WTNYMarch 06, 2005
Stroh & Smith Cubs 40
By Bryan Smith

Last year, former blogger Bryan Stroh helped Christian Ruzich, ranking thirty Cubs prospects for the Cub Reporter. This year, Bryan and I have agreed to combine our knowledge to form one list, which will feature forty Cub prospects. Over the next four days, TCR and this site will alternate pieces as Bryan and I count from forty to one. Enjoy...

40. Jermaine Van Buren- RP- Iowa

Smith: The hope with JVB is that he becomes the next Joe Borowski, a who-woulda-thunk signing from the Independent League. Van Buren actually came with a little more notoriety than JoBo, as he was suggested to the organization by super scout Gary Hughes. Last year was his first extensive stint in relief pitching, and it went extremely well. Jermaine made a mockery of the Southern League, posting a H/9 below four. The issue here is one with control: he walked more men than he allowed hits to. Van Buren will be part of a ridiculously good Iowa bullpen, and has enough youth (24 this year) to wait it out for a year there.

Stroh: Last year, Van Buren was buried in the Cubs media guide along with most of the rest of the roster filled in the organization, and this was unsurprising given that Van Buren had been signed out of Indy league and looked to be roster filler at either Daytona or West Tennessee. Indeed, Van Buren broke camp last year with Lansing, and pitched middle relief for the season's first two weeks. When a roster spot opened up at West Tennessee, the Cubs decided not to fill it with one of the young arms at Daytona, and instead opted for Van Buren. Thrust into the closer's role by complete fluke, Van Buren earned Manager Bobby Dickerson's confidence with a smooth first outing. From there, it was more of the same, and as my partner points out, Van Buren's final numbers were outstanding. This is a former 2nd round draft pick that combines good stuff with Joe Borowski's "moxie." If only it was always this easy. Van Buren's fastball doesn't rise above 90-91, but he has a knack for making big pitches at big times, and his secondary stuff allows him to put hitters away when he gets ahead of them. This year, he is in big league camp and surely will have more than the obligatory 10 lines in the Media Guide. He'll be only a 75 minute flight away from Chicago, playing at beautiful Sec Taylor Stadium in Des Moines.

39. Adam Greenberg- LF- West Tenn

Smith: In my mind, opportunity will be the only thing holding that holds Adam Greenberg back from becoming a useful fourth outfielder. A left-handed bat, the ability to play all three outfield spots, a good amount of speed and keen batting eye are all working in Greenberg's favor. On his to-do list should be adding muscle, not too many Major League outfielders succeed at 170 pounds. A great hitter at UNC, Greenberg has very little power, though he does have enough pop to get by. To me, Coco Crisp is the perfect comparison, though Covelli definitely has age in his corner. If all goes to plan, Greenberg would make a fine fourth outfielder for Dubois-Pie-Patterson.

Stroh: I confess that I've probably underrated Greenberg over the years, and once again I am sure there will be those out there who decry his ranking at #39. After a solid .291/.381 in 300 at-bats in Daytona, Greenberg followed that up with .277/.366 at West Tennessee. The Crisp comparison is a good one, especially if Greenberg can have the kind of year that Crisp had in 2003 in AAA (.360/.434/.511). Greenberg will probably never slug .500, but if he keeps his OBA above .370 or so, he'll make his way onto a big league roster sooner than later. Oneiri Fleita says that the question is not whether Greenberg will play in the majors, but when. While that optimism is outstanding, especially coming from Fleita, the rest of us are left to debate whether Greenberg will end up more like Coco Crisp or Doug Dascenzo. I'm on the Dascenzo side, but I'm hoping that years of working with John Cangelosi and Vince Coleman will give Greenberg a 10% chance of becoming Scott Podsednik.

