Cubs Top 10 Prospects
By Jim Callis
Baylors dismissal was the first move made by Jim Hendry when he was promoted from vice president of player personnel to general manager on July 5. That was a reward for Hendry rebuilding the farm system during his six years as farm and/or scouting director. The system remains the hope and the future for the Cubs, who have been burned by the last two megacontracts they handed out to free agents (Todd Hundley, Moises Alou). Though Corey Patterson has yet to mature and Juan Cruz stumbled last season, Chicagos prospect depth gives plenty of cause for optimism.
Chicago is loaded at the lower levels, reflected by their championships in the short-season Northwest and Rookie-level Arizona leagues, and a near-miss in the low Class A Midwest League. Mark Prior needed just nine minor league starts before getting to Wrigley Field, where he was often spectacular. Fellow rookie Carlos Zambrano also crashed the rotation and had his moments. Hee Seop Choi and Bobby Hill conquered Triple-A, and all that remains is for them to move up to Chicago.
The Cubs also had several new faces blossom into top prospects. Six-foot-9 lefthander Andy Sisco blew away NWL hitters, while multitooled center fielder Felix Pie shared MVP honors in the AZL. Brendan Harris became the latest candidate to fill a three-decade void at third base.
Chicago bolstered its store of talent through several avenues. Alfredo Francisco, another hot-corner prospect, signed out of the Dominican Republic in February. Loaded with six extra picks in June, the Cubs had a banner drafteven if they dont sign first-rounder Bobby Brownlie. They signed several talented pitchers, among them lefthanders Luke Hagerty and Justin Jones and righties Billy Petrick, Chadd Blasko, Jason Wylie and Matt Clanton. With the big league team going nowhere, the Cubs wisely used veterans in trades for minor leaguers.
But Hendrys best offseason moves didnt involve players. Chicago targeted Dusty Baker as its top managerial candidate, waited for the postseason to end and then landed him. The Cubs also lured Gary Hughes, one of games top scouts, from the Reds to become a special assistant to Hendry.
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 240. Signed: Korea, 1999. Signed by: Leon Lee.
Background: Choi became the first Korean position player to sign with a major league team when he agreed to a $1.2 million bonus in March 1999. He homered in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the 1998 World Championships in Italyas a 19-year-oldand hasnt stopped hitting since arriving in the United States. He led the Arizona Fall League in homers in 2000, then was waylaid in 2001 by severe inflammation in his right hand. Healthy again last year, he was one of the most dangerous hitters in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and made his major league debut in September. Choi played only sporadically because Bruce Kimm was more concerned with Fred McGriff becoming the first big leaguer to reach 30 homers with five different teams. Choi did launch his first two big league homers, then starred in the AFL again after the season.
Strengths: The top power hitter in the system, Choi launches balls to all fields. He shortened his swing a little last year without sacrificing any pop. Even better, hes more than just a one-dimensional slugger. He hits for average because he combines the ability to make adjustments with patience at the plate. Choi led the PCL in walks last year. He initially struggled against lefthanders but conquered them in Triple-A. For his size, Choi moves very well. The Cubs believe hell be a solid-average to plus defender at first base.
Weaknesses: Because hes big and has some uppercut to his swing, some PCL observers questioned Chois ability to hit inside fastballs, and whether hed be able to do damage against quality pitching rather than just feast on mistakes. Others pointed to his approach and ability to use the entire ballpark. Choi will have to watch his body carefully. He still has work to do defensively, particularly with his footwork and receiving skills.
The Future: The Cubs traded for Eric Karros in the offseason, but that was more about exchanging bad contracts than consigning Choi to the bench. Choi and Bobby Hill should man the right side of Chicagos infield for years to come. Theyll ease into starting roles in 2003, with Karros and Mark Grudzielanek serving as insurance.
Click here for prospects 2-10.