These are no particular order, just prospects to keep your eye on. I’m limiting this list to players with no Major League experience. So guys like Geovany Soto, Kevin Hart and Sean Gallagher are not going to be on it. Also, I divided up the slots so it would be 5 hitters and 5 pitchers. In parentheses is the level I think they will start out the season. Hitters
1. Josh Vitters – 3B – (Low A)
Vitters need to show some improvement from his disastrous pro debut. Granted this was a small sample size, there will be pressure on him being the 3rd overall pick in last years draft. While he will be an offense first type of player, he needs to improve his glove to stick at 3B instead of a corner OF position. Luckily, Aramis Ramirez is signed through 2011 and this should keep the Cubs from rushing him through the system like some of their other highly touted prospects. This should give Vitters time to develop into a power hitting 3B with average.
2. Tyler Colvin – OF – (AA)
They say patience is a virtue, Colvin thinks it’s overrated. At least he plays like it and this is evident by his inability to get walks (32BB/757 AB). With that being said, he has been a solid all-around player at every minor league stop. I believe he will start the year at AA with the Cubs hoping he becomes more patient at the plate and learns how to better deal with off-speed pitches. He is an average to slightly above average defender and this bodes well for him in the future as a player that can play all three outfield positions. If he develops as he has been, he will see time in Iowa later this year and possibly a September call-up.
3. Tony Thomas – 2B – (High A)
Unlike Josh Vitters, Thomas had a solid pro debut at Boise with numbers like .308/.404/.533 along with 28/30 in SBs. He gets those numbers with a nice level swing that won’t produce many home runs but provides line drives to all parts of the field. These are good numbers for a 2B but he has to stick at 2B because there is no other position on the diamond for him. There are hardly any questions about his bat, but if he wants to progress and have a shot as an everyday player at the big league level he needs to solidify his 2B defense,
4. Josh Donaldson – C – (High A)
Another converted 3B into a catcher, Donaldson was snagged by the Cubs with the 48th overall pick. Since he is a converted catcher, he has more athleticism and offensive upside. Though he threw out 38% of would be basestealers, he showed his lack of experience at the position by allowing 11 passed balls in only 45 games. Hopefully Soto entrenches himself as the starting catcher and thus, giving Donaldson time to develop.
5. Josh Lansford – 3B – (High A)
Unlike Tony Thomas, Josh Lansford lets his glove do the talking. He has strong bloodlines with his father winning an AL batting title and three relatives drafted in the first 2 rounds of the draft. He was voted as the best defensive 3B in the Midwest league by the managers but he needs to improve upon his average and approach. Lansford suffered a knee injury but it has healed and he will be good to go this season. He could very easily turn it around and start hitting and climb up the Cubs’ prospect rankings.
1. Jose Ceda – SP/RP – (AA)
Ceda was stolen from the Padres in the Todd Walker deal in 2006. He was hurt to start off the 2007 season but came back as a reliever and dominated. Opponents batted .093 against all year but he had an ERA of 3.11 (in A ball). This leads us to his biggest problem, control. He had 31 walks in 46 innings but on the bright side, only gave up one home run. The Cubs need to decide whether to make him a starter or reliever. His lack of a decent 3rd pitch should keep him as a Marmol-type of reliever. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, has hit 99. His slider has improved and could be another plus pitch for him. His changeup is just for show and not quite effective right now. The Cubs should promote him to AA in order for him to face tougher competition and stress his mechanics.
2. Jeff Samardzija – SP/RP – (AA)
Here is another issue of the Cubs deciding on what to make him, either a starter or a reliever. Unlike Ceda, I think Samardzija has a future as a starter, or at least more of a future. There is extra pressure due to his 10 million dollar Major League contract. His stuff is electric and there is no question about that. He throws a heavy fastball. It sits in the low to mid 90s and tops out at 98. His slider can also be a plus pitch but he needs to be more consistent with it and throw it for strikes. The same can be said about his change up but it doesn’t have the upside of his slider. All of that being said, Samardzija managed only a 4.1K/9 and opponents hit over .300. For some reason, his numbers improved once he received a promotion to AA, and some say because of the improved defense behind him. That’s where he should start off the year. He stayed healthy all year and that’s a plus considering he hasn’t pitched much due to his football career at Notre Dame. As long as he polishes his stuff, a call up to Iowa should follow later this season.
3. Donald Veal – SP – (AA)
Veal had great success in 2006 but could not follow up with a solid 2007 and struggled mightily. Granted he did jump up to AA and that’s a big step for players. He will repeat the level again but should improve his numbers. Veal features a strange delivery and needs to work on staying on top of his curve ball. His curve ball has shown signs of being a solid pitch but needs to tighten it up. His fastball is in the low 90s and he throws it to both sides of the plate. Veal’s change up is a solid 3rd pitch. All this adds up to him having ceiling as a number 2 but I think it is more likely for him to end up as a number 3.
4. Robert Hernandez – SP – (High A)
Most Cubs fans might not have heard of this pitcher but I think he has a bright future in the organization. Also, he is my breakout candidate for this upcoming year. Right off the bat, he won’t turn 20 until October and that means he is farther along than most players his age. He already has two above average pitches, fastball and change up. His fastball sits in the low 90s and he has tried his hand at a curve ball and slider but those two pitches need much refinement. He stands at 6’2″ but only weighs 165. This means he has yet to fill out and this alone will add more zip to his fastball.
He has shown that he is not afraid of older batters and can throw strikes. He will likely be sent to High A and once again be one of the younger pitchers/players in that league. His key for 2008 is to develop a breaking pitch that he can consistently rely on while trying to stay healthy by keeping up on his mechanics. The Cubs are more than willing to take their time with this precocious youngster, lets hope he can turn into a pitcher like his fellow countryman, Carlos Zambrano.
5. Chris Huseby – SP – (Low A)
Huseby is an intriguing prospect in many ways. He landed a 1.3 million dollar bonus in the 2006 draft even though he was drafted in the 11th round and was coming off of Tommy John Surgery. His fastball only reached the mid-80s and topped out at 90 but he should get stronger as he comes back at full strength after surgery. Also, he stands 6’7″ and will fill out in the future adding some speed to his fastball. Huseby features a hard breaking ball that sits between 76-80. His changeup is in progress but should get better with experience. He has hardly pitched the last 2 years and will improve by just pitching a full season worth of innings. Like most young pitchers, Huseby needs to improve his control and command and try to not always go for the strikeout.