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Vitters cemented his status as a first-rounder in the summer before his senior year. After failing to make the U.S. junior national 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 Pirates (fourth) coveted him, but the Royals seemed set on taking him at No. 2 the night before the draft. Then Kansas City took California prep infielder Mike Moustakas, 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. You can debate 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 is 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 drive him to put in 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. 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. Once he fills out, he'll be a below-average runner, though he shouldn't be a liability on the bases. 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 in 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.
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. He led the minors in batting average by a catcher (.353) and overall slugging percentage (.652), and won the Triple-A Pacific Coast League MVP award. Chicago's minor league player of the year, he upped his production after a September callup. The key for Soto was losing 30 pounds after spring training started, allowing him to maintain his bat speed 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. Now that he has seen what it can do for him, Soto must remain in top shape. He's a below-average runner, but not bad for a catcher. 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 ago.
Colvin was the surprise of the first round in the 2006 draft, going 13th overall and signing 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 in his first full season. Colvin missed time in August with a minor shoulder injury that also limited him with Team USA at the World Cup. The best athlete in the system, he 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. Colvin drew just 15 walks in 125 games, and more advanced pitchers will exploit his anxiousness. He 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. If Felix Pie doesn't take over center field in 2008, Colvin could get a crack at it after a year at Triple-A Iowa. At-bats to hone his approach and pitch recognition are all he needs.
Cubs special assistant Steve Hinton spotted Ceda in 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 as a reliever in mid-July and didn't allow a hit, striking out 42 in 23 innings in that role. 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 could be a 65 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. Ceda is still figuring out his mechanics, so his control and command are erratic. He carried 280 pounds when he arrived in the trade, and he needs to keep the extra weight off so that he can 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. Chicago may jump Ceda to Double-A Tennessee so he can face better hitters. He has big league stuff and will head to Wrigley Field once he figures out how to locate his pitches better.
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 and making his major league debut in June at age 21. Gallagher has added fastball velocity since signing, reaching 90-94 mph last season, and he can spot it wherever he wants. It has surpassed his 11-to-5 curveball as his best pitch. His changeup is an effective third pitch and he mixes his offerings well. 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, though dropping 10 pounds in the Arizona Fall League is a good sign. Gallagher will compete for a spot as a No. 5 starter or long reliever. Spending most of 2008 at Triple-A wouldn't be a setback, however. He has the makings of a No. 3 starter along the lines of Jon Lieber.
After Veal led minor league starters with a .175 opponent average in 2006, he had trouble getting untracked last season. He went 0-4, 10.57 in his first four starts and battled his control throughout the year, leading the Double-A Southern League with 73 walks. 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 works both corners with it. His curveball shows flashes of being a plus pitch, while his changeup is solid at times. Veal has a tough time maintaining his delivery, which includes a big leg kick, and his arm slot. When he falls behind, he'll short-arm the ball and try to aim it. He has trouble staying on top of his curveball, and some scouts wonder if he might need to go to a splitter. He has a ceiling as a No. 2 starter, but Veal could wind up as a reliever in the mold of Arthur Rhodes. The Cubs sent him to instructional league so he could build up confidence, and they'll probably send him back to Double-A to start 2008.
A former 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. Donaldson provides more offense and athleticism than most catchers. He's aggressive and looks to pull pitches for power early in counts, but can shorten his stroke and use the opposite field. He controls the strike zone and projects as a .280 hitter with 15-20 homers a season. He has slightly above-average arm strength and threw out 38 percent of basestealers in his pro debut. His speed is average. His inexperience shows behind the plate, though the Cubs believe he'll become a solid defender. He had 11 passed balls in 45 games and sometimes hurried his release and undermined his arm strength. Chicago has built up its catching depth, so it may take things slow with Donaldson and let him concentrate on his work behind the plate. He'll probably open 2008 in low Class A.
Samardzija set every significant receiving record at Notre Dame, and the Cubs, who 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 give up football. In his first outing in big league camp, he retired Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis and Travis Buck on eight pitches and broke two bats. It's easy to dream on Samardzija, who has size, athleticism, makeup and a nasty fastball. His heater has a rare combination of velocity (low to mid-90s, touching 98 mph) and sink. His slider could also be a plus-plus pitch, though it's inconsistent. He stayed healthy, maintained his velocity and threw strikes in 2007 despite pitching far more than ever before. For a guy with Samardzija's stuff, his statistics don't add up, including a .306 opponent average and 4.1 strikeouts per nine innings last season. His slider and changeup need a lot of polish. Samardizja is 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.
