The Cubs have seven left-handed hitting center-field prospects in their system, four at the upper levels, and three more at the lower levels. It's likely that one of them will eventually end up as the Cubs everyday CF.
But the big question is, which one?
: Because he has been in the organization for six seasons (he was signed as a hot-shot 16-year old out of the Dominican Republic in 2001), Cubs fans tend to forget Pie is only 22 years old. But he still has the most potential of any Cubs position player prospect in the system.
Pie has plus-speed and plus-power, he has the 3rd strongest arm in the organization (behind only Nelson Perez and Ryan Harvey, and they are both RFs), and is a potential future Gold Gove CF.
Pie is coachable and has worked hard to overcome his deficiencies. He was one of a handful of position players to report to Fitch Park with the pitchers and catchers the first day of Spring Training in 2007. He is gregarious and enthusiastic, and when he makes mistakes, it's usually a matter of him taking unnecessary chances and trying to do too much. He has become best friends with Alfonso Soriano, and lived at Soriano's apartment in Chicago during the '07 season. Anybody who meets Felix Pie likes him.
Pie is not yet a good base-stealer, but he has worked with organization base-running instructor Bob Dernier on his technique for the past year or so and has improved.
At heart, he is a first-ball fastball hitter and is a MUCH better hitter when he takes that approach, but he has been encouraged by the Cubs player development people to be more selective and patient at the plate. This has caused him to sometimes look like the proverbial "deer in headlights," taking hittable pitches for called strikes early in the count and then expanding his strike zone once he gets down in the count, often-times going down swinging and looking bad in the process. But his main deficiency is that he struggles big-time versus LHP.
Pie has one minor league option left, and would probably be best-served by spending the 2008 season at Iowa, playing every day and hitting somewhere at or near the top of the order (to get him maximum plate appearances versus LHP), although he is really more of a #6 hitter.
One other thing.
Everywhere Felix Pie goes, his club wins. He's a champion.
: A 25-year polished professional baseball player, Fuld can play all three OF positions. He played four seasons of college ball at Stanford, and also was a member of Team USA. He was drafted by the Cubs in 2003, but chose to return to school for his senior season, and then the Cubs drafted him again in 2004 (and this time the Cubs signed him), although his pro debut was delayed for a year while he rehabbed frrom shoulder surgery. So although he will be 26 on Opening Day 2008, he has only three years of professional experience. He's spent more time in the infirmary and the training room than he has on the field!
Unlike Pie, Sam Fuld CAN hit LHP. He has an above-average arm and is a superior defender. He is intelligent and has a strong academic background (he attends grad school at Stanford during the off-season, and his father is chair of the psychology department at the University of New Hampshire).
Fuld's main problem is a tendency to sacrifice his body running the bases and making plays in the outfield. He is hyper-aggressive and super-competetive, and (if necessary) he will run through a wall to make a play. He once tore a labrum sliding head-first into 3rd base. He also has sustained a broken wrist, a sports hernia, and a strained oblique over the past three seasons, limiting his player development time.
He is a patient hitter who is not afraid to take a walk. He is a good hitter with a line-drive stroke and gap power. He hits one HR in about every 25 games (by comparison, over the past couple of seasons Ryan Theriot has hit one HR in about every 40 games).
If he remains with the Cubs, Fuld could very well be the Cubs Opening Day CF and #2 hitter in 2008, or at least until such time as Felix Pie or Eric Patterson develop into the every day CF.
Or he could get traded.
Scouts from the other 29 MLB clubs have been watching Sam Fuld play in the AFL, and he is simply the best all-around player in the league right now... Not the best PROSPECT, but the best PLAYER.
Depending on how things go with the free-agent MLB CFs, Fuld could play CF and hit lead-off for probably a half-dozen MLB clubs in 2008 (FLA, WAS, PIT, TEX, MIN, and ATL). Or if he remains with the Cubs long-term, Fuld also could easily slip into the 4th OF role, because he can play all three OF positions. He is probably a much better option for that role than (for instance) Angel Pagan.
Sam Fuld at AFL 2007 (so far):
1st in doubles and tied for 1st in triples
2nd in hits and 2nd in walks
3rd in stolen bases and 3rd in OPS
4th in OBP and tied for 4th in runs scored
5th in SLG
6th in BA
Tied for 8th in RBI (while hitting lead-off)
Some wonder how Sam Fuld compares with Jacoby Ellsbury.
