With the 2010 season approaching, MLB.com takes a look at 10 of the Cubs most intriguing prospects that you should keep an eye on.
Prior to the 2009 season, we identified 10 prospects to watch in the Cubs farm system. Of those 10, six remain on the 2010 list.
Andrew Cashner, RHP: Though a reliever at Texas Christian, the Cubs liked the three-pitch mix their 2008 first-rounder brought to the mound and decided to develop him as a starter. So far, so good, as the 6-foot-6 right-hander made it up to Double-A in his first full season and finished with a 2.64 ERA in 100 1/3 innings. He was on a tight pitch count after starting the season late due to an oblique issue. His command is a problem at times and that, along with his delivery, have some thinking he'll be a reliever when all is said and done. For now, though, the Cubs will let him continue to develop all of his pitches in the Minors. Don't be shocked to see him in Chicago in some capacity in 2010.
Tyler Colvin, OF: Colvin had Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2008, then came back to hit .286 with 15 homers in 116 games between Daytona and Tennessee. He worked tirelessly this past offseason and put 25 pounds onto his 6-foot-3 frame and the results were showing up in his Spring Training performance. Colvin played so well he was working his way into conversations about breaking with the big league club. The Cubs might decide they want him to play every day, where he can continue to work on his plate discipline. Even if he does go down, he's likely to see some time in Wrigley in 2010.
Ryan Flaherty, 2B/SS: The Vanderbilt product and 2008 supplemental first-rounder made his full-season debut in 2009 and continued what he had done during his pro debut the previous summer. The left-handed hitter swatted 20 home runs and drove in 81 runs, finishing with a .470 slugging percentage. That's not too shabby for a middle infielder. Flaherty played all over the infield, with most of his time coming at second. He got plenty of action at shortstop as well and even dabbled at third. Whether he'll find a permanent defensive home remains to be seen and even if he doesn't, he could become a very valuable offensive-minded utilityman in the not-too-distant future.
Brandon Guyer, OF: The Cubs challenged Guyer by jumping him from Class A Peoria in 2008 to Double-A Tennessee in 2009. The toolsy outfielder wasn't quite ready for that and after hitting .173 over the first two months of the season, he got moved down to Daytona. That worked as the then-23-year-old hit .347/.407/.453 over 73 games. That earned him a bump back up to Double-A and he finished by going 7-for-21. He's got speed to spare -- he stole 30 bases on the year -- and while the power didn't show up in terms of home runs, it's still there. The 2010 season could be a big one for the former football player as it could determine just how legitimate a prospect he really is.
Hak-Ju Lee, SS: The Cubs are proud of their efforts in the Far East and Lee is a big reason for that. Even though his debut was delayed because of Tommy John surgery before he even came to the United States, no one is complaining now. Lee went to the short-season Northwest League at age 18 and led the circuit with 25 steals. He finished fourth with a .330 average and showed some decent plate discipline with a .399 OBP, earning postseason All-Star honors in the process. His speed allows him to have tremendous range at short and he's got plenty of arm to stay there. Not uncommon for a young, flashy shortstop, he made a bunch of errors, but don't expect that to continue. Having two top shortstop prospects with Lee and Starlin Castro (see below) undoubtedly excites the Cubs.
Josh Vitters, 3B: While Vitters' progress has been slowed somewhat because of a hand injury, there's nothing wrong with his ability to hit the baseball. He showed that when he made his true full-season debut last year and hit .316/.351/.535 at age 19 to earn a promotion to Daytona after 70 games. He hit just .238 in 50 games there, but he feasted on Arizona Fall League pitching. Defensively, he has improved at third base considerably, but it's his bat that will get him to the big leagues. Even if he doesn't make the leap to Double-A to start the year, he should see it at some point in 2010.
These four players were on our 2009 list but are not on the 2010 list, due to the loss of rookie status, poor performance, injury, the addition of other prospects to the list, etc.