Thomas hit just .265 in 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 were elated to grab him in the third round for $360,000. The consensus in the organization is that Thomas has more pure batting ability than Josh Vitters. He employs a level swing to make consistent line-drive contact to all fields. He's strong for his size and doesn't have to cheat to catch up to fastballs, which allows him to stay back on offspeed stuff. He has average speed and outstanding instincts. 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. 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. 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.
The biggest surprise in the system last season, Hart hadn't pitched above high Class A when the Cubs acquired him for Freddie Bynum in December 2006. But he responded to Tennessee pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn and finished the year on the playoff roster. 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 and throws strikes. A quality cutter should allow a righthander to hold lefty hitters at bay, but they batted .316/.383/.453 against Hart in the minors. He has a curveball, but it's nothing more than a show-me pitch. 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.
Petrick was developing nicely as one of the Cubs' top starting pitching prospects before going down with a small tear in his labrum in May 2005. Following arthroscopic surgery, he returned to the mound in the second half of 2006 and took off after moving to the bullpen last season. He started 2007 in high Class A and advanced to the majors by June. Petrick's best pitch when he was coming up as a starter was a heavy 91-92 mph sinker, but he showed a mid-90s four-seam fastball that touched 97-98 in multiple big league outings. His slider also played up, reaching as high as 86-87 mph while he was with the Cubs. In the minors, he worked mostly with a 91-94 mph heater and a low-80s slider. A former Washington State football recruit as a long snapper, he always has exhibited an aggressive demeanor that served him well as a reliever. Petrick went more with his four-seamer last year, trading velocity for movement. That decision left him more vulnerable to homers, as he gave up nine in 65 innings after surrendering just 10 in 332 frames in his previous five seasons. He fell behind too many hitters during his two big league stints, but throwing strikes wasn't an in issue in the minors, so it was more a matter of rookie jitters than anything. Chicago brought him back slowly, never using him on consecutive days all season, though he still ran out of gas toward the end. He permitted 11 runs in his final seven innings and made just four Triple-A appearances in August. Petrick should be ready for a full workload in 2008, and he'll be back with the Cubs once he shows some consistency at Triple-A.
Patterson entered 2007 as the Cubs' second baseman of the future but now looks more like a utilityman. Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot shared Chicago's second-base job during the season, and though Patterson earned Pacific Coast League all-star recognition, the Cubs looked outside for additional options during the offseason. He got his first taste of the big leagues in August, and when he returned for a September callup, he lasted just two days before arriving late at the ballpark. Because he did the same thing at Iowa, the Cubs made a point to him by demoting him to Double-A. Patterson's tools are similar to but not as good as those of his older brother Corey. Eric's best tool is his plus speed and he has surprising pop for his size, though sometimes it is too much for his own good. While he'd be better off focusing on getting on base, he can get caught up in trying to hit for power. Despite his athleticism, Patterson never has gotten the hang of playing second base. He doesn't read balls well off the bat or range well to his right. He began seeing time in left and center field in May and played there exclusively in August. He has solid center-field range but a below-average arm for the outfield. He doesn't have the arm to play shortstop, third base or right field, so he's somewhat limited as a utilityman. Patterson figures to return to Triple-A at the outset of 2008, and he could be most useful to Chicago as a trade chip.
The 35th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Burke never got untracked in the Padres system after signing for $950,000. He batted just .210 with two homers in 107 games, and San Diego soured on him enough that it included him in a June trade for the embattled Michael Barrett. Burke got off to a less than auspicious start with the Cubs, going 0-for-22 at short-season Boise before recovering to hit .282/.361/.495 for the remainder of the summer. The key to his resurgence was getting more aggressive at the plate. Burke has a sound knowledge of the strike zone and good patience, but he would get too passive at times, taking strikes down the middle and then chasing offspeed pitches once he fell behind in the count. Athletic and strong, he should develop at least 20-homer power, though he needs to make contact and use the whole field more often. Burke has slightly below-average speed but is better once he gets underway. He's a solid right fielder with the best arm strength among the system's outfielders. He built on his progress in Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he hit .333 but also struck out 37 times in 87 at-bats. He's ready to give the low Class A Midwest League another shot in 2008, this time at Peoria.
