Ten years later: The Cubs farm system in 2006

We’re all excited, not only that the Cubs are playing so well, but that their farm system is producing lots of major league talent. In the last few years, they’ve successfully promoted players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison RussellKyle Hendricks, and most recently Albert Almora. Meanwhile, they have a lot of other prospects who are making good progress in the minor leagues.

In 2006, things weren’t going quite as well. The big league team was awful in Dusty Baker’s final year. And as it turns out, the farm system was pretty bad too. Check out this list of the Cubs’ Top 20 prospects from that year:

  1. Mark Pawelek, LHP
  2. Felix Pie, OF
  3. Ronny Cedeno, SS
  4. Eric Patterson, 2B
  5. Jae-Kuk Ryu, RHP
  6. Donald Veal, LHP
  7. Sean Gallagher, RHP
  8. Angel Guzman, RHP
  9. Rich Hill, LHP
  10. Carlos Marmol, RHP
  11. Sean Marshall, LHP
  12. Scott Moore, 3B
  13. Ryan Harvey, OF
  14. Mark Holliman, RHP
  15. Mike Phelps, RHP
  16. Brian Dopirak, 1B
  17. Brandon Sing, 1B
  18. Rick Rohlicek, LHP
  19. Randy Wells, RHP
  20. Grant Johnson, RHP

Only one of these players is currently in the big leagues – Rich Hill, now pitching for the Oakland Athletics. 12 of these players reached the big leagues, though only five of them have a positive career Wins Above Replacement (WAR):

  • Marmol: 9.7
  • Marshall: 9.7
  • Wells: 7.8
  • Hill: 7.7
  • Guzman: 1.4
  • Patterson: -0.1
  • Veal: -0.1
  • Ryu: -0.5
  • Moore: -0.8
  • Cedeno: -1.4
  • Gallagher: -1.5
  • Pie: -1.8

(Just to put this in perspective, Rizzo already has a career WAR of 17.9.)

Pawelek, taken 20th overall in 2005, has to be among the biggest disappointments in recent Cubs memory, as he never made it above the Single-A level. Pie was once considered a big part of the Cubs’ future when he came up in 2007, but he didn’t do much in two seasons before being shipped to the Orioles. He last appeared in the majors with the Pirates in 2013.

There are a couple of minor success stories here. Marmol and Marshall both had a few great years out of the Cubs’ bullpen, but wildness eventually derailed Marmol’s career while the Cubs traded Marshall to the Reds after the 2011 season as part of their rebuild. (That traded netted them current reliever Travis Wood.) Hill was solid for the Cubs as a starter in 2007, as was Wells in 2009-10, while Cedeno was a serviceable backup infielder for a couple of years. But they were the only other players who made significant contributions to the Cubs’ major league team.

The fact that the Cubs were unable to produce even one player with a double-digit career WAR from this group speaks as much, if not more, to the team’s inability to develop talent as it does the ability to acquire talent. Of course, there are no guarantees that the players the Cubs have in the minors now will be any more successful. But to this point, Theo Epstein & Co. have already shown great ability to draft and trade well and to finish developing young players into major league ready talent. Hopefully this is a sign of great things to come.

Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.

Image source: ScottRAnselmo via Wikimedia Commons