By Jim Callis
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
2. Justin Jones, lhp
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 195.
Background: Jones looked like a possible first-round pick early in 2002 but didn’t pitch well in front of crosscheckers, so the Cubs were able to grab him in the second. They planned on pitching him at short-season Boise in 2003 before injuries created an opening at low Class A Lansing. Jones excelled as one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League.
Strengths: Jones’ 89-94 mph fastball and his curveball are both plus pitches. With his age and frame, he projects to add velocity. His changeup is advanced for his age, as is most of his package. He also throws an occasional splitter. Lefties went 5-for-58 (.086) with no extra-base hits against him in 2003.
Weaknesses: Like several of Chicago’s top pitching prospects, Jones didn’t make it through the full season. He was shut down twice with a tired arm and didn’t pitch after Aug. 5. He didn’t need surgery but needs to get stronger. His command can get better.
The Future: The Cubs have sought a good lefty starter for years, and Jones will race Andy Sisco and Luke Hagerty to Wrigley Field. Jones should be 100 percent for spring training and will spend 2004 at high Class A Daytona.
3. Ryan Harvey, of
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 192.
Background: Seven months after blowing out his right knee in an outfield collision at a high school showcase, Harvey was a candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2003 draft. The Cubs ranked him third on their draft board and were elated to get him with the sixth pick. Though he signed quickly for $2.4 million, the team had him focus on rehabbing his knee until the final two weeks of the season.
Strengths: Scouts compare Harvey to Dale Murphy. Harvey has huge power, as well as the strongest outfield arm and the best power/speed combination in the system. He threw 90-93 mph off the mound before giving up pitching in the wake of his injury.
Weaknesses: Harvey hasn’t quite regained his 6.7-second speed in the 60-yard dash. His rust also showed at the plate in the Rookie-level Arizona League. His swing can get long at times and he’ll have to keep it shorter with wood bats.
The Future: The last Cubs outfield prospect with this much promise was Corey Patterson. They rushed Patterson and vow not to do the same with Harvey. Sammy Sosa’s eventual successor may begin 2004 in extended spring training before heading to Boise.
4. Andy Sisco, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-9. Wt.: 265.
Background: After snaring Mark Prior with the No. 2 overall pick in 2001, the Cubs followed up with another potential ace in Sisco in the second round. Recruited as a defensive end by Pacific-10 Conference football programs, he signed for $1 million. He missed two months with a broken pitching hand in 2003, but finished strong by not allowing an earned run in two starts as Lansing won the Midwest League playoffs.
Strengths: Sisco is a huge lefthander who already throws 92-94 mph and projects to add more heat, so he draws obvious comparisons to Randy Johnson. And while he has to polish the rest of his game, he has better mechanics and command than the Big Unit had at the same age. Sisco already has an effective changeup and at times shows a plus curveball.
Weaknesses: Sisco’s curve is far from a finished product, as one in four he throws is above-average. He’d be better off throwing fewer splitters and focusing on his other pitches. The Cubs like his competitive makeup, but he also can be immature.
The Future: Once he masters his curveball, Sisco will take off. The Cubs will keep him and Jones together again in 2004 in high Class A.
5. Felix Pie, of
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 175.
Background: Pie appeared in the 2003 Futures Game at 18 years and five months, just two months older than Miguel Cabrera was in 2001 when he became the youngest ever to appear in the prospect showcase. Pie, who hit .429 and drove in the winning run in the Midwest League playoffs, also won championships in the Arizona and Northwest leagues in 2002.
Strengths: Pie shows four intriguing tools, most noticeably 70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. He had no trouble hitting for average as a teenager in the MWL, where managers rated him the league’s best defensive outfielder. He plays a shallow center field and has a solid arm.
Weaknesses: Though Pie will add strength, he won’t hit for much power because his swing and approach are designed more to make contact. Though he runs well, he lacks basestealing instincts and was nabbed 13 times in 32 tries. He has a good concept of the strike zone for such a young player, but he still needs more discipline.
The Future: The Cubs envision Pie as their leadoff hitter of the future, and he could push Corey Patterson to an outfield corner. He’ll spend 2004 in high Class A.
6. Bobby Brownlie, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 210.
Background: Once considered the top prospect in the 2002 draft, Brownlie came down with biceps tendinitis in his junior season and fell to the 21st pick. He didn’t sign until March 2003, receiving $2.5 million. Because he worked hard to get into pitching shape during the offseason so he could pitch for the Cubs in January, he ran out of gas in early July, when he was shut down with a sore shoulder and tired arm.