Huseby landed the most stunning bonus in the 2006 draft, signing for an 11th-round-record $1.3 million after barely pitching as a high school senior. He had pitched for Team USA's youth team and was laying the groundwork for being an early-round pick before he needed Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2005. Though he didn't pitch much between then and the draft, the Cubs monitored him closely and saw enough in a workout to make a seven-figure investment. Though Huseby pitched at 86-90 mph for much of 2007, Chicago doesn't regret that decision. He's still ultra projectable at 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds. He throws his hard-breaking curveball at 78-80 mph, an indication that he has plenty of arm speed and that more fastball velocity should be in his future. His delivery is sound and he uses his big frame to pitch downhill. Because he barely pitched in 2005 and 2006, Huseby is less experienced than most 20-year-olds and still has much improvement to make with his changeup, control and command. He spent most of the summer shooting for strikeouts--and falling behind in counts--but did a better job of pitching to contact during instructional league. The Cubs believe he could be poised for a breakout this year in low Class A.
After an aborted U.S. debut in 2006, during which he played in just three games before missing two months with a high ankle sprain, Castillo established himself as the best defensive catcher in the Midwest League as well as the Cubs system last season. A short, stocky catcher in the mold of Yadier Molina, Castillo has quick feet and a strong arm. He threw out 37 percent of basestealers in 2007 and also improved as a receiver, though he needs to be more consistent. He led MWL backstops with 15 errors and also committed 13 passed balls. He has the defensive package to be at least a big league backup, and Castillo's bat will determine if he eventually becomes a regular. He has some strength in his swing, though his approach and plate discipline are still works in progress. He's still figuring out how to hit breaking balls, which is why righties limited him to a .249 average and .690 OPS last year (compared to .323 with a .911 OPS against lefties). He's a below-average runner, no surprise for a catcher. Castillo will advance to high Class A this year and is at least two years away from being ready for the majors.
The Cubs invested heavily in Koreans Hee-Seop Choi ($1.2 million in 1999) and Jae-Kuk Ryu ($1.6 million in 2001), neither of whom did much in the majors, though they did trade Choi for Derrek Lee. Chicago's latest Korean bonus baby is Rhee, who signed for $525,000 last July. He didn't pitch in any games during the summer but he did open eyes with his performance in instructional league. Rhee's fastball ranged from 90-94 mph, and his best pitch was a changeup that dives at the plate like a splitter. He also showed a hard curveball and exceptional control and feel for an 18-year-old. Rhee still has room to easily add strength, as he carries just 190 pounds on his broad-shouldered, 6-foot-2 frame. He has a balanced delivery, which bodes well for his future health. As intriguing as Rhee is, he still has yet to prove anything in pro ball. He'll get his first chance to do that in 2008, either in the Rookie-level Arizona League or at Boise.
Carlos Zambrano has taken his Venezuelan countryman Hernandez under his wing and already has started touting him to the Cubs' press corps. Hernandez is still a few years away from joining his booster at Wrigley Field, but he's further along then most players his age. He began 2007 in extended spring training before being summoned to Peoria in May, and he stayed there for the remainder of the season. The Midwest League's youngest regular starting pitcher at 18, Hernandez showed the potential for two plus pitches with his 88-92 mph fastball and his advanced changeup. Extremely young and skinny, he has plenty of time and room to add strength and velocity. He wasn't intimidated by older hitters and had no difficulties throwing strikes. Besides maturing physically, Hernandez' biggest need is to come up with a breaking ball. He has messed around with both a curveball and a slider, but both remain below average for now. After handling low Class A with surprising ease, Hernandez faces another challenge in 2008 as a 19-year-old in high Class A.
Eric Patterson's loss was Fuld's gain. When Patterson arrived late to the ballpark on the third day of his September callup, Chicago demoted him to Double-A and brought up Fuld. Though he went hitless in six big league at-bats, he scored the winning run in one game against the Reds and made a spectacular catch up against the ivy against the Pirates. He already was an organization favorite for his energy and effort, and Fuld helped his cause further. He graduated from Stanford with an economics degree and still holds the College World Series record with 24 career hits. He has the best strike-zone judgment in the system, drawing more than his share of walks and making consistent line-drive contact. He doesn't have much power and his speed is just a tick above average, though his tremendous instincts allow him to steal a few bases and play a quality center field. Fuld's arm rates as below average, but his savvy and quick release helped him lead the Southern League with 13 outfield assists in just 87 games last year. He plays so hard that it's difficult for him to hold up over a full season. He jammed his shoulder on a headfirst slide during his 2005 pro debut, then battled back and hip problems before having offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia in 2006. He missed the first two weeks of last season after tweaking an oblique muscle in spring training. Fuld has boosted his profile from quality organization player to a big league reserve outfielder, and some scouts who saw him in the Arizona Fall League thought he could be more than that. He batted .402 and led the AFL in hits (43), doubles (11), extra-base hits (16), total bases (67), on-base percentage (.492) and slugging percentage (.626). He also won the league's Dernell Stenson Award for leadership. He could push Felix Pie for the Cubs' center-field job in spring training, but Fuld is more likely to stick in the majors as a backup or head to Triple-A.