38. Dave Crouthers- P- Iowa

Smith: Crouthers is like the Christmas card you get from the family friends you dumped those extra tickets on. You couldn't have used the tickets anyway, but more was expected in return than a family portrait. The Sammy Sosa trade was not about Dave Crouthers, nor do I think the Cubs carefully handpicked him from the Baltimore farm system. Said to have modest stuff, Crouthers looks far more like a reliever than the starting he has been doing. A stacked Iowa pitching staff could leave him in and out of roles, as the Cubs see if there is some niche that will work for him.

Stroh: I love my partner's comparison here, as he is dead on. Crouthers was plagued by questions of, brace yourselves people, mental makeup during his time in Baltimore. Of course, nobody has any idea what this means, other than that perhaps Crouthers' demeanor on the mound was lacking on those days when the slider just rolls and the changeup bounces in the dirt. Doesn't Carlos Zambrano also do that? Oh yeah, it's ok with him since everybody knows he's good. People only question your makeup when you don't succeed, even when you do the same stuff as the guys who are good. Oh well, Crouthers throws 92-93, touches 95 and has an above-average slider. As a starter, his changeup always hurts him, but the Cubs are rumored to be converting him to relief to see how his two pitch repertoire takes to the bullpen. A source I trust a great deal says that Crouthers' fastball/slider combo "will be filthy out of the bullpen." Look for Crouthers to begin his career as a reliever at Iowa, part of what looks to be a pretty unique collection of talent in a AAA bullpen.

37. Carlos Vasquez- SP- West Tenn

Smith: With a winning record below .500, a K/9 under 7.0 and ERA close to four, it's understandable to forget about Carlos Vasquez. Personally, I might have missed him if not for his inclusion on the 40-man roster, chosen above the likes of Andy Sisco, Luke Hagerty and Ricky Nolasco. I'll let Stroh hit on his attributes, because I am the skeptic of the two of us. A K/BB under 2.0 and a WHIP nearing 1.50? Come on, even a leftie with a power sinker isn't intriguing with those numbers.

Stroh: For me, Vasquez is the one I wanted back. Somehow I ranked him way, way too high last year, undoubtedly falling in love with the idea of a left-handed sinkerballer that is smart enough to pound sinkers all day long. Simply put, in over 350 career minor league innings, Vazquez has allowed a whopping 19 home runs. Having had Tommy John surgery in 2002, the Cubs were very pleased with his progress in 2003, as he posted a solid 3.74 ERA at Lansing. Last year, Vasquez didn't necessarily build on that, but he didn't regress either. He only managed 79 innings, but his numbers were remarkably similar to the year before. His velocity isn't outstanding, but he's still just 23 and he'll be one more year removed from his arm surgery. Bryan Smith is right to say that his peripheral numbers, at first glance, don't suggest great things, but it is far too early to forget about Vasquez. The Cubs clearly think he is intriguing, and I'll trust Fleita any day of the week. It wouldn't shock me at all to see him win 12-14 games this year and throw 150 innings with a sub 3.50 ERA.

36. Darin Downs- SP- Peoria

Smith: Downs shows that this list is far more reflective of where these players are at than where they are going. On the outside it might appear that Downs is similar to the aforementioned Vasquez, what with that same poor K/BB and 1.50 WHIP. But Downs repertoire offers far more, remember that the Cubs were quite happy to end up with him in the fifth round in 2003. I think he could take off in his first year of full-season ball, catapulting up this list very quickly. He's definitely a candidate for 2005 Breakout Cub Prospect of the Year...I can't wait to see him pitch.

