Manager Julio Garcia returned for another season at the helm of the Cubs' Class Mid-A team in 2005, guiding his club to a 68-72 record overall. Garcia's team was expected to carry a good many prospects from last year's short-season Boise and Mesa clubs in addition to a few returning faces on the Midwest League circuits.
One such prospect was second baseman Eric Patterson, the Cubs' eighth round pick from Georgia Tech in 2004 and the younger brother of Chicago's Corey Patterson. The younger of the two went on to bat a league-best .333 in 110 games and was named the Chiefs' 2005 team MVP in an on-field ceremony before the team's season finale against South Bend on Monday.
Patterson finished the year with a .535 slugging percentage (second best in the league), 11 triples (third best) and 40 stolen bases (fifth best). He clubbed 13 homers and drove in 71 runs to earn a promotion to Double-A West Tenn late in the year. On defense, Patterson committed just nine errors for the league's best fielding percentage for a second baseman (.982).
"He (Patterson) meant a lot to this team both on and off the field," noted Chiefs broadcaster Nathan Baliva. "He got the offense going along with Sam Fuld at the top of the order and was always among the crowd in the clubhouse and on the bus, laughing and chatting it up with all the guys."
"As for Eric the player, he displayed more power than I expected or that we heard he would have," Baliva added. "His defense and speed were outstanding and he just kept hitting every day. His work ethic impressed me a lot as well, and he kept everything in perspective with relation to his attitudes on baseball and life."
As Baliva noted, joining Patterson from last year's draft class was Fuld, a 10th round pick from Stanford University. The Chiefs' leadoff hitter batted .321 atop the lineup (.300 overall) and managed a .377 on-base percentage. He drew 50 walks and struck out just 44 times while managing extra bases on 32 percent of all total hits and swiping 18 bases in 29 attempts.
Fuld got off to a slow start in his first two months of the season, but eventually turned things on in June. From June 1 through the end of the year, the Chiefs' center fielder hit .331. He hit safely in 17 straight games at one point, one year after a torn labrum suffered at Stanford cut short his college season and kept Fuld from making his professional debut later in the year with the Cubs.
Entering the year, Ryan Harvey was the most highly touted and recognizable position prospect at Peoria. Though he hit only .257 in 117 games, the first round pick from 2003 hit a league-best 24 home runs and drove in an even 100 runs. The 100 RBIs were second in the league and first in the Cubs' farm system.
"He made a lot of strides this year as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League," Baliva said of Harvey. "He showed tremendous power all season long and really turned it on at the half, hitting 16 homers in the second half. He was an RBI machine."
According to Baliva, Harvey also showcased a great arm as the team's starting right fielder. He was bothered at times this season with hamstring injuries, which Baliva believes probably cost him the Chiefs' single-season RBI record of 104, and a 30-homer season.
"His potential is limitless," Baliva added. "I think he'll be in the outfield at Wrigley Field one day."
Another former first round pick who descended upon Peoria this year was shortstop-turned-outfielder Luis Montanez. The third overall pick from the 2000 draft, Montanez batted .305 in 82 games. He hit 12 home runs and drove in 48 runs, competing with Harvey for the team lead in roundtrippers before being promoted to Double-A in July.
Since making the transition from shortstop to the outfield last season in extended spring training, Montanez says he feels less pressure and has matured more as a ballplayer. Only 23, Montanez still has one more season left before minor league free agency and hopes next season to work his way up to the 40-man roster before year's end.
Ryan Norwood was to be the Chiefs' starting first baseman this season before his entire season was cut short just 24 hours before the team's scheduled season opener in April. Norwood sprained his ankle in an exhibition game and thus Alberto Garcia was thrust into the team's first base role.
All in all, Garcia had a good season, hitting .316 in 58 games. But the 22-year-old also succumb to this year's first base "curse" at Peoria.
As with Norwood, Garcia's season was cut short due to an ankle injury, as he broke his ankle while sliding awkwardly back into first base on June 15, thus missing the remaining two-plus months of the year. He hit .304 in 68 games at Lansing a season ago in the Midwest League and got off to a blazing start at Peoria this year, hitting .350 (21-for-60) in his first 18 games. Garcia was originally at third base when he began his minor league career in 2001, but made the switch a year later. He has also served as a catcher in past seasons.
Also arriving in Peoria for the start of a new season was OF Bo Flowers, a throw-in in the Kyle Farnsworth trade with Detroit in February. Flowers got off a promising start with the Chiefs, batting .312 through his first 30 games before eventually falling off. He hit below .200 for the final three months of the year and finished with 121 strikeouts, second only to Harvey's 137.
From a catching standpoint, the Chiefs received 2002 fourth round draft pick Alan Rick for a second season in the Midwest League. Coming off an average, though not altogether disappointing year in 2004, Rick projected to get the majority of starts at Peoria. Fellow catching prospect Oscar Bernard began the year by serving a 15-game suspension for violating MLB's Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program abuse policy, which only gave Rick further opportunity to make a statement early on.
Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity, Rick batted below the Mendoza line for all of 2005. His best month was in August, when he hit .214 in 12 games. By then, Rick had long since become the backup to Bernard, who did not officially kick off his 2005 season until May 1. The latter batted .236 in 66 games after hitting a solid .283 in his first two months.
Defensively, Bernard was charged with 11 passed balls behind the plate and committed 13 errors (tied for third most by a catcher in the Midwest League) for a .972 fielding percentage. Rick was charged with five passed balls and had a much better .994 fielding percentage with more total chances.
Additionally, Bernard threw out just 19 runners while allowing 68 stolen bases (.22 percent). Rick once again posted the better numbers between the two, gunning down 25 runners in 84 attempts (.30 percent).
Gallagher finished tied atop the league and the Cubs' farm system with 14 wins. He posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 139 in 146 innings. Gallagher's first taste with a full-season minor league team included a combined no-hitter in only his third start. He did not allow an earned run in his first six starts of the year and was atop the league in ERA and strikeouts for most all of 2005.
"He anchored this pitching staff," said Baliva. "You knew from day one that when he went out there, the team had a chance to win no matter what. He took over the role of ace starter and never really looked back. His mechanics got in a bit of a funk in late July and early August, but he worked on them and got things squared away for his last few starts."
The 19-year-old Gallagher earned a late-season promotion to High-A Daytona where he made one start with similar success.
"It was a joy to watch him pitch every five days," Baliva added. "He could dominate teams and had the best curveball I've seen in three years."
For his part, Gwaltney made 10 starts with the Chiefs after signing with the Cubs in Spring Training. He was released by Philadelphia in February and went 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA in 56.1 innings before being promoted to Daytona.
Joining the Chiefs in June was right-hander Grant Johnson, the Cubs' first overall pick in the 2004 draft. Johnson was just 3-8 with a 3.82 ERA in his debut season after missing all of last year with injury. He struck out 52 and walked 26.
Like Gallagher, right-hander Matt Weber and left-hander Chris Shaver also received promotions to Daytona late in the year. Weber was 7-9 with a 3.91 ERA in 24 starts while Shaver made 19 starts, winning just three games and posting a 4.31 ERA. Shaver made six starts for Daytona, allowing only eight earned runs for a 2.12 ERA.
Left-hander Jerry Blevins notched 14 saves (second in the farm system behind Andrew Shipman), but had a 5.54 ERA. All in all, Chiefs pitching finished with a staff ERA of 4.49 -- 11th in the 14-team league.