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March 2014

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Why Cubs’ Fans Can’t Compare Current Prospects with Gary Scott and Felix Pie

Written by , Posted in General

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)

http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/rankings/top-100-prospects/all-time/

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.

  • Dusty Baylor

    Thank you for this….I am so tired of the whole “REMEMBER GARY SCOTT” routine from a lot of my Cubs fan friends/acquaintences.

  • PLCB3

    But the 2003, 2004, 2007, and 2008 teams were built on a lot of veterans and free agents. I mean look at those teams:
    2003-04:
    Lee
    Ramirez
    Sosa
    Alou
    Nomar
    Wood
    Prior
    Zambrano
    Maddux
    Clement
    2007-08:
    Lee
    Ramirez
    Soriano
    Soto
    Fukudome
    Zambrano
    Lilly
    Marquis
    Dempster
    Harden
    You can say what you want about it helping, but the majority of it was free agents/veterans. Soto, Zambrano, Sosa, Wood, and Prior are the only homegrown players on those lists. And as you mentioned Choi and Hill got us Lee and Ramirez.

    • Jerry in Wisconsin

      You need to check your facts Bell a free agent was traded to get Sosa, and Harden was brought to the Cubs by trading prospects.

    • However, look at the 1925 team:

      Pitchers
      ———-
      Pete Alexander
      Sheriff Blake
      Herb Brett
      Jumbo Brown
      Guy Bush
      Wilbur Cooper
      Elmer Jacobs
      Percy Jones
      Tony Kaufmann
      Vic Keen
      George Milstead
      Bob Osborn
      George Stueland

      Catchers
      ———–
      John Churry
      Mike González
      Gabby Hartnett
      Bob O’Farrell

      Infielders
      ————
      Sparky Adams
      Bob Barrett
      Howard Freigau
      Bernie Friberg
      Charlie Grimm
      Teddy Kearns
      Rabbit Maranville
      Ike McAuley
      Ralph Michaels
      Pinky Pittenger
      Gale Staley

      Outfielders
      ————–
      Mandy Brooks
      Tommy Griffith
      Denver Grigsby
      Cliff Heathcote
      Art Jahn
      Alex Metzler
      Hack Miller
      Joe Munson
      Jigger Statz
      Chink Taylor
      Butch Weis

      Other batters
      —————–
      Mel KerrManager
      George Gibson
      Bill Killefer
      Rabbit Maranville

      • I’m digging their names. Sheriff, Wilbur, Jumbo, Gabby, Herb, Pinky and Rabbit! What a team!!!

      • Dusty Baylor

        Let’s not forget Jigger, Mandy, and Hack!

  • AC0000000

    But the 2003, 2004, 2007, and 2008 teams were built on a lot of veterans and free agents. I mean look at those teams:
    2003-04:
    Lee
    Ramirez
    Sosa
    Alou
    Nomar
    Wood
    Prior
    Zambrano
    Maddux
    Clement
    2007-08:
    Lee
    Ramirez
    Soriano
    Soto
    Fukudome
    Zambrano
    Lilly
    Marquis
    Dempster
    Harden
    You can say what you want about it helping, but the majority of it was free agents/veterans. Soto, Zambrano, Sosa, Wood, and Prior are the only homegrown players on those lists. And as you mentioned Choi and Hill got us Lee and Ramirez.

    • Jerry in Wisconsin

      You need to check your facts Bell a free agent was traded to get Sosa, and Harden was brought to the Cubs by trading prospects.

