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Wednesday, January 29
Updated: March 13, 4:05 PM ET
 
Cubs minor-league report

By John Sickels
Special to ESPN.com

System overview
While the Cubs suffered through a very disappointing 2002 season, the future should still be bright in Wrigleyville, at least if the minor league system is any indication. The Cubs feature one of the more impressive aggregations of minor league talent in the game. Mark Prior made his impact last year, but other rookies like Carlos Zambrano, Bobby Hill, and Juan Cruz were also auditioned. Results were mixed with this group, but all will be major contributors in 2003, and there are more youngsters on the way.

The Cubs have both depth and breadth. They have several potential impact pitchers, plus a cache of promising arms behind the impact guys. On the hitting side, Hee Seop Choi should be a major power source. Depth beyond him is a bit thinner, as the Cubs have been pitching conscious in the draft lately, but there are still some intriguing bats.

Chicago has drafted well recently, are active in Latin America, and are one of the leaders in acquiring players from Asia. Chicago minor league instruction and scouting is now among the most respected in the game. The acquisition of "veteran leaders" like Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek, plus the hiring of veteran-oriented manager Dusty Baker, seems to put the commitment to youth in doubt on the surface, at least for '03. But the fact remains that the Cubs have a strong farm system. GM Jim Hendry, the architect of the system, isn't likely to let that change. In the big picture, it will be the youngsters that lead the revival in Wrigley.

2002 amateur draft
With four picks in the first two rounds, the Cubs wanted to make a big splash in the draft. They did, making a big push for pitching.

The first pick was Rutgers right-hander Bobby Brownlie, who hasn't signed yet. A polished pitcher with a power arsenal, he is still negotiating, but hasn't gone back to college and won't. He could be ready within a year once he comes to terms. Supplemental pick Luke Hagerty, a 6-8 southpaw from Ball State, was very impressive in rookie ball, showing both velocity and command. Purdue right-hander Chadd Blasko was next. He signed late, but scouts like his hard sinker/slider combination. Finally, Matt Clanton from Orange Coast Junior College rounded out the top group. He is polished for a JC guy, with a diverse arsenal of pitches. The right-hander should also move relatively quickly.

Other impressive signees include second-rounder Brian Dopirak, a high school first baseman from Florida; second-round choice Justin Jones, a Virginia high school lefty; and third-rounder Billy Petrick, an Illinois high school righty. Both pitchers have live arms and pitched very well in rookie ball, while Dopirak is considered a top-notch slugger in the making, though he didn't hit a homer in his pro debut.

The rest of the draft was mostly a mixture of college and high school hitters, but it's the top pitching group that will make or break this class. The Brownlie/Hagerty/Blasko/Clanton quartet of college pitching is very impressive, and all three of the high school kids picked after them have good resumes.

Top prospects
Players in the "Will Help Soon" section could see significant major league action in 2003. Players in the "Will Help Someday" section shouldn't reach the majors until '04 or later, though of course that can change. Players are listed alphabetically. No 2002 draftees are listed.

WILL HELP SOON
Frank Beltran, RHP: Had problems throwing strikes in Chicago, but they'll give another chance to this owner of a 95 mph fastball.

Hee Seop Choi, 1B: Platoon arrangement with Eric Karros would be a perfect way to break him in. Concerns about his ability to hit inside pitching look overblown to me. Love his power and patience. Hit 26 homers, .287, 95 walks at Triple-A Iowa.

WILL HELP SOMEDAY
Matt Bruback, RHP: Somewhat overlooked, but posted 9-7 record, 3.16 ERA, 158/48 K/BB in 28 starts at Double-A West Tennessee. Decent stuff all-around, and knows how to pitch.

Angel Guzman, RHP: Ground ball pitcher with 92 mph sinker. Also has a curve and a changeup. Best pitching prospect in the system according to some, but will need to improve his command as he moves up.

Dave Kelton, 3B-1B: Slugged 20 homers in Double-A, hitting .261. Excellent power, but has an injury history, shaky strike zone judgment. Moved to third this winter, but his defense still needs polish.

Andy Sisco, LHP: 6-9 lefty. Throws 90-94 mph, posted 2.43 ERA in short-season ball, with 101 strikeouts in just 78 innings. Could make a big impression in '03.

Todd Wellemeyer, RHP: Overlooked, but scouts like his 92-94 mph fastball and a good changeup. Posted 4.70 ERA after being promoted to Double-A for eight starts, and will need a year to refine his command.

KEY SLEEPER
Brendan Harris, 3B-2B: Third baseman of the future? Maybe. Hit .329 with 13 homers, 43 walks, 16 steals, 35 doubles in the tough Florida State League. Solid line drive swing, plus good command of the strike zone.

Other names to know
Nic Jackson, OF; Felix Pie, OF; John Webb, LHP; Jae Kuk Ryu, RHP; Jon Leicester, RHP; Russ Rohlicek, LHP; Renel Pinto, RHP; Mike Mallory, OF; Ryan Theriot, INF; Felix Sanchez, LHP; Luis Montanez, SS; Aaron Krawiec, LHP; Ray Sadler, OF; Ricky Nolasco, RHP; Carmen Pignatiello, LHP.

John Sickels is the author of the 2002 Minor League Scouting Notebook, and is now working on the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book. His biography of Bob Feller will be published next spring. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com, or you can visit his homepage at JohnSickels.com.





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