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The best thing that may happen to Pie was hurting his right ankle sliding into a base in June 2005. The resulting bone bruise kept him out for the rest of the season, and ended the Cubs' plans to promote him when they tired of Corey Patterson in July. Unsure whether Pie would be ready to jump to Chicago after missing most of 2005, they traded for Juan Pierre in the offseason. So instead of being rushed as Patterson was, Pie got a full year of development at Triple-A Iowa in 2006. He wasn't ready for the majors, hitting just .248 with seven homers in the first three months. He adjusted and batted .322 with eight homers in the final two months, reaffirming that he's by far the Cubs' best position prospect. Success has followed Pie throughout the minors, as he has appeared in two Futures Games and won championships with each of the first four clubs he played with. The best athlete in the system, Pie has tools reminiscent of Carlos Beltran's. He's a power-hitting center fielder with basestealing ability. His bat is so quick that he can make hard contact against any pitch he can reach, even out of the strike zone. Though he always has been one of the youngest regulars in his leagues, he consistently has hit for average. In the last two years, Pie has started to incorporate his legs more into his swing and to turn on more pitches, allowing him to realize more of his power potential. He has well above-average speed, making him dangerous on the bases and able to run down most balls in center field. His arm is strong enough for right field, and he led Triple-A Pacific Coast League outfielders with 18 assists last year. In addition to his physical skills, the Cubs also like his makeup. They like how he turned his season around last year, and they say it's no coincidence that his teams have won consistently. Pie still needs to refine his instincts in all phases of the game. He doesn't control the strike zone, resulting in few walks and too many outs on balls he shouldn't chase. Chicago had him bat at the top of the Triple-A lineup to have him work on his plate discipline, with only moderate success. For all his speed, Pie was caught stealing 11 times in 28 tries in 2006 and has succeeded on just 63 percent of his attempts as a pro. Though he's the system's best defensive outfielder, he'll occasionally take erratic routes. Though the Cubs seemingly filled their outfield by signing Alfonso Soriano to a $136 million contract, they'd prefer to trade Jacque Jones and play Soriano in right. That would leave center open for Pie, who would offer a lefty bat in a predominantly righthanded lineup. If Chicago can't deal Jones, more development in Triple-A wouldn't hurt, as Pie showed by hitting a soft .216 through 125 at-bats in the Dominican Winter League. He'll make his major league debut at age 22, though it may be a few years before he can become an offensive force.
After signing him for $530,000 as a second-rounder in 2005, the Cubs kept Veal on short pitch counts because he was worn out from a heavy workload at Pima (Ariz.) CC. When they turned him loose last year, he led minor league starters in opponent batting average (.175) and shared Chicago's minor league player of the year award with Rich Hill. Hitters can't square up the ball well against Veal because he has quality stuff and hides it with an unorthodox delivery. He has a 92-93 mph fastball that tops out at 95, and he likes to bust hitters inside with a four-seamer and then paint the outside corner with a two-seamer. His 74-79 mph curveball has tight rotation and is a strikeout pitch when it's on. His changeup is a solid third pitch. He has long arms and operates with a big leg kick and a high three-quarters slot, and his pitches get on top of hitters before they're ready. Veal's delivery is complicated, so command becomes an issue. He locates his fastball where he wants, but he won't be able to do the same with his secondary pitches until he starts using them more often. His inconsistent curveball can get loopy at times. He'll open 2007 at the Chicago's new Double-A Tennessee affiliate. Though the Cubs have signed free agents Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis, Veal has the electric arm to push his way into the big league rotation by the end of the year if he improves the consistency of his secondary pitches. He's a possible No. 2 starter in the future.
Colvin was the biggest surprise of the first round of the 2006 draft, going 13th overall after not receiving a lot of hype at Clemson. He led the Tigers to the College World Series, then signed for $1.475 million. He ranked as the short-season Northwest League's No. 1 prospect in his pro debut. There's more projection remaining for Colvin than with most college draftees because of his gangly frame and age; he didn't turn 21 until the end of the season. He's the best pure hitter in the system and should develop plus power as he gets stronger, as he has quick hands and drives the ball to all fields. The Cubs believe his solid-average speed could improve as he matures physically. He also plays fine defense, with the range for center field and the arm for right. Colvin tried to do too much at the start of his pro career, leading to an immediate 8-for-46 slump. He learned to just let the game come to him, and made a similar adjustment at the plate. Rather than trying to muscle up for power against righthanders, he has started to let the ball travel deeper and trust his hands. He'll need to tighten his strike zone and lay off high fastballs. While Colvin's upside, which draws comparisons to Steve Finley and Shawn Green, excites Chicago, he'll need time to develop. He could open his first full pro season at low Class A Peoria, though he should be able to handle high Class A Daytona.
