be the flashiest shortstop, but Frese is effective. He has the most accurate infield arm in the system and made just 13 errors in 113 games at short last year. He has fine on-base ability and possesses unusual size and strength for a shortstop. Frese lacks the speed associated with a shortstop and isn't an effective basestealer. He still has to work to do to translate his strength into home run power. Ricky Gutierrez will be a free agent after 2001, so the Cubs will need a shortstop for next season. Frese might not be quite ready by then, though he'll probably be the system's best candidate to fill the opening. He'll start this year in Double-A.
The Cubs have looked for a competent third baseman for almost three decades, and Hinske is the most advanced of a bevy of candidates currently in the system. He may not be destined for the hot corner at Wrigley Field, however. The Cubs signed Bill Mueller to a two-year contract, by which time David Kelton will probably be ready to take over. Hinske projects to have enough bat to play left field or first base, two positions he got a taste of in 2000. He's merely adequate as a third baseman, another factor that could lead to a future position change. He has hit 20 homers in each of his two full pro seasons, and he had to hit 17 longballs in the last two months to make it to 20 last year. Though his .255 average was 46 points below his previous career mark, Hinske's patience at the plate bodes well for his ability to hit at higher levels. He'll move up to Triple-A in 2001, and he'll probably get some more time at first base and in left field.
Signed as a catcher, Zuleta floundered behind the plate and didn't hit much. Three years into his pro career, he was on the verge of getting released before the Cubs decided to give him a shot as a first baseman. With his defensive responsibilities reduced, he began to hit. He has increased his home run totals in each of his five years at first base. Zuleta made an impression by launching two bombs off the scoreboard in a spring-training game against the White Sox, and he showed his power to all fields in his first big league trial last year. He has tightened his swing, but he still has holes in it and will chase breaking balls, especially against righthanders. He has no speed and thus no range at either first base or left field, though he does have arm strength. He should make Chicago's Opening Day roster and could see regular duty at first base, though he's only keeping the position warm until Hee Seop Choi is ready, which should be in 2002.
The Cubs nearly took Krawiec in the second round of the 2000 draft, but opted for Bobby Hill instead. They were delighted when Krawiec lasted until they came around again in the third round, and they're even more enthusiastic after his debut at short-season Eugene. Krawiec led Northwest League starters with 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings and pitched so well that he'll skip a level and open 2001 in high Class A. Krawiec has two above-average pitches: an 89-92 mph sinker and a curveball. His changeup has a chance to be average with more work. At 6-foot-6, he throws on a good downward plane. Krawiec didn't have a lot of success in college at Villanova, mainly because his inconsistent mechanics hurt his command, but that wasn't a problem in his first pro summer.
Aaron Krawiec wasn't the only Eugene pitcher who blew away Northwest League hitters in 2000. Chavez led the league in strikeouts and innings, earning recognition as the righthanded starter on the postseason all-star team. He was signed out of the Dominican by Jose Serra, the same scout who discovered Juan Cruz for the Cubs. Chavez has good command of a nasty slider, though he may use it a little too often at the expense of his other pitches. His fastball is also a plus pitch, as he throws it 90-92 mph, and his changeup is developing. He does a terrific job of pitching down in the strike zone and didn't allow a homer in 90 innings last year. After three seasons in short-season leagues, Chavez will get his first shot at full-season ball with either Lansing or Daytona in 2001.
After taking righthander Ben Christensen and raw high school outfielder Mike Mallory with their first two draft choices in 1999, the Cubs wanted the best college hitter available when they picked in the third round. They went with Gripp, who has justified their evaluation. He batted.333 last year, leading all minor league third basemen and all Midwest League hitters. Gripp is polished at the plate. He has a compact swing and a selective eye, which allows him to drill doubles and homers to all fields. He has had no problems with wood bats or breaking pitches. He has good hands and makes accurate throws from third base, but his range, mobility and arm strength are all below-average for the position. He may have to move to first base, not something that any prospect who shares an organization with Hee Seop Choi wants to do. At 22, Gripp was a bit old for the Midwest League, though he probably won't skip a level with Eric Hinske and David Kelton ahead of him in the minors.
Despite Weurtz' lackluster performance at Lansing in 1999, his first full pro season, the Cubs still believed he was a sleeper. He proved that assessment correct last year, when he ranked second in the Florida State League in victories. He won seven of his last eight regular season decisions, then earned a 10-strikeout victory in the opener of the playoff finals, spurring Daytona to the championship. Wuertz has two promising pitches, a 90-93 mph fastball and a slider. He also throws a changeup. He's a tough competitor and generally throws strikes. He projects as a No. 3 or 4 starter in the majors, and will pitch in Double-A in 2001.