I saw both play in college (Fuld at Stanford and Ellsbury at Oregon State), and the main difference between them is that Ellsbury is at least a step faster than Fuld. While Fuld is a fast runner, Ellsbury is a VERY fast runner. Ellsbury is the superior base-stealer (Fuld steals at about a 70% rate, while Ellsbury steals at 90%) and covers more ground in CF. However, Fuld has a stronger arm and can play all three OF positions, while Ellsbury's arm limits him to LF or CF. And Ellsbury is three years younger than Fuld. But otherwise they are comparable players.
Sam Fuld vs Jacoby Ellsbury (career minor league numbers average per 160 games):
Fuld 296/377/417 - Ellsbury 313/389/425
Fuld 107 R - Ellsbury 116 R
Fuld 6 HR, 39 2B & 7 3B - Ellsbury 6 HR, 29 2B & 13 3B
Fuld 26 SB (8 CS) - Ellsbury 70 SB (9 CS)
Fuld 70 BB/70 K - Ellsbury 74 BB/84 K
Sam Fuld is what he is, and probably what you see right now is about all you're going to get. But that's not a bad thing.
: Selected by the Cubs in the 8th round of the 2004 Rule 4 Draft out of Georgia Tech and the younger brother of ex-Cub CF Corey Patterson, E-Pat started his career as a second-baseman. But he lacks the "ball-handling" skills to play a middle-infield position (he's like a "two-guard" playing point guard). While capable of making the occasional highlight-reel spectacular play, he also has the propensity to somehow find a way to make a critical error at the absolutely worst possible time on the easy plays. He's like a bull in a china shop out there. He plays second-base without nuance.
But he also has plus-speed and decent arm strength, and he's OK catching pop-ups. Which is why I figured his best position would be OF (LF or CF). And the Cubs apparently agree, because they moved Patterson to the outfield at Iowa in late July.
The Cubs brought Patterson up to the big leagues in August when Alfonso Soriano went down with a quad injury, but E-Pat didn't play much, and was sent back to Iowa. He was then recalled when the rosters expanded on September 1st, but was demoted to AA when he showed up late to Wrigley Field after he overslept (and apparently it was not the first time that happened with him).
The thing is, Patterson is a very good top-of-the order hitter. Unlike his brother, E-Patt is a good bunter and will take a walk (although he also strikes out a lot, too). He is a good base-stealer (better than Pie), and he has the power to hit 15-18 HR a year. Also unlike Pie, E-Pat can hit LHP. And like his brother (but unlike Pie), E-Pat is quiet and doesn't display much outward emotion, giving an impression of indifference or lack of passion.
It would be great if Eric Patterson could remain at 2B, because that's where he would have the most value to the Cubs. But he is just not a second-baseman. However, if he can learn to play an adequate MLB-quality CF (and he has yet to prove that he can), he could be a fine MLB everyday player hitting #1 or #2 in the order, if not with the Cubs, then someplace else.
The main problem with Patterson moving to the outfield is how to find playing time for both Patterson and Pie in CF at Iowa in 2008 if Pie spends another season at AAA. Since everybody knows Pie can play CF, it probably would be best to play E-Pat in CF and move Pie to RF for the 2008 season, and then re-evaluate the situation again a year from now.
But ultimately there will probably not be room for both Felix Pie and Eric Patterson in the Cubs lineup. One will probably have to be traded, and my guess is it will be Patterson, possibly as soon as this off-season.
: The Cubs selected Colvin with their #1 pick (13th overall) out of Clemson in 2006. Drafted as a 20-year old junior, Colvin was a first-baseman in HS, but was moved to LF in college to take advantage of his speed and athleticism. He hit a walk-off grand slam in a CWS Super-Regional in 2006.
Colvin has the power/speed combo to eventually hit 30 HR and steal 20 bases. He is also an aggressive EXTREME first-ball fastball hitter who rarely walks, but so far it's worked for him, as he hits the ball hard to all fields. He is often compared to a young Shawn Green.
Colvin played LF at Clemson and in his first season in the Cubs organization at Boise (where he was named the NWL #1 prospect by Baseball America
), but was moved to CF in the AZ Instructional League after the 2006 season, and he looked OK there. He covered a lot ground, and showed the potential to be a decent CF.
Colvin was put on an arm stengthening program in Spring Training, and was moved again (to RF) when it became increasingly clear that Alfonso Soriano would probably be playing LF in Chicago for a long time. And Colvin actually did improve his arm strength to where it became adequate for a right-fielder, but he also developed a sore shoulder in the process.
Colvin opened the 2007 season at Daytona (jumping over Peoria), and was promoted to AA Tennessee at mid-season (he was an FSL all-star at Daytona). While he struggled at the beginning of the season at Daytona and at AA immediately after his promotion, he adjusted in both cases to where he became a solid every day RF on both teams after his initial period of adjustment (although he also spent some time at both places on the DL with a sore shoulder).
