Cubs Prospect Rankings: 35-31

Each week, we release the list of our annual post-season top prospect rankings in the Cubs' farm system counting down to No. 1.

35. Ryan Norwood
Pos: 1B. HT: 6'4". WT: 220.
2006 Totals: .307 AVG, 134 G, 15 HR, 28 2B, 69 RBI, .354 OBP.

Norwood returned from an ankle injury that caused him to miss all of the 2005 season and won the Peoria Chiefs' Most Valuable Player Award in '06. He features modest pop with home run potential and gap-to-gap power, which is only natural for a player of his frame.

However, the East Carolina alum struck out over 100 times and drew just 27 walks, something Norwood knows he'll have to improve on going into next season. He will be 24 by then and having already missed a full year due to injury, he can't afford to fall behind or stay at one level too long.

While Norwood admits to wishing he was versatile enough to play the outfield with the Cubs' logjam at first base throughout the system, the 2004 ninth-round pick plays well defensively at his current post, where he led all Midwest League first basemen in fielding percentage this past year.

34. Dylan Johnston
Pos: SS. HT: 6'0". WT: 180.
2006 Totals: .200 AVG, 58 G, 10 EBH, 11 RBI, .306 OBP.

The shortstop and fourth-round pick from 2005 has the tools, but it doesn't negate the fact that he's combined to hit below .200 in his brief first two seasons. Injuries this past season at Peoria helps shape that number somewhat. (The 19-year-old missed the entire second half of the season with an ankle injury before joining the Instructional League.)

Still, Johnston started 2006 off promisingly enough, batting .306 through his first 14 games and suffering an injury to his thumb before the ankle injury took place. Johnston is still very young and has yet to show off his potential in part because of the injuries mentioned above.

No need to press the panic button just yet.

33. Micah Hoffpauir
Pos: 1B. HT: 6'3". WT: 195.
2006 Totals: .268 AVG, 117 G, 22 HR, 80 RBI.

The year 2006 was a career year for Hoffpauir, but it likely wasn't supposed to happen. The 26-year-old began the year at Double-A, where he expected to garner most of his playing time in the outfield and as a back-up to top first base prospect Brian Dopirak. When Dopirak went down on opening night with a broken bone in his foot, opportunity knocked.

While Hoffpauir didn't hit better for average than his '05 season at Triple-A, his 22 home runs shattered his previous best for any one season. When Derrek Lee went down with a broken wrist not one month into the season, Hoffpauir had hoped for a chance to assist the big league team in Lee's absence, but the call-up never happened.

We think Hoffpauir might make a good addition as a utility player and occasional back-up at first base or the outfield if given the opportunity.

32. Jeremy Papelbon
Pos: LHP. HT: 6'1. WT: 205.
2006 Totals: 4-0, 1.83 ERA, 44.1 IP, 50 K, 15 BB, .182 AVG AGAINST.

One of three Papelbon brothers pitching in professional baseball, the left-hander had one of the best performances of any relief pitcher in the Northwest League this past season.

So why doesn't he get the same respect of others at his level? At age 23, many considered Papelbon too old for his level of competition in spite of the fact that he was a rookie fresh out of college.

Not to worry; Papelbon doesn't feel slighted by any knocks on his age. He points to his older brother, Jonathan (a successful closer with the Boston Red Sox now looking to resume a starter's role next season), in making a case that you don't have to be a "top prospect" in order to reach the majors.

Jeremy features three quality pitches that he commands for strikes. He admitted to putting his breaking ball on the shelf much of this past season and began focusing more on a slider in the annual Instructional League.

Papelbon features a splitfinger for an out-pitch and his fastball will top out in the low 90s on most occasions. It will be interesting to see whether he continues pitching from the bullpen, as he did in Boise, or returns to starting, as he did throughout much of his college career.

31. Scott Taylor
Pos: RHP. HT: 6'3". WT: 240.
2006 Totals: 8-8, 3.39 ERA, 140.2 IP, 71 K, 28 BB, .268 AVG AGAINST.

Taylor began the year in Extended Spring Training before moving up to Peoria, where he made 22 starts and showcased good control by averaging less than two walks per nine innings.

His fastball can reach as high as 93 mph and he spent that first month in Extended to work on fine-tuning his secondary pitches (namely his slider and changeup).

When he started facing hitters in the Arizona Rookie League right after the draft a season ago, Taylor quickly came to realize the importance of setting up opponents with those secondary pitches, and that work continued to progress in 2006 with the development of a changeup.

The 2005 fifth-round pick was only 19 this season and held his own against Midwest League hitters on a steady fastball-slider combination. He began placing a good amount of emphasis on the changeup as the season wore on in hopes of establishing a quality strikeout pitch next season.

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