Nation was the player to be named in the deal that sent big leaguers Jose Hernandez and Terry Mulholland to the Braves in July 1999, and he might be the only significant contributor to come out of the trade for the Cubs. Lefthander Micah Bowie was released last November, and righthander Ruben Quevedo had a disappointing big league debut in 2000. Nation got two big league starts after a solid Double-A season in which he ranked second in the Southern League in strikeouts. He's a finesse lefty whose best pitch is a changeup. He also throws an average fastball with nice life, as well as a solid curveball. He'll need to improve his fastball command after leading the Southern League in homers allowed and surrendering longballs to Placido Polanco and Kevin Jordan in the majors. Nation is a back-of-the-rotation starter who could help the Cubs by the second half of 2001. Don't be surprised if he gets passed by several other Cubs pitching prospects, which would put Nation's big league future probably in the bullpen.
The Cubs had the first pick in the major league Rule 5 draft at the 2000 Winter Meetings and used it to pluck Chiasson from the Athletics system. He's with his third organization in three years. Chiasson really took off in the final three months of 2000, going 9-2, 2.16 in the final three months and throwing a combined no-hitter in the high Class A California League playoffs. The key was that he slowed down a maximum-effort delivery, giving him more command of his low-90s fastball and hard slider. His changeup is still in development. Chicago has to keep Chiasson in the majors all season or offer him back to the A's for half of his $50,000 draft price, so he'll be given a shot to stick in the bullpen. Considering what a disaster the Cubs' relief corps was last year, he has a good chance of claiming a job.
The Cubs have confidence in three of their catching prospects. Goldbach projects as the best hitter, while Ryan Jorgensen is the best defender and Korean signee Yoon-Min Kweon may offer the best all-around package. If Goldbach is going to remain ahead of the other two, he'll have to kick his bat into a higher gear after slumping through 2000. He got worse as the year went on, batting .160 with a lone home run over the final two months of the regular season and .164 in the Arizona Fall League. His strike-zone discipline, which improved noticeably in 1999, fell apart last year. Chicago still likes Goldbach's quick bat and power potential. His defense is average at times, though he let his offense affect his play behind the plate. He didn't have much success throwing out baserunners, gunning down just 21 percent. The Cubs would like to move Goldbach to Double-A in 2001 so Jorgensen and Kweon could start for the two Class A clubs. But that wouldn't be the best way to get Goldbach back on track offensively.
When the Cubs took Mallory in 1999, they knew he'd be a long-term project. He's living up to that billing, but they still have faith that he'll develop into a big leaguer. His athletic frame reminded Northwest League managers of a young George Foster or Dave Winfield last summer. Mallory already stands out on defense, showing above-average range and arm strength in center field. He has lots of raw power and speed, though he won't be able to take advantage of either until he improves as a hitter. The first step will be tightening his strike zone, and his discipline actually regressed from 1999 to 2000. Mallory probably will take on the challenge of full-season ball for the first time this year.
Urrutia could be another Carlos Zambrano in the making, though he’s only five months younger than his fellow Venezuelan and not nearly as advanced. Urrutia has been brought along very slowly, pitching just 61 innings in two years of Rookie ball and walking more batters than he struck out each season. Yet his size and live arm are clearly evident. He throws 94-95 mph and has a promising slider. He still needs plenty of work on developing a changeup, throwing strikes and setting up hitters, though he did start to make strides in instructional league. Urrutia isn’t anywhere close to the majors and probably isn’t ready for full-season ball, but he definitely bears watching.
The Cubs say Jorgensen was the best defensive catcher in college last season, even better than highly touted Dane Sardinha of Pepperdine, a second-round pick of the Reds. Yet Jorgensen was only the No. 2 backstop on national champion Louisiana State, which started NCAA Division I home run and RBI leader Brad Cresse behind the plate. Jorgensen has advanced catch-and-throw skills, and his arm rates a 65 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. He has soft hands and is agile behind the plate. He didn't show much with the bat in college but surprised the Cubs with his offense in his pro debut. He hit .300 with gap power and drew a good amount of walks. He'll never hit many home runs and will have to prove his hitting ability at higher levels. After sharing time with Cresse in college and promising Korean Yoon-Min Kweon at Eugene, Jorgensen may finally get a chance to catch every day in 2001. That probably will come at Daytona.
Smyth was part of an all-prospect Daytona rotation--the others were Juan Cruz, John Webb, Mike Wuertz and Matt Bruback--that swept through the Florida State League playoffs with a perfect 5-0 record. Smyth did his part, twirling six shutout innings to win the second game of the finals. The Cubs projected him as a reliever when they drafted him a year earlier, and he did nothing to dispel that notion by posting a 6.09 ERA in 15 starts in his debut. Though he saved the FSL all-star game last year, he made a case for remaining a starter. Smyth throws four pitches for strikes. He features a consistently low-90s fastball and a slider, and he also throws a changeup and cut fastball. He limited lefthanders to a .198 batting average in 2000, so he always can fall back on a role as a lefty specialist. For now, he'll remain in the rotation and move up to Double-A.