Welington Castillo, C: The 2009 season is one Castillo would probably rather forget. After a 2008 campaign that saw the young backstop be a Florida State League All-Star and go to the Futures Game, Castillo took a step backward by hitting .232/.275/.386 when he moved up to Double-A. He's still got a plus arm behind the plate that shuts down opponents' running game, though the other aspects of his defense regressed some. It will be interesting to see if it served as a wake-up call and if he will bounce back in 2010 at age 23.
Micah Hoffpauir, 1B/OF: It took him eight-plus years, but Hoffpauir finally established himself somewhat as a big leaguer. He got 234 at-bats backing up the outfield corners and first base. Though he hit just .239, he did finish with 10 homers and 12 doubles. Now 30 years old, Hoffpauir has the chance to have a nice little career as a good left-handed bat off the bench.
Prospects to watch
Andrew Cashner, RHP
Chris Carpenter, RHP
Welington Castillo, C
Andrew Cashner, RHP
Tyler Colvin, OF
Starlin Castro, SS
Ryan Flaherty, SS
Tyler Colvin, OF
Brandon Guyer, OF
Ryan Flaherty, 2B
Micah Hoffpauir, 1B/OF
Brandon Guyer, OF
Hak-Ju Lee, SS
Brett Jackson, OF
Dae-Eun Rhee, LHP
Jay Jackson, RHP
Jeff Samardzija, RHP
Hak-Ju Lee, SS
Josh Vitters, 3B
Josh Vitters, 3B
Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP: Rhee is on his way back from Tommy John surgery. He made a handful of appearances in the rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Northwest League. Reportedly, he started to look like his pre-injury self during instructs and there's every reason to think he'll begin impressing with his three-pitch mix in 2010. His makeup and clean delivery should help this 2007 signee out of Korea.
Jeff Samardzija, RHP: He's started, he's relieved, he's been up and down the Iowa-Chicago shuttle. He wasn't as effective in the big leagues in 2009 as he was in '08 in a relief role, but it's hard to judge based on the briefness of his stays. In the Minors, he started and pitched reasonably well. He went to Mexico to work on his breaking stuff and looked pretty sharp in five starts as he prepped to compete for a rotation spot this spring. Even if he doesn't win that bid, he could land a spot in the bullpen.
The following four players are new additions to the Cubs Prospects to Watch list.
Chris Carpenter, RHP: After elbow injuries led to Tommy John surgery in college, Carpenter dropped to the third round of the 2008 Draft and the Cubs were the beneficiaries. Pitching across three levels, the big right-hander led the organization with his 2.82 ERA and showed no arm trouble of any sort over 130 2/3 IP. Opponents hit just .210 against him and he struck out 118. He'll need to refine his command a bit, but he's not far away from being able to contribute in Chicago.
Starlin Castro, SS: Talk about a breakout. Castro made his full-season debut, jumped to the Florida State League at age 19 and finished in Double-A. He hit .302 and stole 22 bases with Daytona, won the FSL All-Star Game MVP, then continued to fare well with Tennessee, hitting .288 over 31 games. He struck out just 53 times over 469 total at-bats. He has all the tools to be a top-notch all-around shortstop and could be ready for the bigs sooner rather than later.
Brett Jackson, OF: The Cubs were thrilled to get Jackson with the 31st pick in 2009 and the Cal product went out and had about as good a pro debut as one could ask for, hitting .318/.418/.488 over 53 games, a tour that ended with full-season Peoria. He did strike out 56 times in his 211 at-bats and that's one thing that was a cause for concern when he came out of school. That being said, he's shown the ability to hit for average and power and he's got good speed (13 SBs) that serves him well in center field. He's the kind of college hitter that could move very quickly through the system.
Jay Jackson, RHP: It's hard to figure out why Jackson hasn't gotten more attention. A ninth-rounder in 2008, he pitched at three levels in his first full season. He debuted in Double-A, got bumped down for disciplinary reasons (not expected to be a recurring issue), but earned his way back up. Overall, he had a 2.98 ERA over 127 innings, holding hitters to a .230 batting average and striking out 127. Just 22, he could force his way into Cubs rotation discussions by the beginning of 2011, if not sooner.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.