Samardzija is the most accomplished wide receiver in Notre Dame history, owning school records for single-season and career catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He also has a big-time arm that would have made him a first-round pick in baseball if not for his football commitment. The Cubs didn't have second- through fourth-round picks in the 2006 draft, and they compensated by taking Samardzija in the fifth. They drew Major League Baseball's ire by signing him to a record $7.25 million bonus, though the payments are spread over five years and they'll be out just $250,000 in up-front money if he leaves for the NFL this spring. Samardzija usually pitches at 91-94 mph with his fastball, but he has touched 99 and Chicago thinks he'll operate in the mid-90s if he focuses on baseball and cleans up his mechanics. His low-80s slider is inconsistent, but it presently grades as average and has plus potential. He's a phenomenal athlete who proved coachable and able to make quick adjustments in his first summer of pro ball. The biggest concern is that Samardzija will bolt for the NFL, though his football draft stock seems to be dropping. Because football has been his priority, he's still raw in baseball. He'll open up early in his delivery and sling the ball, costing him deception and flattening his pitches. He rarely has used his changeup, a below-average pitch. Samardzija's dream would be to play both sports, though that's difficult to imagine. The NFL draft is in April, and he projects as a second-round pick. If he stays with baseball, he'd start the season at one of the Cubs' Class A stops. They think he'll move quickly if they hang onto him, with one club official comparing him to John Smoltz.
Gallagher was considered a tough sign if he didn't go in the first three rounds of the 2004 draft, but area scout Rolando Pino stayed on him and got a deal done in the 12th round. He won 14 games in low Class A as a teenager in 2005, then motored through two levels last year as his stuff improved. The biggest key to pitching is fastball command, and Gallagher can put his heater where he wants in the strike zone. It also surged from 88-90 mph in 2005 to 90-94 last year while retaining its boring life. His curveball remains his best pitch, and he has improved his changeup. He's built for durability and has the mindset that he should win every time he takes the mound. When he got to Double-A, Gallagher overthrew and lost the edge off his control and command. He sometimes leaves his pitches up when he doesn't finish his delivery. His changeup still needs fine-tuning. He'll have to watch the weight on his stocky frame, but he's athletic for his size and pays attention to his conditioning. Gallagher has developed faster than anticipated and has a ceiling of a No. 3 starter. He'll begin 2007 with a few starts in Double-A, but he'll move up to Triple-A by midseason and could make his big league debut in September.
His older brother Corey may have played his way out of Chicago, but Eric is firmly in the club's plans. An eighth-round pick who signed for fourth-round money ($300,000) in 2004, he won the low Class A Midwest League batting title in his first pro season and reached Triple-A in his second. He led the Arizona Fall League with 15 steals and batted .345. Manager rated him the best baserunner in the Southern League last year, as Patterson has plus speed and good instincts. He hits for a solid average and has surprising pop for his size. Scouts see him as a less explosive version of Delino DeShields. There are a lot of questions about whether Patterson can play second base in the major leagues. He has made improvements but still has a long way to go. He relies on his speed rather than reading balls off the bat, and he doesn't have great range to his right. His plate discipline is just fair and he sometimes gets caught up in trying to hitting homers, compromising his ability to get on base and use his speed. Though he'll remain at second base for now, Patterson spent some time in center field during instructional league and could become a super utilityman along the lines of Chone Figgins or Ryan Freel. The free-agent signing of Mark DeRosa will buy Patterson at least a half-season in Triple-A, but he's still the Cubs' second baseman of the future.
