Before the 2007 season began, MLB.com took an in-depth look at every big league team's Minor League system. Now it's time to recap all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent draft class.
How things change. In our 2007 preview, we spoke of Cubs fans bemoaning the state of their Major League team in 2006, but who could take solace that five of the six farm teams had winning records, hopefully boding well for some incoming talent to bolster the big-league club.
In 2007, as you may have heard, the Cubbies won the National League Central and indeed had some major contributions from the pipeline. Pitchers Carlos Marmol (5-1, 1.43 ERA in relief) and Sean Marshall (3.92 ERA in 19 starts), both in their sophomore Major League seasons, were big parts of the Cubs' success, as was Ryan Theriot (.266, 28 steals), another homegrown player who had barely used up his rookie eligibility in 2006. Top outfield prospect Felix Pie is no longer a rookie as well, and one can look for bigger and better things from him.
Reliever Kevin Hart (0.82 ERA in eight appearances) and likely catcher of the future Geovany Soto (.389 in 18 games) showed great promise in September auditions and still will be rookies in 2008.
In our preview we called the organization's starting pitching both "its biggest strength and its biggest Achilles' heel the last few years," citing a glut of injuries to top starting prospects but also the emergence of rookies such as Marshall, Rich Hill and Angel Guzman.
A look at this year's starters in the Minors shows fewer extremes, as no pitcher really jumped out on the radar and achieved potential superstar status. Two pitchers who appeared to meet that criteria are left-hander Donald Veal and right-hander Jeff Samardzija, with both having decent seasons that may have been disappointing only because of the high hopes held for them. Another top prospect, southpaw Mark Pawelek, missed nearly all of 2007 due to injury, but had a strong instructional league showing, leaving the organization excited for his 2008 season.
Rather it was a season more for the hitters, a situation that was emphasized in the draft when the club spent nine of its first 10 picks on offense, eight of which came from the polished college ranks.
On the field, the results were mixed with the system's .506 winning percentage landing them in the middle of the pack at 14th overall. Three of their top four clubs, Triple-A Iowa, Double-A Tennessee and Class A Peoria, all finished over .500.
Organizational Players of the Year
Eric Patterson, 2B: A Pacific Coast League All-Star, the 2005 eighth-round pick out of Georgia Tech hit .297 with 14 homers, 65 RBIs and 24 steals at Iowa, certainly not too shabby. The signing of Mark DeRosa to a multi-million dollar deal before 2007 seemed to guarantee that E-Pat would remain in the Minors for at least one more year. He saw a handful of games in the bigs but was demoted due to tardiness, so perhaps that will be a wakeup call for him for '08.
Donnie Veal, LHP: The young southpaw led all starters in 2006 with a .175 batting average against and posted a 2.16 ERA and 174 strikeouts between two Class A stops. He struggled with consistency in Double-A, going 8-10 with a 4.97 ERA at Tennessee, though his 131 strikeouts was good for a share of the organization lead. With his outstanding curveball and low 90s fastball, the 21-year-old will probably start '08 back at Double-A but could move up as soon as he shows his stuff again. That shouldn't take long.
Geovany Soto, C: Speaking of wakeup calls, someone definitely dialed up Soto's number in 2007 and he dialed up his prospect status from fringe catcher in his third year at Triple-A to Cubs catcher of the future for 2008. The 24-year-old won Pacific Coast League MVP, hitting .353 with 26 homers and 109 RBIs at Iowa, surpassing his total homers (25) over his first six pro seasons. He also hit the Cubs' lone postseason homer to cap an impressive September in which he hit close to .400 and pretty much cemented his Spring Training status for next year. His .652 slugging percentage also led the Minors. Soto, who slimmed down considerably coming into Spring Training, is a solid catcher who threw out 31 percent of baserunners.
Mark Holliman, RHP: With no clear-cut winner, it came down to Holliman and organization newcomer Kevin Hart. We gave the nod to Holliman, who led the organization with a 3.57 ERA at Tennessee. His season highlight came in June when he no-hit the Huntsville Stars and blasted the game-winning home run. The 2005 third-round pick from Ole Miss was a workhorse a well, striking out 108 in 161 innings.
