Chicago Cubs’ Most Heartbreaking Prospect Busts of Recent Years
Chicago Cubs' Latest Flops
Recently MLB.com updated their top 100 MLB prospects list and three of the Chicago Cubs biggest “stars in the making”, shortstop Javier Baez and outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, made the cut at 16th, 39th, and 42nd, respectively. The list, which is produced by MLB.com’s draft and prospect expert Jonathon Mayo, is always fun to look at for several hours on end, but will undoubtedly become a source of disappointment at one point or another. Attempting to predict which prospects will develop into serviceable, everyday players at the highest level by analyzing scouting reports is unthinkable for me. Unfortunately, it's easier to scrutinize prospect rankings than it is to put in the countless hours of research to create them. The fact is, players that are considered top prospects in the early stages of their professional careers can end up "flopping."
Remember Kevin Orie? Brooks Kieschnick? What about Luis Montanez? At one time all three were highly regarded as promising MLB prospects within the Cubs organization but never lived up to the hype. The probability of Baez, Almora, and Soler all developing into dangerous players at the big league level is, to the dismay of all Cubs fans, pretty remote. Luckily, those same fans have experienced this heartbreak before. Let’s take a look back at some of the biggest and most heartbreaking Cubs prospect flops of recent memory.
Corey Patterson OF
Corey Patterson was regarded as a five-tool player with tremendous upside. In 2002, the athletic, 22-year-old outfielder got his first chance at a full season with the Cubs after zipping right through the Minor League system. He hit just .253 and struck out 142 times. In 2003, Patterson busted out and was on track for a 30-30 season before getting injured half way through the year and missing the rest of the season. After bouncing back with 26 home runs and 32 stolen bases in 2004, Patterson has failed to produce at a consistent level ever since and has played for five different organizations in the last five years.
Jake Fox C/OF/PH
Jake Fox was a beast when he was coming up through the Minor League system. The outfielder/catcher had the sort of raw power that could have allowed him to put up huge offensive numbers. Fox produced home run totals of 21, 24, and 31 in three Minor League seasons from 2006 to 2008. In 2009, Fox was absolutely terrorizing Triple-A pitching and was hitting a laughable .409 with 17 bombs through 45 games before getting the call to the Majors. In 82 games with the Cubs that season, Fox put together a respectable rookie campaign by hitting .259 with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs, but that was the most production anyone would ever see from him again. The Cubs traded Fox to the Oakland Athletics and since then he’s bounced around a bit. Now 30-years-old with just 20 career big league home runs to his credit, Fox was last seen somewhere in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
Mark Prior RHP
I didn’t want to begin the list with Mark Prior but I didn’t want to end with him either, just to give readers a better chance of forgetting this one. He was going to be the ace of the Cubs staff for many years. He had the perfect mechanics, strength, command, work ethic, and competitive drive to win multiple Cy Young awards, but he hasn’t pitched in the MLB since 2006 when he was just 25 years old. After being drafted as the 2nd overall pick of the 2001 amateur draft out of USC, Prior needed just nine Minor League appearances before making his MLB debut in 2002. He finished his first full season in 2003 with an 18-6 record and a 2.43 ERA to finish third in the Cy Young award voting at the tender age of 22. Unfortunately, that year would end up being the highlight of his career as injuries would plague him every year thereafter. Prior has been attempting a comeback in recent years, and last year he pitched 19 games for the Boston Red Sox Triple-A affiliate. Now let’s move on because it’s just too painful to think about what could have been for the former phenom.
Felix Pie OF
In 2007, the 22-year-old Felix Pie was crushing Triple-A pitching to a clip of .362 with nine home runs in 55 games when he was given a shot at big league pitching. He hit just .215 in 87 games with the Cubs the rest of the way. In 2008, the young Dominican’s struggles continued before a recall to the minors. Later that winter, Pie was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles for a couple of young pitching prospects. In Baltimore, he was given opportunities to play, but his career .298 on-base percentageisn’t even close to what was expected of him.
Angel Guzman RHP
Angel Guzman was considered a very dangerous pitching prospect at one time in his professional career. His Minor League numbers are a good indication of just how much potential Guzman had as he posted records of 9-1 and 11-4 in his first two professional seasons in Single-A ball. He was promoted to the Chicago Cubs in 2006 at 24 years old, but he struggled to establish his command as a starting pitcher, going 0-7 in his first three stints in the Major Leagues. Guzman was converted to a relief pitcher and in 2009 put together a commendable year out of the Cubs bullpen, appearing in 55 games with a 2.95 ERA. However, Guzman was sidelined for the entire 2010 season with an injury and has yet to fully recover. In 2012, Guzman pitched in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, and now a 30-year-old, will try to make a comeback.
Hee Seop Choi 1B
Hee Seop Choi was supposed to be the “big bopper” in the middle of the Cubs lineup for many years and scouts regarded his defense just as highly. The big 6’5” 235-pound first baseman clubbed 26 home runs with Triple-A Iowa in 2002, before being called up to the big leagues where he .180 in 50 at bats with two just home runs. In 2003, Choi hit just .218 in 202 at bats with eight home runs, while striking out in a third of his plate appearances. Nothing ever fully developed for Choi in Chicago, nor with stints with the Florida Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers. However, Choi did make a name for himself as the first Korean-born position player to play in the Major Leagues. I’ll never forget his head-on collision with Kerry Wood in a game that left Choi knocked out on the ground for several minutes.
Dave Kelton OF
Dave Kelton wasn’t regarded quite as highly as a top prospect as others on this list, but with just 22 career plate appearances in the MLB after an impressive Minor League career, it’s hard for me to forego his inclusion. With Triple-A Iowa in 2003, Kelton hit 19 home runs to add to his previous Minor League totals of 13, 18, 12, 20, and 16. However, he could never quite make the turn from dangerous Minor League hitter to serviceable big league talent, and by the time he was 26 he decided to call it quits.