A change of scenery was apparently just what Moore needed. He struggled after the Tigers made him the eighth overall pick in the 2002 draft, but he has hit 44 homers in two seasons since coming to the Cubs in a February 2005 trade for Kyle Farnsworth. Moore's power grades as a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale and plays to all fields. After leading the high Class A Florida State League in errors the previous two years, he was much steadier in 2006 and managers rated him the best defensive third baseman in the Double-A Southern League. He has average speed and runs the bases well. Until he cuts down on his swing and his strikeouts, Moore won't hit for a high average. He's not as pull-crazy as he used to be, but he'll still chase breaking balls. Most of his errors still come on throws, though he has improved his accuracy and footwork. With Aramis Ramirez locked up for the next five years, Moore is blocked at third base with the Cubs. He saw time at first base, left field and even shortstop in the Arizona Fall League, and will move around the diamond this year in Triple-A. He has the ceiling of a lefthanded David Bell, but Moore ultimately will serve Chicago as a versatile reserve or as trade bait.
Four years after making Harvey the fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft, the Cubs still don't know what they have him. Few players in the minors can hit a ball as far or look as silly on a strikeout as he can. He hit just .203 with seven homers in his first 68 games last year, then .320 with 13 longballs in his last 54, including a four-homer outburst on July 28. With his natural strength and leverage, Harvey is a threat to go deep at any time in any park against any pitcher. A right fielder, he threw 90-93 mph off the mound in high school and has accuracy to go with his arm strength. A good athlete for his size, he runs well once he gets going. Harvey still uses the same one-plane swing he had in high school, and he could work harder to make changes. His approach also leaves a lot to be desired, as he chases too many pitches. Pitchers can bust him inside, and when he looks that way, he's easy prey for soft stuff on the outer half. Did Harvey figure things out in the second half of 2006, or did he just ride an extended hot streak? The Cubs don't know for sure, but they're anxious to see how he performs this year in Double-A.
Huseby had pitched for the U.S. youth national team and was establishing himself as an early-round prospect for the 2006 draft when he blew out his elbow as a high school junior in March 2005. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Auburn recruit pitched just a handful of innings last spring. But led by area scout Rolando Pino, the Cubs saw enough in his limited action and a workout to give him a $1.3 million bonus last June, a record for an 11th-rounder. Huseby has intimidating size and a chance for three plus pitches. He was throwing 90-95 mph 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery, and there's more projection remaining in his frame. He also has a power curveball and a promising changeup. He's athletic and has a sound delivery, so throwing strikes shouldn't be an issue. Because he has efficient mechanics and works hard at staying in shape, Chicago isn't worried about further arm problems. Like most pitchers coming back from elbow reconstruction, Huseby will need more time to build up his endurance and regain his feel for his secondary pitches. His changeup is promising but still in the developmental stages. The Cubs will do their best to take care of Huseby's valuable right arm. Rather than send him to the cold weather of the Midwest League in April, they'll probably keep him in extended spring training and ship him to Boise in June.
Pawelek surpassed Bruce Hurst as the highest-drafted Utah high schooler ever, going 20th overall in 2005 and signing for $1.75 million. Rated the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Arizona League in his pro debut, he showed up at his first spring training unprepared mentally or physically. The Cubs sent him a wakeup call by scrapping a planned assignment to low Class A and keeping him in extended spring training. Pawelek has a chance for three solid-average pitches. He pitched at 88-92 mph and touched 95 with his fastball during the summer. Chicago had him scrap his slider and splitter to concentrate on his curveball and changeup, and his secondary pitches are improving. A year ago, scouts thought Pawelek had a chance for three plus pitches. Even when he got into shape, he didn't show his previous arm speed and didn't work at 92-95 mph like he had in 2005. He has an awkward delivery that's long in back and leaves him slinging his pitches. If he can't clean that up, shoulder problems could be in his future. The Cubs believe Pawelek learned his lesson and expect him to be in better throwing shape when he arrives in 2007. Ticketed for low Class A, he still has promise even if his ceiling has diminished.
Chicago almost lost Mateo when St. Louis took Mateo in the major league Rule 5 draft at the 2005 Winter Meetings. But he showed up in Cardinals camp out of shape last spring, and the Cubs gladly took him back for half the $50,000 draft price after he cleared waivers. It didn't take long for him to get into condition, as he pitched well in Double-A and spent the last two months of the season in Chicago's rotation. Managers rated Mateo's fastball the best in the Southern League last summer. It has good velocity at 90-95 mph, and it's also notable for its life and his command of the pitch. He also throws a slider and a changeup, but they're just borderline average at their best right now. He always has done a good job of throwing strikes and he showed little fear in his stint in the majors. Because he doesn't have a deep repertoire, he may well wind up back in the bullpen, where he spent most of his first four years in pro ball. After signing Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis, the Cubs believe they've filled the holes that riddled their rotation in 2006, so Mateo probably will serve in long relief if he makes the big league club.