Strengths: Brownlie has always dazzled scouts with his 12-to-6 curveball, and it’s the best breaking pitch in the system. He also has a low-90s fastball that touched 97 mph when he was in college. He augments his stuff with good command and feel for pitching.
Weaknesses: Brownlie’s changeup lags behind his fastball and curve but should be an effective pitch in time. The Cubs aren’t too concerned about his health. An MRI showed no structural damage in his shoulder and he was back to 100 percent in instructional league. Chicago officials say he’ll be fine now that he’s on a baseball schedule.
The Future: Brownlie was pushing for a promotion to Double-A when he wore down, and he’ll get one to start 2004. If all goes well, he could reach Wrigley Field in September.
7. Chadd Blasko, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 220.
Background: One of three college pitchers taken by the Cubs in 2002’s supplemental first round, Blasko broke out in his 2003 pro debut while Luke Hagerty and Matt Clanton were hurt. Many scouts had projected him as a reliever because of his long arm action, but Blasko was unhittable as a starter. He needed just two outings before earning a promotion to high Class A, where he led the Florida State League in ERA.
Strengths: The Cubs drafted Blasko for his size and his fastball. He throws in the low to mid-90s and commands his fastball with precision. The key for him in 2003 was coming up with a consistent breaking ball, a big curveball that looks like a hanger before suddenly dropping through the strike zone.
Weaknesses: While Blasko also improved his changeup and slider, those pitches still need further refinement. He may not have a picture-perfect delivery, but it’s deceptive and he throws strikes, so the Cubs aren’t going to touch it.
The Future: Blasko will head to Double-A, and he and Brownlie could compete for a big league rotation spot in 2005.
8. Brendan Harris, 3b/2b
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195.
Background: Harris couldn’t match the .328 average and 15 homers he put up in his first full pro season in 2002, but the Cubs were still pleased with his development. They gave him a look at catcher during spring training, but ended that experiment when the physical toll proved to be too much. Harris missed the final two weeks of the season with broken ribs, then returned to hit .302 in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Harris is a consistent line-drive hitter with gap power. He hasn’t shown typical home run pop for a third baseman, but the Cubs believe it will come. He has one of the strongest infield arms in the system, and he displays good athleticism at both second and third base.
Weaknesses: Harris has played more at the hot corner than at second base, and it shows. He’s not as smooth at second and needs to improve his double-play pivots. His intense makeup is an overall plus, yet it sometimes works against him.
The Future: Harris will continue to see playing time at both second and third base in 2004 at Triple-A Iowa. He’ll challenge for a big league job at one of those spots in 2005.
9. David Kelton, of
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205.
Background: The Cubs finally gave up on Kelton filling their perennial void at third base. Since having shoulder surgery in high school, he repeatedly had mental and physical struggles making throws from the hot corner. After committing 11 errors in 33 games there to start 2003, he asked to move to the outfield and got his wish.
Strengths: Kelton has the tools to handle his new position. His bat speed and plate coverage should make him a .275 hitter with 20-25 homers annually. He has the athleticism and arm strength to play on either corner and could fill in as a center fielder in a pinch.
Weaknesses: Kelton has been steady but rarely spectacular in the minors, and he’ll have to step up his production to gain playing time in the outfield or at first base, where he played extensively in 2002. Doing a better job of controling the strike zone would help.
The Future: Kelton would seem to be a natural fit as a platoon partner for Hee Seop Choi or Randall Simon at first base, as well as a backup corner outfielder. But he’ll have to prove himself to manager Dusty Baker in spring training.
10. Jae-kuk Ryu, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210.
Background: Ryu has pitched well since the Cubs signed him out of Korea for $1.6 million, but his performance and potential were overshadowed by an incident in April 2003. Ryu killed an osprey by throwing a baseball and knocking it from its perch atop a light pole at Daytona’s Jackie Robinson Ballpark. He dominated low Class A after a punitive demotion, then was inconsistent in his first try at Double-A.
Strengths: Ryu can toy with hitters when he’s on. His 92-93 mph fastball and his curveball are his primary pitches, and he commands them well. He gets good run on his changeup.
Weaknesses: Ryu could use better control of his changeup, and his overall command deteriorated in Double-A. Some Cubs officials aren’t enamored with his splitter. But his biggest need is to mature and acclimate himself to the United States. In addition to the osprey attack, Ryu also has had multiple run-ins with teammates.
The Future: Ryu wasn’t ready for Double-A last year, but the Cubs couldn’t send him back to Daytona. He’ll get another shot in 2004.