Pie "Ahead of Schedule"

Entering play Tuesday night, Felix Pie had hit safely in nine straight games, his longest hitting streak of the season. The Cubs' most highly touted and recognizable prospect then picked up three more hits in the Iowa Cubs' loss at Triple-A Tucson. Despite some rough stretches in 2006, Cubs Minor League Field Coordinator Dave Bialas believes the 21-year-old Pie is still ahead of schedule.

Pie was 3-for-5 in the Iowa Cubs' 10-7 loss at Tucson on Tuesday, which halted a five-game winning streak. Randy Wells allowed five runs on 10 hits in four innings, walking three to pick up his third Triple-A loss. The Cubs are 53-50, 3.5 games behind first-place Nashville in the Pacific Coast League's American Northern Division.

For his part, Pie raised his average to .272 through 101 games this season, and .343 in 23 games this month. He has been bounced around in the batting order periodically all year, but was batting in the leadoff spot on Tuesday -- his default slot upon entering the year.

"At this point, Felix has developed well," said Bialas, Minor League Field Coordinator since 2002. "I saw him when he first started many years ago and he's learned a lot. He's had success everywhere he's gone. He has all of the tools. He's 21 years old and he's in Triple-A. He's ahead of schedule."

Pie has put together an encouraging month of July after struggling in May and June. He closed out April batting .302, but entered the July 4th weekend batting just .248. Toward the end of June, Pie was mired in a 0-for-12 slump with his average down to a then season-low .247.

Since then, the left-handed hitting center fielder who boasts the coveted "five-tool" capabilities among scouts and coaches is batting .367 over his last 19 games.

"Yes, he's hit a little bump in the road this year, but without any doubt, Felix Pie is going to be a very good major league ballplayer," Bialas insists. "Sometimes, it's good for these guys when they hit that bump. You learn a lot from the times you struggle. It's going to happen everywhere you go."

Until this season, though, it hadn't happened often with Pie. Signed as a non-drafted free agent at age 16 from the Dominican Republic in 2001, Pie finished with just over a .300 batting average in 2004 at Class A Daytona and the following year at Double-A West Tennessee.

An ankle injury cut short his season in mid-June last year, with Pie batting .304 at the time.

"In Felix's case, it really hadn't happened throughout his career," Bialas acknowledged of Pie's struggles (or lack thereof) over the years. "Now he's here at Triple-A, and he's had to figure out a way to get it going. He's young and he's moved fast from level to level."

With hits in 10 consecutive games, Pie has his longest hitting streak since May of last year, when he hit safely in 12 straight contests at Double-A.

"He played half a year at Double-A last year before his injury," reminded Bialas. "Yes, I think he's ahead of schedule."

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