    • However, look at the 1925 team:

      Pitchers
      ———-
      Pete Alexander
      Sheriff Blake
      Herb Brett
      Jumbo Brown
      Guy Bush
      Wilbur Cooper
      Elmer Jacobs
      Percy Jones
      Tony Kaufmann
      Vic Keen
      George Milstead
      Bob Osborn
      George Stueland

      Catchers
      ———–
      John Churry
      Mike González
      Gabby Hartnett
      Bob O’Farrell

      Infielders
      ————
      Sparky Adams
      Bob Barrett
      Howard Freigau
      Bernie Friberg
      Charlie Grimm
      Teddy Kearns
      Rabbit Maranville
      Ike McAuley
      Ralph Michaels
      Pinky Pittenger
      Gale Staley

      Outfielders
      ————–
      Mandy Brooks
      Tommy Griffith
      Denver Grigsby
      Cliff Heathcote
      Art Jahn
      Alex Metzler
      Hack Miller
      Joe Munson
      Jigger Statz
      Chink Taylor
      Butch Weis

      Other batters
      —————–
      Mel KerrManager
      George Gibson
      Bill Killefer
      Rabbit Maranville

      • I’m digging their names. Sheriff, Wilbur, Jumbo, Gabby, Herb, Pinky and Rabbit! What a team!!!

      • Dusty Baylor

        Let’s not forget Jigger, Mandy, and Hack!

  • Noah_I

    I still think even calling Patterson just a decent fourth outfielder/spot start is underrating his very short prime. A part of the view on Patterson is that he never became the player Dusty said he should, and the fans expected him to be: an ideal leadoff hitter. And 2005 was a terrible season for him, but a lot of that was due to a .262 BABIP. And while he never matched the power he showed in 2003, he had quite good seasons in 2004 (4.9 fWAR) and 2006 (3.5 fWAR) as well, being close to a league average bat and an elite defensive center fielder. Patterson fell off the map starting in 2007 when injuries caught up to him and his defense declined.

    So Patterson was a different sort of “bust” than, say Pie. Patterson was a pretty good player for a few years, but never became a star. Pie never belonged on a Major League field except as a defensive replacement.

    Why Patterson became a disappointment has been discussed extensively, although I’d say it was likely based on a combination of three things, two of which are Cubs related and one of which is Patterson related. (1) The Cubs promoted him far to aggressively. (2) The Cubs under Dusty Baker continuously tried to change Patterson’s approach in a way that was not conducive to his talent set. (3) Patterson was not inclined to make the sort of adjustments that would have brought him to the next level.

  • So Kalish and Bonifacio are our new roster dudes. I’m okay with that.

    I’m also completely in the optimistic period of Cubs fan Spring. This team might be able to hang around long enough for the kids to make a push for something. Sticking with my 80+ wins.

  • So Kalish and Bonifacio are our new roster dudes. I’m okay with that.

    I’m also completely in the optimistic period of Cubs fan Spring. This team might be able to hang around long enough for the kids to make a push for something. Sticking with my 80+ wins.

  • Bill Fell

    This is great. Now I can tell my bullpen coach that these prospects will not be another Pie or Patterson!

  • Bill Fell

    This is great. Now I can tell my bullpen coach that these prospects will not be another Pie or Patterson!

  • Doc Raker

    Korey Patterson had 6 good weeks in 2003. If Korey didn’t get hurt and the Cubs didn’t pick up Kenny Lofton we wouldn’t of won the division. Korey came back in 2004 and didn’t continue the ‘breakout’.

    • Dusty Baylor

      Patterson in 2004: .266/.320/.452, 24 HR, 72 RBI and 32 steals.
      That’s a pretty solid season for a 24 yr old….or for anyone really. Of course shoehorning him into the leadoff spot didn’t help much.

      • Doc Raker

        Exactly, for a 7 hole hitter that is great, for a leadoff man not so great. Lofton was a catalyst, he stole bases and sparked the offense. Patterson did not. The Cubs were a better team with Lofton leading off.

        An interesting note on Lofton:
        In 2002 he was in centerfield for Dusty Baker’s Giants in game 6 of the World Series leading 5-1 in the 7th inning with the Giants up in the series 3 games to 2. An Angel rally and it was all over.

        In 2003 he was in centerfield for Dusty Baker’s Cubs in game 6 of the NLCS. Don’t need to tell anyone what happened.