Fox generates split opinions both inside and outside of the organization. Those who like him point to his righthanded power and believe he could be a regular at first base or left field. Those who don't think he sells out for homers, an approach that won't work in the major leagues, and question whether he'll ever be effective against breaking pitches. One thing both sides do agree on is that Fox won't make it as a catcher, his full-time position before 2007. Fox undermined decent arm strength with subpar footwork and a slow transfer, and his receiving skills were even shakier. While he's a good athlete for a catcher, he has below-average speed, range, hands and arm strength, which makes it a stretch that he can play an outfield corner on a regular basis. Fox' background as an offensive-minded catcher who had to move from behind the plate is similar to Ryan Garko's. He's a better defender at first base and has as much power as Garko, but Fox isn't as polished a hitter. He can hit fastballs early in the count, but he doesn't have much patience and is susceptible to offspeed pitches. Though the Cubs will give Fox a look in spring training, he'll probably open the year in Triple-A.
Since he signed for $850,000 as the top Venezuelan amateur in the summer of 2006, Suarez has drawn comparisons to Carlos Zambrano. They're not only from the same nation, but they also have similar builds and strong arms. Suarez first drew notice when he flashed a 91-mph fastball as a 15-year-old, and he worked regularly at 88-92 at age 16. The Cubs admit that Suarez was better prepared to face Rookie-level Dominican Summer League hitters in his pro debut last year, but they brought him to the Arizona League to speed up his learning of English and his adjusting to the United States. He displayed an 89-91 mph fastball early in the summer before running out of gas and pitching with more effort in his delivery in August. He also elevated his heater too often. Suarez did make some progress tightening his curveball and gaining more command of the pitch. His changeup can become a solid third offering if he can consistently throw it with the same arm speed he uses with his fastball. He already carries a lot of weight and must guard against his body getting away from him, though Chicago is encouraged by his work ethic. After rushing Suarez a bit in 2007, the Cubs will keep him in extended spring training to start this season before shipping him to Boise in June.
Rolando Pino has a knack for finding quality late-round arms as a Florida area scout. Pino signed Sean Gallagher as a 12th-rounder in 2004 and Chris Huseby as an 11th-rounder in 2006. His latest coup is Acosta, a 12th-rounder in June who signed for $225,000. The son of former Cubs pitching coach Oscar Acosta, who died in an April 2006 auto accident while working for the Yankees in the Dominican Republic, Ryan pitched in a high school game the night his father was killed, and continues to display maturity and mound presence beyond his years. He was mostly a shortstop until his senior year, and the Cubs think he'll develop rapidly now that he's focusing on pitching. Acosta's fastball sits at 88-90 mph and touches 93, and he should develop plus velocity once his skinny frame fills out. He's more about pitchability than pure stuff, though his stuff is fine. He can backdoor his fastball for strikes, and he shows good command of his curveball, slider and changeup, all of which could be at least average pitches. Acosta also plays around with a splitter, and Chicago probably will have him concentrate on working with just three pitches in 2008. He'll probably eschew his slider in favor of his curve. He repeats his delivery well in part because he's more athletic than most pitchers. He qualified for the Florida state 100-meter finals but had to bow out because of a baseball playoff conflict, and he also played point guard on his high school basketball team. Acosta is so advanced that the Cubs will have no qualms about sending him to low Class A as a 19-year-old.
Russell turned down the Mariners as a 37th-round pick out of high school and again as a 17th-rounder after his first season at Navarro (Texas) JC, and there was no guarantee he'd sign with the Cubs as a 14throunder. But he saw his velocity increase over the summer, and Chicago anted up $350,000 to get him to turn pro. During the spring at Texas, Russell stood out with his changeup but his other two pitches, an 84-88 mph fastball and a marginal breaking ball, didn't excite scouts. After the Longhorns' season ended, Russell worked with independent pitching coach Tom House to shape up his curveball before heading to the Texas Collegiate League. In the TCL, his fastball jumped to 88-92 mph and his curve was more usable. Russell's changeup is the best in the system and helps his other pitches play up. He throws strikes on a good downhill plane, and he has the know-how befitting the son of a former big leaguer, all-star closer Jeff Russell. James should team up with the other pitching sleeper of the Cubs' 2007 draft, Ryan Acosta, in low Class A this year.
