Part Two

Moving up the latter in the second part of our closer look at the Cubs' rookie crop at the lower levels of the farm system with Player Development Director Oneri Fleita and others, it's no surprise that short-season, Class Low-A Boise of the Northwest League is home to many recent players more polished due to a few years of college experience.

Traditionally, Boise is where you'll find most of the Cubs' top picks – those who attended college the previous season anyway – after signing with the organization following the June draft. The same holds true this year with the club's top five overall picks either on the Hawks' active roster or having already completed a stint there.

Right-hander Jeff Samardzija, a two-sport standout who was promoted to Peoria recently, is one of those players. The 21-year-old needs no introduction. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Cubs and signed shortly after with the intent of returning to Notre Dame to play football as a wide receiver in time for the start of the 2006 Irish season.

In five starts at Boise, Samardzija was 1-1 with a 2.37 ERA and 13 strikeouts to six walks. He was promoted to Peoria, where he has made two starts and allowed five runs in 11 innings, walking six and striking out four.

"He's a great athlete and a world-class athlete really," Fleita said of Samardzija. "He can run well, which is something you don't really require for a pitcher, but he has a great arm with real life and a great sinker. The way I view him right now is through his abilities. He's a great person, and a very humble kid that likes to play this game and compete."

The only rookie drawing as much interest from fans and scouts as Samardzija is outfielder Tyler Colvin, the Cubs' first-round selection from Clemson. Fleita said that he had not yet seen Colvin in action.

But Colvin, who turns 21 on September 5, entered Sunday's game against Salem-Keizer with a 12-game hitting streak and hits in 17 of his last 18 games. He has four home runs, 10 doubles and is batting .330 against right-handers and .289 against lefties for a combined .317 average in 31 games.

Right-hander Michael Cooper wasn't drafted until the 26th round, but the former University of California hurler has a zero ERA through 12 1/3 innings. He has allowed seven hits and three walks with the Hawks. The 22-year-old posted a 5.31 ERA in 57 2/3 innings as both a starter and reliever in his final college season with the Golden Bears.

"Cooper's a guy with a good arm and good stuff," Fleita said. "He'll throw up to 93, 94 miles per hour with real good movement and a real good breaking ball. He's very experienced for where he's at. We want him to get his feet wet and he's in a very good league right now."

Drafted well ahead of Cooper in the eighth round from the University of Pittsburgh was pitcher Billy Muldowney. The 21-year-old Muldowney has made three starts for the Boise team and has a 2.29 ERA and 20 strikeouts to three walks in 19 1/3 innings with the Hawks. He hasn't pitched since July 9 when he went five innings and allowed two runs in a loss to Yakima.

Muldowney's head coach with the Panthers, Joe Jordano, used words like "bulldog" and "gamer" when describing the right-hander. Fleita echoed that Muldowney was a hard-nosed competitor with a good arsenal of pitches.

"He's got good stuff and three pitches -- fastball, curveball and changeup," Fleita said of Muldowney. "He's a good guy and a good competitor."

A reason for Muldowney's absence on the mound, however, was not immediately provided.

The Hawks are 23-18, two games atop Tri-City in the Northwest League's Eastern Division. The team has a combined 4.36 ERA, which ranks second to last in the eight-team league. The hitters, meanwhile, have combined for a .274 average. That places first.

Rookie second baseman Steve Clevenger was drafted in the seventh round from Chipola (Fla.) Junior College and is batting .315 with a .395 on-base percentage in 32 games.

"He's got gap-to-gap power and occasional home run power," Chipola head baseball coach Jeff Johnson said of Clevenger, who batted .389 with the team his final season. "He can really swing the bat. He's very sound and fundamental. He's just a very polished hitter."

Defensively, Clevenger has committed eight errors with the team and has a .955 fielding percentage -- all at second base. He played shortstop for the Indians in college and said the Cubs had already talked to him about a change of scenery in the infield immediately after drafting him.

"He's got good hands with probably average major league arm strength," Johnson said of Clevenger's defense. "Probably the only negative is his lateral movement."

Johnson also said that Clevenger, who leads the league's second basemen in errors, was someone he forecasts moving to third base at some point.

As for his offense, "As far as being a good, polished hitter, he's as good as anybody out there," Johnson said. "Average-wise, I think he'll hit well everywhere he goes."

2005 Draft Updates: Two names noticeably absent from minor league rosters all season have been pitchers David "Trey" Taylor and Michael Hyle.

Taylor, a left-hander, was drafted in the seventh round last year from Baylor. He appeared in just two games for the Mesa Cubs of the Arizona Rookie League a season ago and retired, Fleita said. As such, Taylor was placed on the restricted list, a common move by organization's after a player retires.

Hyle, meanwhile, was picked up on day two of the draft from Georgia and appeared in 19 games between Mesa and Boise last season. He was released earlier this year in Spring Training.

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