Colvin was named to Team USA after the season, and will be playing in the World Cup later this month in Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). He has a certain air about him, an "it" factor that just cannot be quantified with statistics. You just have to watch him play. He's a thoroughbred. He makes big plays when they need to be made, and he gets big hits when they are needed most. He seems to rise to the occasion. He's a champion. Pie's got it, too. So does Fuld. But I think Eric Patterson ain't got it.
: A 22-year old who was selected by the Cubs in the 10th round of the 2007 Rule 4 Draft as a draft-eligible sophomore out of BYU, Johnson got 5th round money to sign. He had been previously drafted out of HS in 2003 and then again out of JC in 2006 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but did not sign either time. He didn't sign in 2003 because he was heading out on a two-year LDS mission to Siberia, and then he enrolled at BYU in 2006 instead of signing with the Rays.
One of Johnson's brothers is on the Devil Rays 40-man roster, a younger brother was drafted by the Phillies out of HS this past June, and an older brother was drafted by the Mariners a few years ago. Leon himself was a state track champion in HS, and he has the long, loping stride of a hurdler. He is one of the fastest players in the Cubs organization, certainly the best bunter, and the best or (at least the second-best) base-stealer (Tony Thomas might be #1). He also is EXTREMELY patient at the plate and takes a lot of walks (and called third strikes).
Johnson has a plus-arm, and is a superior defender who can play all three OF positions. He also has the power to hit 8-10 HR a year. His major deficiency is his hitting. Right now, he stuggles to hit breaking balls. When he gets hits, they are usually bunt singles or infield chops or rollers where he uses his plus-speed to outrun throws to first base.
Johnson is still rusty after taking two years off from baseball. They apparently don't play much baseball in Siberia. If he can improve his hitting, he will be an everyday MLB CF. Even if he doesn't improve much as a hitter, he could still possibly be an MLB 4th OF.
I figure Johnson will probably open the 2008 season back at Peoria and play either CF or RF, but he could get assigned to Daytona with a good Spring Training at the plate. He already has the baserunning and defensive skills required to move quickly through the Cubs system.
: Selected by the Cubs in the 9th round in the 2006 Rule 4 Draft out of Cottonwood HS in Salt Lake City, the 20-year old Andersen took 5th round money from the Cubs to give up a chance to play college baseball at Oklahoma State. He is an athletic player who could also have played football (safety) in college (Like Eric Patterson, Andersen's father played in the NFL), but chose to concentrate exclusively on baseball after he turned pro.
Andersen was slowed by a lower back strain in 2007, but he has plus-power (I saw him hit a 450-foot HR over the CF hitting background at Fitch Park Field #2 this past EXST) and the defensive acumen to play all three OF positions. He doesn't have the arm of Pie or Johnson, but it is a slightly above-average OF arm, good enough to play RF, although CF is his best position.
Andersen reminds me of a young Jim Edmonds (the good and the bad). He has plus-power and above-average speed, and he plays the type of solid defense in CF you would expect from a former football defensive back. But he also strikes out a lot.
Unlike Pie and Colvin, Andersen is NOT an aggressive first-ball fastball hitter. Actually, he's the exact opposite. He tries to work the count, and waits for his pitch. He may even be too patient at the plate, to where he thinks too much and sometimes borders on being somewhat passive.
Andersen will likely spend the 2008 season at Peoria, and hopefully he can stay healthy and get himself a full-season of ABs and make more consistent contact.
: Selected by the Cubs in the 13th round of the 2007 Rule 4 draft, Wyatt won an NCAA Rawlings Gold Glove his senior season at Georgia. And he is in fact an OUTSTANDING defender in CF, probably very close to major league quality right now. His arm is defintely strong enough for CF.
Wyatt is a mature 23-year old (he played four years in college and there was a redshirt year in there somewhere, too), so he's not exactly a kid. He's a decent hitter (he has a line-drive stroke), but nothing special. He works the count really well, however, and in that respect he's the closest thing to Sam Fuld in the organization. He doesn't have blazing speed, although (as with Fuld) it's above-average. He was at Boise in 2007, but will probably start the 2008 season at Daytona (jumping over Peoria), just because of his maturity and his defensive skills, and because he had a strong showing in the AZ Instructional League last month.
Because of his age, Wyatt needs to keep progressing and move quickly through the system. He can't get bogged down too long in "A" ball. I know of at least one opposing scout who likes Wyatt a lot and thinks he's a definite MLB CF prospect.