Stroh: I agree Downs is quite the (almost trendy) breakout pick, though I will confess that I was a bit disappointed when I saw him pitch last Spring. He clearly has a good idea of how to pitch, and at times his deuce was outstanding, but it was very inconsistent and the rest of his stuff didn't overly wow me. Now, in his defense, and as his father apparently tells anyone who will listen, Downs may not be done growing yet, as his growth plates haven't completely fused together yet. As such, it wouldn't surprise me to see end up more toward the 6-4 side than the 6-2 side. He's currently listed at 6-3, but that's kind of like how I was listed at 6-4 in my high school basketball program. I saw Downs next to Sean Marshall and it reminded me of how I would get announced at 6-4 and would go run out to shake hands with the guy from the other team who was actually 6-4 and he would be at least 2 inches taller. Anyway, Downs should start the year at Peoria, and while he might not bust out this year if he's still growing and learning how to harness his body, this is a guy Jim Callis liked better than Sean Marshall when they were drafted in 2003. That says a lot, and as much as I like to think I know about baseball and Cub prospects, compared to guys like Callis and Fleita, I'm still just the kohai to their sempai.

35. Scott Moore- 3B- Daytona

Smith: Part of the Kyle Farnsworth package, Moore is similar to the kid that drops out of Harvard, but 'forgets' to change his resume accordingly. Being chosen eighth overall will undoubtedly be what he tells his grandkids, fittingly leaving out the repeat of high-A that he'll spend a year doing. There were worries that he was going to be too big for shortstop when he was chosen, how the Tigers chose him over Khalil Greene or Russ Adams is ludicrous. Moore doesn't even have the versatility of Drew Meyer, chosen tenth, who still has the bench role career route. Scott simply has the unfulfilled promise of power, lost amidst his horrific contact skills.

Stroh: Moore actually hasn't played SS in awhile, as he played every game this year at the hot corner. Smith is right that being the eighth overall pick has a certain ring to it (as opposed to, say, the 1,345th overall pick). The Cubs were clearly interested because Moore has the kind of power rarely seen among infielders, let alone those who hit left-handed. Moore evidently has a "classic" left handed stroke, according to Baseball America, but two straight years hitting .230 doesn't bode all that well. To be honest, this might even be a bit high for Moore, who clearly is living off his "Harvard" status, but whose numbers really don't compare to the many players in the deep Cub system who have put up much, much better (see Sing, Brandon; Collins, Kevin; et al). Maybe a change of scenery will help, but let's face it, it would still be progress if he hit .250 and only struck out 120 times this year.

34. Robert Ransom- SP- Daytona

Smith: Whether he succeeds or fails, I am holding my partner responsible for this selection. His career at Vanderbilt can be summed up by looking at where he was drafted in 2003: 673rd. Since then his control has taken a step up, and it appears he'll go as that goes, since there isn't really much else to offer. Best case scenario, in my mind, is that he ends up a solid middle reliever, but throwing him every fifth day just isn't worth it.

Stroh: Ok, here's our deal. If a guy succeeds, I'll take credit, if he doesn't it's your fault. Ok? Sounds pretty good to me. In Ransom's case, he was picked 673rd, but in light of our discussion of Scott Moore, that doesn't seem quite as relevant as it once did. As a stats guy, my partner should appreciate Ransom more. A sub 1.00 WHIP in 62 innings at Lansing, and an even 1.00 WHIP in an even 23 innings at Daytona. The Cubs even gave him a start in AA at the end of the year. Admittedly, it's not surprising for a guy from a good college program to move quickly in the low minors, but this isn't Sean Overholt we're talking about here, or even Rocky Cherry. This is a guy Baseball America called the Cubs "best late round pick" last year, and while his ceiling might not be any higher than a #4 starter, his chance of reaching that ceiling is higher than most of the Andy Siscos and Jae-Kuk Ryus of the world who have the ceiling that scouts love to dream about. Look for him at West Tennessee this year.

33. Mike Fontenot- 2B- West Tenn

Smith: I'm a little confused as to what level Fontenot will be playing at, given Richard Lewis surpassed him on the prospect radar this year. When looking at Fontenot's numbers, 2003 jumps out, and then you realize that he played in Bowie of the Eastern League. His two other seasons are far more telling of what he'll offer: league average hitting, a decent number of walks, and a bunch of doubles. Not sure if it would be a better career decision to spend the next month learning short and the hot corner, or taking his demotion to AA quietly.