The Cubs were doing little more than dumping salary when they shipped left fielder Henry Rodriguez to the Marlins for two minor leaguers last July. Little did they realize Gload was about to discover his power stroke. He had 41 homers and a .425 slugging percentage in 433 pro games before the trade. The Cubs promoted him to Triple-A only because they had a surplus of lefthanded hitters in Double-A, but Gload moved up and mashed. He had a .942 slugging percentage in 28 games, earning a callup to Chicago. Gload doesn't rank higher in the organization because he has to prove his Triple-A performance wasn't a fluke. His stance reminds several people of former Cubs third baseman Richie Hebner's, and Gload takes a pronounced uppercut. He makes contact but doesn't walk much. He's only adequate at first base and left field, and he lacks arm strength. Other than homering off Brian Rose, Gload didn't show much in the majors and earned himself a ticket back to Triple-A to begin 2001. He may be able to work into a first-base platoon in Chicago with Julio Zuleta at some point.
Ohman is the best prospect among three relievers who helped West Tenn win the Southern League championship and could shore up the Chicago bullpen in 2001. An all-state kicker as a Colorado high schooler, Ohman focused on baseball at Pepperdine. He has lowered his ERA each time he moved up the minor league ladder. He throws a 91-92 mph sinker and a plus curveball from a three-quarters angle that makes him tough on lefthanders. His command can get spotty at times, though he helps himself by pitching low in the strike zone. Ohman has a fan in Cubs manager Don Baylor, who was impressed by his fearlessness. Ohman didn't allow a run in his first five big league appearances, highlighted by a called strikeout of Phillies star Bob Abreu on a 3-2 curve. Ohman got rocked to the tune of a 10.20 ERA in the Arizona Fall League, but Chicago attributes that to him being worn out after a long season.
Ranked with Adam Eaton as the top two prospects in the state of Washington for the 1996 draft, Gissell hasn't seen his career develop nearly as quickly as that of the budding Padres star. He struggled with his confidence and his velocity early in his pro career. After regaining both, he has been shut down in July in each of the last two seasons. In 1999, he had a shoulder strain that required surgery. Last year, he had elbow tendinitis. When he was healthy in 2000, he used a 91-92 mph fastball and plus curveball to limit opponents to a .233 average. His changeup and command still need improvement, however. The Cubs have been patient with Gissell and will remain so. After spending the last two years in Double-A, he'll move up to Triple-A in 2001.
Bruback was a projectable 6-foot-6 righthander when the Cubs drafted him in the 47th round in 1997, and it didn't take long for projection to start becoming reality. His fastball jumped to the low 90s and touched 95 the next spring, and he might have been a first-round pick if he hadn't signed as a draft-and-follow. He has moved slowly as a pro, returning to Lansing for a second stint in 2000 and struggling initially at Daytona. He did finish strong last year, with four quality starts in his last five regular season outings before he tossed six shutout innings to win the clincher in the Florida State League playoffs. Bruback still has good velocity and life on his fastball, though he has yet to come up with a second plus pitch. His command also needs work, and he often has trouble bouncing back if he gets hit hard early in a game. Chicago has several candidates for its Double-A rotation, so Bruback might get a few more high Class A starts at the outset of 2001.
Randolph is a product of Tampa's Hillsborough High, which also produced Carl Everett, Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield. Randolph's strong points were summed up in the final inning of the Southern League playoffs in 2000. He drew a walk, stole second base and used his speed to score on an infield error, giving West Tenn the championship. In terms of speed and center-field defense, he ranks right with Corey Patterson in the system. But Randolph comes up short in most other areas. He doesn't hit for much average or any power, makes infrequent contact and gets caught stealing more than he should with his wheels. Randolph has tons of athleticism and works hard, so the Cubs remain high on him. However, there's no way he'll be a big league corner infielder, and he's certainly not going to wrest center field away from Patterson.
Before the Cubs took Luis Montanez with their 2000 first-round pick, Smith had the best tools among the system's shortstops. After missing most of 1999 with hamstring problems, he looked like he was finally translating his athleticism into baseball aptitude last season. But after hitting .322-8-29 through May, he batted just .186-4-32 over the final three months. He has solid pop for a middle infielder, but Smith has woeful plate discipline. His baserunning instincts aren't as impressive as his speed, and he's inconsistent at shortstop. With Bobby Hill and Nate Frese set to form Chicago's Double-A double-play combination in 2001, Smith will have to move up to Triple-A. If he doesn't improve, they'll both pass him by.
If Jackson realizes his potential, he could emerge as a right fielder in the mold of fellow University of Richmond product Brian Jordan. The Cubs took Jackson with a draft pick they received as compensation from the Devil Rays for free agent Steve Trachsel, and he might not have been available that late had he been healthy in the spring. Jackson injured the middle finger on his right hand while playing in the Cape Cod League in 1999. It was repeatedly misdiagnosed as a sprain before doctors discovered that a ligament had pulled away from the bone. Jackson had surgery last February and missed 29 of the Spiders' 54 games. In his pro debut, he showed his athleticism by leading the Northwest League in triples and stealing 25 bases in 28 attempts. He'll need to tighten his strike zone, but he does have a quick bat and should develop some home run power. He's a 55 runner on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, and he has a solid average arm. Chicago is considering skipping Jackson a level and sending him to high Class A this year.