Dopirak is one of several Cubs who attended Dunedin (Fla.) High, along with general manager Jim Hendry, scouting director Tim Wilken and fellow slugger Ryan Harvey. Dopirak was the Paul Bunyan of the Midwest League in 2004, winning the MVP award and the home run crown, and he ranked No. 1 on this list. But nothing has gone right for him since. He got off to a slow start in high Class A the following season, panicked trying to get out of his slump and messed up his swing. He seemed to be putting the pieces back together last spring when he hit .355 in big league camp, but disaster struck on Opening Day. Dopirak broke the metatarsal bone in his left foot while running the bases, requiring surgery that sidelined him for two months. When he returned in June he never got his timing back, and he hit just one homer in 52 games before he needed another operation to correct further problems with his foot. When he's going well, Dopirak generates tremendous power with a short stroke. When he's not hitting home runs, he brings little else to the table. He doesn't control the strike zone and sells out for power, so he doesn't hit for average. He's a well below-average runner and a subpar defender at first base, though he works at his defense. Chicago hopes he can regain his confidence and his 2004 form when he returns to Double-A this year.
Ryu rode a roller coaster to the majors, finally arriving in Chicago last May. He signed for $1.6 million out of Korea in 2001 and made national headlines two years later when he killed an osprey by knocking it off its perch at Daytona's Jackie Robinson Ballpark with a thrown baseball. He came down with elbow tendinitis in 2004, limiting him to 30 innings. Ryu has lost velocity since, dropping from 92-93 mph to 88-89, but has found success by mixing four pitches. His best offering is his changeup, and he also throws a slider and curveball. Ryu stands out more for his command than his pure stuff. He was so conscious of not issuing walks when he got to the big leagues that he went too far in the other direction, laying the ball over the plate. Not surprisingly, he got hammered, and the Cubs hope he learned that he has to change speeds and live on the corners of the plate. He doesn't have the same ceiling he once did, but he still could become a back-of-the-rotation starter. As with Juan Mateo, Ryu probably is looking at a middle-relief role if he makes the Chicago staff this season.
Like his older brother Jeremy, who has struggled in the majors with the Mariners, Reed hasn't hit as expected the last two years. When the Cubs took him in the second round in 2004, they thought he'd be an offense-first catcher, and they still think he can. Reed has a short, smooth lefthanded swing that should allow him to be productive, and he hit .312 in the first three months of last season. But he faded horribly, batting .167 with no home runs the rest of the way because he wore down physically and his approach deteriorated. He lacks discipline and tries to hit homers, lengthening his stroke and swinging through pitches. Reed is more athletic and runs better than most catchers. He has encouraged Chicago with his progress behind the plate. He has fringy arm strength but makes accurate throws, which helped him nail 42 percent of basestealers in 2006. His receiving skills are good enough and he moves well behind the plate. The Cubs continue to compare his total package to that of Greg Zaun. Reed will have to get stronger and get his bat going to fit that profile, and that will be his main task this year in high Class A.
The Cubs surrendered their second- through fourth-round picks in the 2006 draft as free agent compensation, but they made up for it by spending heavily on Jeff Samardzija, Chris Huseby and Rundle. Chicago took Rundle in the 14th round after he scared off clubs with his commitment to Arizona, then signed him for $500,000, the equivalent of late second-round money. He struck out in 24 of his first 47 pro at-bats before making adjustments and finishing his debut on a positive note. Rundle entered the spring as a possible first-round pick, but his stock dropped after he spread out his stance. He was trying to improve his plate coverage but succeeded only in diminishing his power, as he wasn't strong enough to make his new swing work. After his brutal start in Rookie ball, the Cubs got him to close his stance and shorten his swing. They think he's a younger and slightly less athletic version of their 2006 first-round pick, Tyler Colvin. The ball carries well of Rundle's bat, though he still needs to improve his plate discipline. He has average speed and arm strength, making him fit best in right field. He'll move up to Boise in 2007.