Stroh: Fleita has said that part of the fun of his job is trying to find places for people to play, and in this case, Smith is absolutely right to point out that Fontenot and Lewis are both promising second basemen coming off decent to good years in the high minors. Perhaps one will shift to SS or LF, or perhaps one will DH twice a week. Whatever the case, Fontenot draws a decent number of walks, but that is balanced by an Adam Greenberg-esque slugging percentage of around .400. Further, Fontenot's AAA numbers last year were not nearly as nice as AA numbers the year before when he hit .325/.399/.481 in the Eastern League. Baseball America was remarkably prescient in 2004 when it called Fontenot "trade bait," and the Cubs finally bit when they sent the Sammy Sosa Circus to Baltimore. Fontenot deserves credit for having some success in AAA, but his ceiling is probably something akin to Craig Counsell. If Fontenot broadens his horizons this year and plays a little short and third, he might find himself with a similar career, and hey, Counsell was once a World Series hero.

32. Russ Rohlicek- RP- Iowa

Smith: For the Cub fan that forgot about Tom Gordon and his dump to Houston shortly after Jim Hendry's arrival, meet Russ Rohlicek. Anyone else get the feeling that punctuality is not one of Russ' strengths? His career has been slow-moving if not successful, what with a college career at Long Beach and then he now enters his fifth minor league season. Nonetheless, the chance of Russ not succeeding as a LOOGIE is pretty low, so the Cubs were fairly lucky not to lose him through the Rule 5. Let's just hope that in 2006, he and Ohman give the Cubs a 600k replacement for Remlinger and Randolph.

Stroh: It's a little unfair to talk about how Rohlicek is a little older than most "prospects" since his early career with Houston almost doesn't even count anymore. Shortly after the Cubs got him in the Tom Gordon deal, Rohlicek converted to relief and started throwing from a low ¾ arm angle (along with a number of organizational arms at the time, such as Ron Mahay). Since doing that, Rohlicek has put up some serious numbers, including a 2.09 ERA at West Tennessee last season. Control will determine whether Rohlicek becomes a LOOGY with a 10 year career, or one who bounces around from camp to camp in the Spring, with organizations hoping he'll figure it out on their behalf that year. I give it 50% odds that he’s a nice cheap alternative, as Bryan Smith says, to Mike Remlinger in 2006. In the meantime, he'll cool his heels down the left field line of Sec Taylor (noticing a trend here? Man that’s gonna be a sweet bullpen).

31. Jae-Kuk Ryu- RP- West Tenn

Smith: The Cubs might not go as far as the Orioles with psychological testing, but it wouldn’t take a scholar to realize that Ryu is not the normal human. His career was going solidly until that fateful day with the osprey, and coupled with arm injuries, he's kind of in a tailspin. 2005 will be his opportunity to get both feet firmly on the ground, though he’s now become a relief pitcher. I don't think it's the worst thing that could have happened for Ryu, but it sort of guarantees his future isn't with this organization. The hope now is for a great season, allowing Hendry to deal him in short time.

Stroh: As a longtime Ryu apologist, I think it is a big step for me to announce that my patience with him is wearing thin. Come on, congratulate me. I think I'm growing here. Anyway, he allegedly threw 95 in the AFL, but is likely headed for a full season in the bullpen at West Tennessee. On a scouting scale, Ryu's pure stuff is just about as good as anybody's in the organization. Of course, there's more to pitching (and life as a minor leaguer), than those numbers between 20 and 80 would otherwise indicate. Sometimes you have problems adjusting to your new culture, sometimes you throw a ball and hit an osprey, sometimes you get into fights with teammates, and sometimes your shoulder just hurts. I'd give it a 10% chance that Ryu figures it out this year and starts dominating out of the bullpen, and if that happens, he's one of Jim Hendry's prime chips to use come July 15=July 31, 2005.

Check TCR tomorrow for the next fourth of this list...