Thursday, March 27th, 2014
There may be no more exciting time than 2014 to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs.
Hold on…hold on…I am referring to the Cubs collection of talented young prospects…not the current Major League incarnation.
Still not thrilled? I understand…you may be one of those naysayers, stating with acrimony; “they are just prospects!” or “we have seen this all before!” Sorry if you get the impression that I am drunk on Cubbie blue Kool-Aid, but here’s the rub;
Cubs’ fans haven’t seen this before.
For my book, Beyond Bartman, Curses and Goats: 105 Reasons Why It’s Been 105 Years, I meticulously researched every Cubs’ draft starting with the initial MLB draft of 1965. In ‘65 the Cubs drafted a player by the name of Rick James (…not the ‘80s funk master). Johnny Bench and Nolan Ryan were but two of the players selected after Mr. James, whose career amounted to nothing. Essentially, the 1965 Cubs’ draft was a telling harbinger of future Chicago Cubs’ drafts.
Ken Holtzman, Rick Reuschel and Lee Smith are the only significant players drafted by the Chicago Cubs from 1965-1980. The arrival of Dallas Green’s regime in 1982 set in motion a prosperous run of draft picks; Joe Carter, Shawon Dunston, Greg Maddux, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark Grace, Joe Girardi and others. For his efforts, Mr. Green was fired by the Cubs in 1987. Thus another void in prospects was created until the late 1990’s. Jim Hendry may have been an unpopular guy upon his firing in 2010; nevertheless he had a hand in producing a renaissance in Chicago Cubs’ prospects. Below are the Cubs’ prospects included in Baseball America’s top 100 rankings from 2000-2005:
2000(2) – Corey Patterson #3, Hee-Seop Choi #77
2001(5) – Corey Patterson #2, Juan Cruz #17, Hee-Seop Choi #22, Ben Christensen #37, Carlos Zambrano #68
2002(7) – Mark Prior #2, Juan Cruz #6, Hee-Seop Choi #40, David Kelton #45, Bobby Hill #48, Nic Jackson #68, Carlos Zambrano #80.
2003(4) – Hee-Seop Choi #22, Angel Guzman #47, Andy Sisco #53, Nic Jackson #100.
2004(6) – Angel Guzman #24, Justin Jones #56, Ryan Harvey #65(sorry…I just threw up in my mouth a bit), Andy Sisco #77, Felix Pie #85, Bobbie Brownlie #92
2005(3) – Brian Dopirak #21(sorry, I did it again), Felix Pie #31, Ryan Harvey #66
Upon perusing these names, a Cubs’ fan might view this period as a time of great failure. Conversely, I would like you to consider the following:
- The Cubs were pretty, pretty close to the World Series in 2003…in case you forgot.
- Cubs’ pitching prospects outnumbered their hitting prospects, and many of them would succumb to injuries…and Juan Cruz would have three years added to his “age”.
- Hee Seop Choi beget Derek Lee…Bobbie Hill beget Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton. (That’s pretty darn good!)
- Corey Patterson was not a complete bust; he was having a “breakout” type season before injuring his knee in 2003, and he made a career as a spot starter/fourth outfielder.
- He may have been a crazy-eyed, Gatorade cooler smashing, teammate fighting madman, but Carlos Zambrano was definitely a “hit” as a prospect.
Conceivably I may not have convinced you that 2000-2005 was a prosperous time for the Cubs’ prospects. You may feel that this period just portends that the current crop of prospects will be wash-outs. Perhaps when you look at Dan Vogelbach, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler you see Brian Dopirak, Felix Pie, and Ryan Harvey. I can’t guarantee that you are mistaken, but I can assure you that it’s not a reasonable comparison.
In my former life as a high school coach I was somewhat connected to the scouting world. This was actually one of the few parts of the job I enjoyed…picking the brains of Major League scouts. A Florida Marlin’s scout once told me that the fish were happy to get Ricky Nolasco from the Cubs (…a bulldog he called him). He also told me and that he believed Rich Hill would never make it. (…hmmm) I also learned that many of these scouts would only call about players, after learning of another teams’ interest. Sometimes the scout would barely know the player’s name he was calling about (…you got a pitcher there?). Yet it was another incident that tipped me off about the inaccuracies and limitations of scouting, and this was just over a decade ago.
A colleague of mine received a call from a Chicago reporter asking questions regarding the upcoming season. He asked my friend to rank the area’s top prospects. So, off the top of his head, my acquaintance gave the reporter a list of 15-20 of the best players he knew in the area. The next day, in a major Chicago newspaper, there was the exact same list of prospects. This list…from one man…on the spot, yet it would be on record as “the top prospects in the area.”
I doubt this was an isolated case in the “age of information not even remotely close to what is available in 2014”. Today prospects at the high school, college, and pro level are dissected and analyzed more than any time in history…and they are scrutinized by more people than ever. Long gone are the days when Baseball America was the only source of prospect information. There are at least a half-dozen prospect rankings as respected as Baseball America. Baseball America itself has shown vast improvement in their “hits and misses”. Listed below is the history of Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list. (…hint, they have gotten better at projecting)
Even more encouraging regarding this current “wave” of Cubs’ prospects, is that a consensus can be formed. Using four of the best; Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law and Mlb.com, here is some cumulative data:
There are a few discrepancies on this list, such as the disagreement on Edwards, but a few things are evident:
- All four rate Baez in the top 10.
- Bryant, with less than half a season as a professional is ranked in the top 20 of all four.
- In three of the five, the Cubs have five of the top 50 prospects in baseball.
Scroll back up and compare these rankings with the “glory days” of 2000-2005…and remember, those years did aid in producing winning seasons in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008.
As a Cubs’ fan, it’s natural for us to be skeptical of all prospect talk. However, in this case…the past has little to do with the future.
Will all of the Cubs’ prospects make it? No. Has there ever been a time in baseball history where prospect rankings indicate success as strongly as they do today? No.
Therefore the excitement regarding the Cubs’ farm system is tangible, and it’s not like anything we have ever seen before.
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