Climbed the Ladder
Kevin Hart, RHP: Certainly the surprise of the season, the club acquired the right-hander from Baltimore in an offseason deal for infielder Freddie Bynum. He ended up not only shining in relief for the big club in September, with an 0.82 ERA in 11 innings, but edged out several more experienced pitchers for the last bullpen slot on the postseason roster. During the regular season between Tennessee and Iowa, he went 12-6 with a 3.99 ERA and 131 strikeouts to share the organization lead with Donnie Veal. A cutter developed in the offseason was the big difference in going from non-prospect with Baltimore to likely Major League reliever in 2008 with Chicago.
Jose Ceda, RHP: We had the 20-year-old Ceda in our "Under the Radar" category coming into 2007, interested to see how the 6-5, 250-pounder would develop after coming over from San Diego for second baseman Todd Walker. Results were inconclusive at first as he struggled in his first six starts at Class A Peoria, posting a 4.70 ERA before going on the disabled list for two months with a sore shoulder. He returned as a reliever and did not allow a hit and struck out 42 over his final 23 1/3 frames from July 19 to the end of the season. With a fastball in the mid-90s and a strong early showing in which he limited Midwest League hitters to an .093 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 46 innings, Ceda's future as a closer is looking more and more likely.
Tyler Colvin, OF: Our early front-runner for our 2008 prediction for the Cubs' Minor League Player of the Year, the 2006 first-rounder from Clemson continued to move up and succeed, combining to hit .299 with 16 home runs and 81 RBIs between Daytona and Tennessee in his first full season. Blessed with a combination of good tools and great instincts, the opposite-field hitter is a polished player who was named to Team USA this fall.
Sam Fuld, OF: The 2004 10th-round pick from Stanford hit .300 in his first two pro seasons (he did not play in 2004). In his third go-round he made it to the big leagues, though he spent most of his time in September sitting on the bench and learning from the big boys. He spent most of the regular season at Tennessee, hitting .290, and was really turning it on in Arizona Fall League action, where he was a candidate for MVP honors at the midway point.
Mitch Atkins, RHP: Atkins shared the organization lead in ERA with Holliman at 3.57. He posted a 3.13 ERA at Daytona and was the starting pitcher for the East in the midseason Florida State League All-Star Game. He struggled a bit in a late move up to Tennessee with a 5.54 ERA in seven starts and will likely begin there as well in '08. The 2004 seventh-round pick out of high school throws a low-90s fastball, curve and change-up.
Sean Gallagher, RHP: The 2004 12th-round selection continued to post strong numbers in his march up the ladder. Gallagher would have led all starters in the organization in ERA had he posted enough Minor League innings. Instead, he got his feet wet in his trial by fire in the big leagues with a scattered 14 innings throughout the summer. At Tennessee, he was 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 11 games and recorded a 2.66 ERA in eight games at Iowa.
Kept Their Footing
Jeff Samardzija, RHP: The club's fifth-round pick in 2006 combined to go 6-11 with a 4.57 ERA between Daytona and Tennessee, allowing 175 hits with 44 walks and 65 strikeouts in 141 2/3 innings. It was not only his first full season but the first year in which the Notre Dame product concentrated solely on baseball, so it was certainly a learning experience. He was a star wide receiver for the Fighting Irish but committed to baseball last summer. He will continue to work on command and his secondary pitches.
Josh Lansford, 3B: Despite missing the last month-and-a-half due to a torn MCL, the son of new San Francisco Giants hitting coach Carney Lansford still showed enough to make this list, hitting .273 with three homers and 42 RBIs before the July injury. A 2006 sixth-round pick, he is an outstanding defensive third baseman and was back to full health with the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.
Slipped a Rung
Dylan Johnston, SS: The 2005 fourth-rounder missed most of 2006 with an ankle injury, but hit .200 in 58 games at Peoria before that. He returned to Peoria this season and hit just .169 in 43 games and then .237 at Boise. He has good tools, notably speed and a strong arm, but needs to translate that to some numbers at the plate.
Ryan Harvey, OF: The team's top pick in 2003 has tremendous power potential but can't stay healthy or consistent long enough to put it into play. A hamstring injury cost him two months of 2007 and when he was on the field, he batted just .246 with 11 homers in 59 games at Daytona.