Cherry has been healthy for just 3 1/2 months over the last two seasons, but the Cubs protected him on their 40-man roster this offseason because they were certain they'd lose him in the major league Rule 5 draft if they didn't. He made just three starts in 2005 before needing surgery to reconstruct his elbow, which had bothered him since his college days at Oklahoma. He developed a bone spur in the middle finger of his pitching hand early last season, and pitched through it until it dislodged in mid-July, requiring a minor operation. Chicago had moved him to the bullpen to ease his return from Tommy John surgery, and Cherry was lights out for much of 2006. He threw a heavy 92-93 mph sinker that topped out at 95, and he backed it up with a plus slider that rates as the best in the system. He also owns a usable changeup that he didn't need much while working in relief. Cherry has good control, so all he needs to do in Triple-A is make his slider a little more consistent. Then he'll be ready to help the Cubs.
Soto got the chance to make an impression early in the Cactus League season. With the Cubs' two big league catcher, Michael Barrett and Henry Blanco, off at the World Baseball Classic, Soto got into the lineup and hit .333. When the regular season started, he returned to Triple-A and replicated his 2005 performance there. Despite lacking a standout tool, he might be the most well-rounded of the system's catching prospects. He has enough bathandling ability and strength to project as a .260 hitter with double-digit homers if he played regularly in the majors. He shows patience at the plate and draws his share of walks. He's a below-average runner but agile for a catcher. Soto's arm is his best tool, though he threw out just 29 percent of basestealers in Triple-A last year. He's a solid receiver and blocks balls well. Soto profiles more as a backup than as a regular, but he doesn't have much of an opportunity in Chicago after Blanco re-signed for two years and $5.25 million in that role. Soto looks destined for a third straight season in Iowa.
Petrick was one of the Cubs' top pitching prospects until he hurt his shoulder in May 2005. Doctors discovered a small tear in his labrum, which was repaired with arthroscopic surgery. Sidelined for a year, he returned to the mound in the second half of 2006 and showed that he still had his trademark 91-92 mph heavy sinker. The pitch is so difficult to lift that he has given up just 10 homers in 332 pro innings. The key for Petrick will be developing his secondary pitches. He threw a curveball early in his pro career before scrapping it in favor of a slider. He's still working on throwing his changeup with the same arm speed as his fastball. Petrick's strike-throwing ability hasn't diminished. Nor has his aggressive mentality that's fitting for a once-promising football prospect who could have gone to Washington State as a long snapper. He'll open 2007 with his third stint in high Class A, and the Cubs would love to see him complete his first full season since 2004.
Johnston starred as a high schooler in Arizona, leading Chandler's Hamilton High to state 5-A titles in 2003 and 2004 and a runner-up finish in 2005. Less than a year later, the Cubs gave him an at-bat in big league camp, and he responded with a long homer off future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman. Johnston is still raw and years removed from being ready for the majors, but his bomb hinted at his upside. He has a quick bat and above-average potential. Chicago widened his setup and raised his hands in his stance when he immediately struggled in this 2005 pro debut, and he has further adjustments to make. He strikes out too much and will have to tone down his approach. He needs a lot of minor league at-bats, and he lost valuable development time when he severely sprained his ankle sliding into a base last July. He also had problems with a bone bruise in the webbing of his thumb after the Cubs tried to get him to grip the bat more toward his fingertips. Johnston has average speed and range. His strong arm and quick release allow him to make plays at shortstop, though he could outgrow the position as he fills out. Chicago thought enough of him to send him to low Class A as a 19-year-old, and he'll return there in 2007.
Big-money signees Tyler Colvin, Jeff Samardzija and Chris Huseby attracted most of the attention given to the Cubs' 2006 draft crop, but the team is also enthused about Lansford, a relative bargain at $155,000 in the sixth round. He comes from a baseball family, as his father Carney won an American League batting title, his uncles Jody and Phil were both first-round picks and his brother Jared went in the second round to the Athletics in 2005. At Cal Poly, Lansford was inconsistent offensively in 2005 and defensively in 2006, dropping his draft stock a bit. He has a quick bat and good power, though he gets too pull-happy and flies open too early in his swing at times. His stroke is long but he makes reasonable contact. Lansford is a potential Gold Glove defender. He has plus-plus arm strength, and he unloads the ball quickly and accurately. He has tremendous agility for his size and good range to his right. His speed is slightly below average, yet he's not a liability on the bases. He hyperextended his left elbow on a swing in August but he was able to return before the end of the season. Lansford will advance to low Class A in 2007 and should be a candidate for a midseason promotion.