The first Italian pitcher ever signed by a major league organization, Maestri has pitched for his nation at the World Baseball Classic (where he gave up a homer to Moises Alou) and most recently at the World Cup in Taiwan in November. The Cubs first noticed Maestri at MLB's inaugural European Baseball Academy in Tirrenia, Italy, in the summer of 2005 and signed him in January 2006. He's more than a novelty act, as he has a legitimate chance to reach the big leagues. Maestri has surprising feel for pitching considering his background, and his fastball has risen from 87-90 mph when he signed to 90-94 last season. His out pitch is a hard slider that ranks as the best in the system and is death on righthanders, who hit just .139 with 62 strikeouts in 187 at-bats against him in 2007. He's athletic, repeats his delivery well and throws strikes. Maestri even has the potential for an average changeup, so Chicago decided to try him as a starter last May. The move didn't work well, as he went 0-3, 7.04 in four outings before returning to the bullpen. He's more comfortable in that role and led Midwest League relievers in opponent average (.156) and baserunners per nine innings (6.9). He pitches almost exclusively with hard stuff, so he needs to refine his changeup or learn to subtract from his fastball in order to give hitters an offspeed look. Because he's handled everything the Cubs have thrown at him so far, not to mention that he'll turn 23 in June, he may skip a level and jump to Double-A in 2008.
Barney doesn't have a single tool that grades out as plus, but his instincts and intelligence make him a winner. An integral part of Oregon State's back-to-back College World Series championships, he signed for $227,500 as a fourth-round pick. His best physical attribute is his slightly above-average speed, though he's more of a savvy baserunner than a significant basestealing threat. Offensively, he's a contact hitter with modest power, and he could fit into the No. 2 slot in a batting order if he draws more walks. He got underneath a lot of pitches when using wood bats with Team USA in 2006, but the Cubs worked with him at instructional league to get his top hand over the ball. He made harder contact and stopped hitting as many balls in the air, and they're curious to see how much the adjustment will pay off in the future. Barney's arm and range are nothing special at shortstop, but he reads balls well and unloads his throws in a hurry, enabling him to get the job done. Chicago plans on bringing up Barney and 2007 third-rounder Tony Thomas together as a double-play combination through the minors, and they'll head to high Class A this year.
The Cubs added another potential arm for their big league bullpen when they grabbed Ascanio from the Braves in a December deal for Will Ohman and Omar Infante. After a back injury limited him to five appearances in 2005 and character issues hampered his progress in 2006, Atlanta tried to trade Ascanio prior to last season but found no takers. He wound up making his big league debut in July and held his own in 13 games with the Braves. He showed added maturity and the potential to be a dominating reliever. He has clocked as high as 97 mph with his fastball, yet relies too heavily on the pitch at the expense of developing his breaking ball and changeup. His heater sits in the mid-90s and he commands it well. He has shown some feel for his changeup but the pitch lacks consistent depth. Ascanio probably could use some more seasoning in the upper minors, but he should contribute to the Cubs at some point in 2008.
Few college careers have been more circuitous than Roquet's. He went to Florida State as an outfielder, then redshirted as a freshman after converting to the mound that spring. He subsequently spent one year each at Santa Ana (Calif.) JC and Northeast Texas CC, then two at Cal Poly before signing as a fifth-year senior free agent prior to the 2006 draft. He reached Double-A by June in his first full pro season, in part because the Cubs were trying to advance him quickly because he already was 24. Roquet is a two-pitch reliever, operating with a 90-94 mph fastball that touches 97 on occasion and an 80-83 mph slider. His fastball doesn't have much life and his easy delivery lacks deception, so it's not as overpowering as its velocity might suggest. Hitters also can gear up for hard stuff because Roquet doesn't have an offspeed option, and his command wavers. He's still picking up the nuances of pitching, such as fielding his position and holding runners. Opponents stole 15 bases in as many tries against him in 2007. Chicago tried to further expedite Roquet's development by sending him to the Arizona Fall League, but he had to leave early after coming down with a sports hernia that required surgery. He should be ready for spring training and an assignment to Triple-A.