        In 2004 he was in the outfield for the Yankee’s in the ALCS up 3 games to 0 against the Red Sox. The Yanks were up late in game 4, Dave Roberts stole second base, then scored and Boston rattled off 8 straight victories for a WS title.

        And in 1997 he was in center field with the Cleveland Indians who were on the verge of a WS title, the Marlins came back and beat the Indians.

        What did Kenny Lofton do to the baseball Gods to deserve such a horrific heartbreaking fate?

      • PLCB3

        Do you think the Cubs should have left Patterson be and tried to make a leadoff hitter out of someone else in that case?

      • Dusty Baylor

        Absolutely. Hit him 7th for a couple of seasons, and then see where is is as a hitter. Cubs looove to try to squeeze guys into the leadoff spot for some reason.

      • Thaddeus

        Lofton was not on the Indians in ’97. He was in Atlanta. Cleveland traded Lofton and another player to Atlanta in the off season to acquire Marquis Grissom and David Justice.

        Other than that, you make some nice points.

      • PLCB3

        He was on the Indians team that lost to Atlanta in 1995.

      • PLCB3

        The 2003 Cubs had 5 ex-Braves on their roster in the 2003 NLDS. Can you name them without looking it up? We’ve already established Lofton is one of them, so who are the other 4?

  • Doc Raker

    Korey Patterson had 6 good weeks in 2003. If Korey didn’t get hurt and the Cubs didn’t pick up Kenny Lofton we wouldn’t of won the division. Korey came back in 2004 and didn’t continue the ‘breakout’.

    • Dusty Baylor

      Patterson in 2004: .266/.320/.452, 24 HR, 72 RBI and 32 steals.
      That’s a pretty solid season for a 24 yr old….or for anyone really. Of course shoehorning him into the leadoff spot didn’t help much.

      • Doc Raker

        Exactly, for a 7 hole hitter that is great, for a leadoff man not so great. Lofton was a catalyst, he stole bases and sparked the offense. Patterson did not. The Cubs were a better team with Lofton leading off.

        An interesting note on Lofton:
        In 2002 he was in centerfield for Dusty Baker’s Giants in game 6 of the World Series leading 5-1 in the 7th inning with the Giants up in the series 3 games to 2. An Angel rally and it was all over.

        In 2003 he was in centerfield for Dusty Baker’s Cubs in game 6 of the NLCS. Don’t need to tell anyone what happened.

        In 2004 he was in the outfield for the Yankee’s in the ALCS up 3 games to 0 against the Red Sox. The Yanks were up late in game 4, Dave Roberts stole second base, then scored and Boston rattled off 8 straight victories for a WS title.

        And in 1997 he was in center field with the Cleveland Indians who were on the verge of a WS title, the Marlins came back and beat the Indians.

        What did Kenny Lofton do to the baseball Gods to deserve such a horrific heartbreaking fate?

      • AC0000000

        Do you think the Cubs should have left Patterson be and tried to make a leadoff hitter out of someone else in that case?

      • Dusty Baylor

        Absolutely. Hit him 7th for a couple of seasons, and then see where is is as a hitter. Cubs looove to try to squeeze guys into the leadoff spot for some reason.

      • Thaddeus

        Lofton was not on the Indians in ’97. He was in Atlanta. Cleveland traded Lofton and another player to Atlanta in the off season to acquire Marquis Grissom and David Justice.

        Other than that, you make some nice points.

      • AC0000000

        He was on the Indians team that lost to Atlanta in 1995.

      • AC0000000

        The 2003 Cubs had 5 ex-Braves on their roster in the 2003 NLDS. Can you name them without looking it up? We’ve already established Lofton is one of them, so who are the other 4?

  • MightyBear

    Great article Oswego Chris. I’m enjoying your book and hope to be finished soon.

  • MightyBear

    Great article Oswego Chris. I’m enjoying your book and hope to be finished soon.