Baez has an intriguing toolset for a middle infielder, though he didn't get to show it off much last season before going down with a shoulder injury that required surgery. After being an easy out in his pro debut in the Arizona League in 2005, he made much more consistent line-drive contact against more advanced Northwest League pitchers last summer. His 6-foot-3 frame still lacks strength, and he could develop solid power once he matures physically. If he provides any offense, Baez will be a big leaguer because the rest of his tools are above-average. He has plus-plus speed, though he's still figuring out how to steal bases. Defensively, his hands, range and arm are all plusses, and he should be able to stay at shortstop even after he fills out. Baez didn't sign until after he turned 20, an unusually late start for a Dominican player. As a result, the Cubs will advance him as quickly as he can cope with, which likely means an assignment to low Class A in 2007.
Just getting rid of Neifi Perez last August would have helped the Cubs, because his inability to get on base harmed their offense for two years. But they also received Robinson, who adds to their stable of decent if not overwhelming catching prospects. A third-round pick in 2005 after leading Illinois to the Big Ten Conference regular-season title, he signed for $422,000. Robinson has a line-drive approach and gap power, and he may produce just enough offense to cut it as a regular in the big leagues. He won't drive many balls out of the park, so he'd be better off focusing on getting on base by showing more patience. He does a good job behind the plate, with plus arm strength (belied by his 26 percent success rate throwing out basestealers last year) and average receiving skills. A strong leader, he runs a pitching staff well. Like most catchers, he's a below-average runner. Robinson is ready for Double-A but may have to share time behind the plate in Tennessee with Jake Fox expected to return to that level.
Holliman faced a tough decision to sign in 2005 and spent most of the summer making up his mind. Mississippi had fallen one game short of the College World Series, while he came up one strikeout shy of the school's career record held by former big leaguer Jeff Calhoun. He agreed to a $385,000 bonus that August but didn't make his pro debut until 2006. The Cubs had a number of young arms for their low Class A rotation and they knew Holliman was mentally tough, so they sent him to high Class A to begin his career. He competed well with average stuff. After showing a 90-92 mph fastball in college, he worked more at 88-91 last season. He uses both a curveball and a slider, and his curve shows signs of becoming a plus pitch. He also has a changeup that helped him deal with lefties (.237 average, .329 slugging) more effectively than righties (.244 average, .390 slugging) in 2006. Holliman isn't tall but does a good job of keeping his pitches down in the zone. Headed for Double-A, he profiles as a back-of-the rotation starter.
Trying to address a shortage in their system, the Cubs drafted nine catchers in 2003, starting with Fox in the third round. He's easily the best hitter among their current catching prospects, but also the weakest defender. Fox generates power with a short stroke. He hit a career-high 21 homers in 2006, and scouts credited him with doing a better job of using the whole field. However, he did most of his damage while repeating high Class A and wasn't nearly as dangerous after a promotion to Double-A, where his plate discipline deteriorated. Fox has to hit, because he's adequate at best behind the plate. He has some arm strength, but his footwork and transfer from mitt to hand don't work well. He threw out 30 percent of basestealers last year. He has more problems as a receiver, much of which can be attributed to a lack of concentration. He tied for the Southern League lead with 14 passed balls in just 43 games as a catcher. His game-calling skills also leave something to be desired. He works on his defense but doesn't have much to show for his efforts. He's a below-average runner but not a baseclogger like many catchers are. Both he and Chris Robinson will be stationed in Double-A this year, so Fox may also see time in the outfield and on the infield corners. The best-case scenario is that he becomes Chris Hoiles.
In an attempt to beef up their system, the Cubs not only spent heavily on the draft but also made a large investment on the international front in 2006. They landed Suarez, the top pitcher available in Venezuela last summer, for $850,000. He first attracted attention when he touched 91 mph as a 15-year-old, and now he consistently throws his fastball at 88-92 mph. He already shows good command of his fastball and an effective changeup. He doesn't have much of a breaking ball at this point. Because he has a big build and is from Venezuela, he's compared to Carlos Zambrano, though he lacks Zambrano's athleticism. Suarez' weight already is getting away from him a little bit, and he'll have to monitor it carefully. Chicago worked on improving his conditioning during instructional league, but those efforts were hampered when he came down with a minor back strain. He'll likely make his pro debut in the Arizona League in June.