Brian Dopirak, 1B: Dopirak has yet to come close to matching his 2004 numbers when he won the Midwest League MVP award, batting .307 with 39 home runs and 120 RBIs. The 2002 second-round selection missed most of 2006 with an ankle injury, hitting only one homer in 52 games that summer. This year, he hit .277 with 17 home runs and 64 RBIs in 94 games at Daytona but only .218 in 21 games at Tennessee. When the Cubs outrighted him in late summer to bring Eric Patterson up, he went unclaimed.
On The Radar
Jake Fox, C: We had the 2003 third-rounder on our "under the radar" watch despite being left off the 40-man roster for last year's Rule 5 Draft and going unclaimed. This year the Cubs may not have to worry, since he hit his way to the big leagues and improved his defense. He hit .284 with 24 homers and 79 RBIs between Tennessee and Iowa before his debut.
Rocky Roquet, RHP: Undrafted out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo last year, his fourth school as he looked for the right fit, Roquet moved up through three Minor League levels this year, leading the organization with 18 saves. After posting an 0.36 ERA with 11 saves at Peoria, he moved briefly to Daytona and then Tennessee, where he finished by going 4-0 with seven saves and a 3.63 ERA.
Micah Hoffpauir, 1B: A slightly older pick for this list at 27, Hoffpauir might well have been in Chicago by September had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury in early July. One of the breakthrough players in the organization in the first half, he was hitting .319 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs as of July 2 at Iowa when he got hurt. Now the Cubs need to decide whether they could lose the left-handed hitter in the Rule 5 if he's not protected.
Chris Huseby, RHP: The 2006 11th-round pick, who was still on limited innings that summer due to 2005 Tommy John surgery, finished sixth in the Northwest League with a 3.39 ERA at Boise and struck out 53 batters in 66 innings. He has great stuff and could move quickly now that he's healthy.
Kyler Burke, OF: Burke was that rare commodity, a first-round pick who got traded almost immediately after his one-year "protection" period ended. The Cubs wrangled the supplemental pick from 2006 from the San Diego Padres in the deal for catcher Michael Barrett. After a slow start at Boise, his power started to show. He went hitless in his first seven games and didn't hit a homer until mid-July but slugged 10 long balls in his last six weeks and was showing his stuff in Hawaiian Winter League with one of the top averages.
Alex Maestri, RHP: The first Italian-born player to sign with an affiliated organization was discovered in a baseball clinic in his home country and pitched for Italy in the World Baseball Classic as well. He pitched mostly in relief at Peoria this year, collecting 12 saves and posting a 2.26 ERA, limiting Midwest League hitters to a .186 average and striking out 83 with 15 walks in 83 2/3 innings.
2007 Draft Recap
Josh Vitters, 3B: The third pick overall was considered to be the top high school hitter in the draft, one who can combine high average and power down the line. His brief introduction to pro ball after signing at the last minute may have been disappointing, since he hit .067 in the Arizona League and .190 at Boise, but the Cubs are not worried. He is also more than adequate defensively.
Joshua Donaldson, C: The 48th overall pick out of Auburn had a great debut at Boise, hitting .346 with nine homers and 35 RBIs as well as a league-leading .470 on-base average. The converted third baseman also impressed behind the plate as he threw out 40 percent of baserunners.
Tony Thomas, 2B: The speedy Thomas, a Florida State product, led the NCAA in hits and doubles, was second in on-base average and third in batting this year. At Boise, he continued that hot streak, hitting .308 with five homers and 33 RBIs, with a .404 on-base average and .544 slugging percentage. He stole 28 bases and was caught just twice. A true leadoff hitter who is fun to watch, he could also be a quick riser.
Others of Note: SS Darwin Barney (fourth), drafted out of Oregon State, hit .273 with 21 RBIs at Peoria. ... The Cubs' next two picks were teammates at Virginia -- OF Brandon Guyer (fifth) and LHP Casey Lambert (sixth) both joined the fold. Guyer hit .268 at Boise, while Lambert posted a 2.25 ERA in four games with the Hawks before moving up to Peoria, where he was 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in 18 games out of the 'pen. ... Three of the next four picks were college outfielders with Ty Wright (seventh) out of Oklahoma State, Clark Hardman (ninth) out of Cal State-Fullerton and Leon Johnson (10th) out of Brigham Young. All finished at Peoria as the Cubs wasted no time in accelerating their college picks.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.