Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list, the respected organization’s 20th annual ranking, is out, and only two Chicago Cubs players are on the list. Neither is in the top 50.
In fairness to Jim Hendry and his management team, however, part of the reason is that, under Lou Piniella, the team has been more willing to call up young players and have them help at the major league level.
In fact, they had the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year in Geovany Soto, as we know.
And, they have traded away prospects in order to bring in other players that can help the team. Though none of them made this list, in the past, Marlins pitchers Renyel Pinto and Ricky Nolasco have made this list, as well as Felix Pie and Corey Patterson. Additionally, Lou Montanez is a fringe player on the Orioles roster, who did well in a brief late season stint as an outfielder (he was drafted as a shortstop).
Oft-injured fan favorite Kerry Wood left to join the Indians, and Jon Garland has had a nice career.
There have been many draft failures, however, too. Mark Pawelek, Ryan Harvey, Bobby Brownlie, and Ben Christiansen were all first-round picks by the Cubs in the last decade. And 2006 first-rounder Tyler Colvin is being projected as no more than a fourth outfielder.
And we all know what happened to Mark Prior, who is throwing towels with the Padres now.
But let’s get back to the list. To qualify, BA follows standard prospect guidelines, which means any player who has not exceeded the rookie limits of 130 at-bats or 50 innings in the major leagues (without regard to service time) is eligible for the list.
For the Cubs, 19 year-old third base prospect Josh Vitters comes in at No. 51, while Jeff Samardzija is at No. 79.
BA mentions that Vitters had the third highest hit total in the Midwest League last season.
As for “The Shark,” BA focuses on the dichotomy between his minor league ERA (4.26) versus his major league ERA with the Cubs (2.28). They don’t elaborate, but the implication is clear. They are questioning if his brief showing in 2008 with the Cubs is truly indicative of his future projections.
I like Jeff; he has a plus fastball, an improving splitter, and he continues to work on adding other pitches to his arsenal. And I really like the former Notre Dame football player’s makeup.
The question with him is whether he will be a starter this year or in the bullpen.
In my opinion, he will continue to be groomed as a starter. If he doesn’t make the team as the fifth starter, I believe he will go down to Iowa to continue being stretched out. He likely would be called up whenever Rich Harden can’t go, or if another injury befalls a starting pitcher.
Hopefully, it won’t be about Carlos Zambrano’s shoulder.
BA estimates Vitters’ ETA as 2010, though I personally think that’s a bit optimistic. Maybe a cup of coffee in September, but at his age, and with Aramis Ramirez firmly established at third base, there is no sense in rushing the young man.
Of course, there is always the possibility that the Cubs could move Vitters to another position. At third, his footwork is improving, and his arm is plenty strong, but he isn’t projected to ever be a plus defender.
His value clearly is his bat. He has a sweet swing, makes hard contact, and he will generate more power once he fills out.
One question I have is, where is Mitch Atkins on this list? Isn’t he a young pitcher who is being projected as a dark horse candidate for the fifth starter role?
In any event, while it has always been true, in this economy, it is especially important to develop your own players. You don’t necessarily have to keep them—they can be used as trading chips—but you need a strong farm system so you can avoid always having to rely on overpriced free agents.
There are other good prospect lists to review, including Keith Law of ESPN.com’s Top 100 prospects.
Law has Vitters ranked much higher, at No. 14. Law also has another Cub on his list, with righty pitcher Jay Jackson coming in at No. 98.
Come to think of it, it’s fun to come to think of Cubs prospects.