Roquet began his college career as an outfielder at Florida State, redshirting as a freshman when he became a full-time pitcher in his second semester. He later transferred to Santa Ana (Calif.) JC, Northeast Texas CC and finally Cal Poly, from where he signed as a fifth-year senior free agent before the 2006 draft. Roquet has two plus pitches, a fastball that runs from 91-97 mph and a hard slider. He has a strong frame that bodes well for his durability, as does his ability to throw strikes and keep his pitch counts down. Used primarily as a reliever in college, he doesn't have much experience with a changeup. Roquet gets hit when he opens up too soon his delivery, allowing hitters a better look at the ball and reducing the quality of his stuff. The Cubs moved him to the hitter's side of the rubber and were pleased with the early results. He lost three weeks in his pro debut when he stepped on a baseball while running and twisted his ankle. Roquet will be 24 this season, so Chicago will want to accelerate his development. He could open his first full season in high Class A.
Fuld starred for four seasons at Stanford, setting the College World Series record for career hits (24) and graduating with an economics degree. The Cubs drafted him in the 24th round in 2003 and again in the 10th round the following year, when they landed him for $25,000 as a senior sign. He partially tore the rotator cuff and labrum in his throwing shoulder in one of his final games for the Cardinal, so Fuld didn't make his pro debut until 2005. He reinjured his shoulder again that year, jamming it on a headfirst slide. A bulging disc in his back cost him two weeks in the middle of 2006, and his season ended with a hip injury in late July. To top it off, he had surgery to repair a sports hernia in November. When healthy, Fuld has put up consistent numbers in two years in Class A. He has the best strike-zone discipline in the system, which led to a 17-game hitting streak and a 33-game on-base streak in 2006. He doesn't have much pop, but he stings line drives all over the field. He's has slightly above-average speed and basestealing savvy, succeeding on 22 of 25 attempts last year. He gets good breaks and plays a solid center field, though his arm is below average. Fuld could crack the major league as a platoon or reserve outfielder, but he'll have to stay healthy to do so. He's ready for Double-A this year.
A fifth-round pick out of a Virginia high school in 2005, Taylor began his first full pro season in extended spring training but was summoned to the Peoria rotation in late April. When he gave up just five earned runs over his first four starts, he claimed a starting job on a full-time basis. He earned Peoria's lone playoff victory with seven shutout innings. Though he's 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, he's more about control than power. Taylor throws strikes better than anyone in the system and needed just 99 pitches to throw a nine-inning complete game in August. He can be around the zone too much, however, surrendering too many hits after getting ahead in the count. His best pitch is a 91-93 mph fastball with boring action. Taylor needs to improve the rest of his repertoire, which includes a curveball, slider and changeup, in order to do a better job of putting hitters away. He'll have to watch his thick frame, though he's a better athlete than he looks. He'll move up to high Class A this year.
Atkins is similar to Scott Taylor, his teammate at Peoria last season. Both are stocky righthanders signed out of high school who have live sinkers and are working on the rest of their game. In his first taste of full-season ball, Atkins led Cubs farmhands in victories and ranked second to Donald Veal in ERA in 2006. He also finished strong, going 7-2, 2.08 over his final 10 regular-season starts before losing a 2-0 heartbreaker in the playoffs. Atkins goes after hitters with a 91-92 mph fastball. His three-quarters delivery gives him sink on his heater but makes it hard for him to stay on top of his slurvy breaking ball. He shows feel for a changeup, though it's not consistently reliable at this point. Because Atkins lacks a second solid pitch and plus command, he may wind up in the bullpen down the road. He'll pitch alongside Taylor again in 2007, this time in the Daytona rotation.
Fontenot was considered a better prospect than double-play partner Ryan Theriot when they were helping Louisiana State win the 2000 College World Series. While Theriot carved out a big league role for himself in 2006, Fontenot has become more of an afterthought. He has offensive ability that shouldn't be ignored, however. He hits for average, draws walks and has occasional power. Fontenot doesn't stand out athletically, and that's what hurts him. He's an average runner but isn't a basestealing threat and has just adequate range. Defensively, he's limited to second base because of his below-average arm. The Cubs tried to make him a utilityman in 2005, but it didn't take. If he got a chance in the majors, Fontenot could be a lesser version of another former LSU second baseman, Todd Walker, providing less pop but better defense. However, that opportunity probably won't come with the Cubs, who left him exposed to the Rule 5 draft but kept him when he wasn't selected.
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