The Chicago Cubs organization has assembled one heck of a 25-man MLB roster for the 2009 season, but the same cannot be said for the minor league system, which is one of the weakest in the National League. But that’s what happens when you operate with a ‘Win Now’ mentality.
Jeff Samardzija has received more than his fair share of press since being drafted by the Cubs in 2006 out of Notre Dame. Despite his inexperience and time spent on the football field, Samardzija had a solid MLB debut in 2008 with the Cubs, and allowed just 24 hits in 27.2 innings. He posted rates of 4.88 BB/9, which is obviously too high, and 8.13 K/9, which is a much better rate than what he posted in the minors (5.2 K/9 career). The right-hander could be in the Cubs bullpen this season, or the organization may choose to work him out as a starter in Triple-A, where he’ll continue to show a blistering fastball and intriguing splitter.
Right-hander Kevin Hart has been helped by a move to the bullpen, where he can focus on his mid-90s fastball and cutter. He struggled at the Major League level in 2008 and posted a 6.51 ERA (4.69 FIP) with 39 hits allowed in 27.2 innings of work. Hart struggled with his control in the Majors and posted a walk rate of 5.86 BB/9. He also added a strikeout rate of 7.48.
Welington Castillo, 21, has come a long way in a short time after making his North American debut in 2006. The Dominican catcher split the 2008 season between High-A and Double-A and even received a one-game trial at Triple-A. At Double-A, Castillo hit .298/.362/.414 in 198 at-bats. With 18 walks in more than 300 at-bats in 2008, the right-handed hitter needs to be more patient at the plate if he is going to succeed at higher levels. Defensively, Castillo has a canon for an arm and also possesses the raw tools to be above-average behind the dish.
Outfielder Tyler Colvin barely deserves mention despite being a former No. 1 draft pick. Colvin has failed to make adjustments to his approach at the plate and is painfully impatient. His 7.5 BB% in 2008 was a career “high” but his average plummeted to .256 during his second stint in Double-A. He also failed to reach double digits in stolen bases, with just seven.
Josh Vitters had a false start to the 2008 season but ended on a high note, while having a very productive season in short-season ball. He hit .328/.365/.498 with an ISO of .170 in 259 at-bats. They were good numbers, but most of the top high school picks from the 2007 draft (Vitters was taken third overall) were playing in full-season ball. Right now Vitters is more of a 15-homer hitter, but he has the potential to develop 25-homer power. Defensively, he projects to be average.
The club’s first round draft pick in 2008 out of college, Andrew Cashner has a rough introduction to pro ball. A closer in his final college season, Cashner was moved to the starting rotation in pro ball and allowed 19 walks and 19 hits in 16.1 short-season innings. He can touch the high-90s with his fastball out of the bullpen, although he is more likely to work in the mid-90s as a starter. Cashner also has a plus slider and is working on a change-up.
Jay Jackson took to pitching in pro ball after spending his college career as a two-way player. He was drafted in the ninth round of the 2008 draft and is likely headed to High-A ball to begin 2009. Jackson played at three levels in his debut. In four games at High-A, Jackson allowed 11 hits and seven walks in 17 innings. He also struck out 21. The right-hander has a low-90s fastball (that can touch the mid-90s), a slider, curveball and change-up.
Infielders Ryan Flaherty (college) and Starlin Castro (Dominican Republic) have very different backgrounds, but both will add to the Cubs’ infield depth in 2009. Flaherty, 22, should move quickly after hitting .297/.369/.511 in his debut in short-season ball. Castro is a solid defensive player, with good speed and the ability to hit for average (He hit .311 in rookie ball). How much power he’ll develop is the biggest question.
Pitcher Dae-Eun Rhee, 19, and shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, 18, were both signed out of Korea, although Lee has yet to play in pro ball. Rhee pitched in A-ball in 2008 and allowed just 28 hits in 40 innings. He posted rates of 3.60 BB/9 and 7.43 K/9. He then unfortunately blew out his elbow and required Tommy John surgery. Lee is an athletic shortstop who should hit for a good average. He also has blazing speed. Ironically, during off-season training, Lee also blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery, but he is expected to be ready for the short-season league in June.
Up Next: The Cleveland Indians
These lists do not include all the talented prospects in each system – just a snap shot. Some players have been left out because I have covered them recently and not much has changed (You can link to the older posts from each player’s FanGraphs page) or I am planning a separate post on them in the very near future.
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