Holliman has the best command in the system, and never was it more on display than on June 21. Though he worked at 84-85 mph with his fastball, he threw a seven-inning no-hitter, with a lone walk all that stood between him and a perfect game. Holliman had a low-90s fastball in college but now operates at 84-88 mph. When he first broke into pro ball, he tried to overpower hitters with his fastball, and now he feels more comfortable pacing himself in cruise control. At times he can reach back for a 92-mph heater when he needs one, and at others he'll find that he can't just dial up plus velocity at will. Holliman mixes his fastball with a curveball, slider and changeup. There's divided opinion as to which of his breaking balls is better, but all three of his secondary offerings are mostly average at best. Holliman has a short-arm delivery, but it doesn't affect his ability to locate his pitches. He helps his cause by doing all the little things well, such as fielding his position (one error in 40 chances last year), holding runners (40 percent of basestealers were thrown out on his watch) and even hitting (he batted .229 with two homers, including one in his no-hitter). Holliman is on the small side, but he hasn't missed a start while pitching 305 innings in his first two pro seasons. He did fade in August, going 2-3, 5.50, so the Cubs would like to see him get stronger. Projected as a No. 5 starter or a middle reliver, Hollman will pitch in Triple-A this season.
Lansford has outstanding bloodlines. His father Carney won an American League batting title, his uncles Jody and Phil were first-round draft picks and his brother Jared was a second-round choice of the Athletics in 2005. One of three players Chicago signed out of Cal Poly in 2006, Lansford has a higher ceiling than hard-throwing reliever Rocky Roquet or defensive-minded catcher Matt Canepa. The question will be whether he can get his bat into gear so he can reach his potential. Though Lansford has strength and bat speed and makes consistent contact, he has batted .266 with 33 extra-base hits in 146 games in the lower minors. Most of his power currently comes from gap to gap, and he should hit more homers once he stops hitting most of his long drives to the deepest part of the pack. He focuses well with runners in scoring position, yet maddeningly throws away at-bats in less crucial situations. Lansford has stood out more with his defense to this point of his career. Managers rated him the best defensive third baseman in the Midwest League last year, and he has the best infield skills and infield arm in the system. His arm rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale and he has good agility for his size, especially to his right. He's a below-average runner but not a baseclogger. The Cubs believe Lansford can develop into a .280 hitter with 15-plus homers per season and Gold Glove defense at the hot corner. He lost six weeks worth of at-bats after spraining his knee in an infield collision in mid-July, but he didn't require surgery and got some of them back with time in the Arizona Fall League. He'll open 2008 in high Class A.
After hitting .347 as a freshman at Southeastern Louisiana, Clevenger planned on transferring to Texas but a problem with his credits landed him at Chipola (Fla.) JC instead. The move made him draft-eligible a year early, and the Cubs signed him as a seventh-rounder in 2006 for $130,000. He moved from shortstop in college to second base in his pro debut, and Chicago worked him behind the plate in instructional league that fall. Clevenger continued to work on the transition to catching in extended spring training, then hit .340 with just 11 strikeouts in 65 games between Boise and Daytona. The Cubs had catchers who needed to play on both clubs, so Clevenger saw more time at first base, but they plan on developing him as a backstop. His ability to put the bat on the ball and spray line drives is intriguing, and he started to incorporate his legs more into his swing late in the year so he could develop some more power. Clevenger doesn't have the bat for first base, so his chances on reaching the majors hinge on his ability to catch. He moves well for a catcher, has some arm strength and threw out 33 percent of basestealers in 2007. His receiving skills are more shaky and he committed four passed balls in 18 games. Realistically, he has a ceiling as an offensive-minded backup. But Chicago will give him the chance to prove he can be more than that, and Clevenger could begin 2008 in Double-A so he can get regular time behind the plate.
The Cubs traded up to get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 Rule 5 draft, having the Rays select Lahey from the Twins on their behalf and then sending $150,000 to Tampa Bay. Minnesota originally drafted him as a catcher, but he shifted to the mound after hitting .202 in Rookie ball in his first pro summer. Chicago has success making the same move with Carlos Marmol, and Lahey's huge frame is reminiscent of that of Troy Percival, another backstop-turned-reliever. Lahey still throws with a short catcher's arm action, but that doesn't prevent him form throwing strikes with a 90-92 mph sinker that tops out at 95. He also throws a solid slider and a changeup, and because he only has pitched for three years, there's still room for improvement at age 26. His frame is built for durability and he's also a good athlete for his size. Lahey is more of a groundball guy than a strikeout machine, posting a 2.0 groundout/airout ratio in 2007. He'll have to stick on the Cubs' 25-man roster, or else they'll have to run him through waivers and offer him back to the Twins for half his $50,000 draft price.
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