Pos: RHP. HT: 6'3". WT: 230. Age: 21.
2006 Totals: 13-4, 2.41 ERA, 138.1 IP, 127 K, 53 BB, .217 AVG. AGAINST.
Acquired: Seventh round of 2004 draft (Northeast Guilford HS – N.C.).
Few players in the Cubs' farm system righted the ship as impressively as Atkins did a season ago. The right-hander had a Cubs minor league best 13 wins and led the staff at Class-A Peoria in ERA and strikeouts.
Asked about his turnaround, Atkins told us he attributed his success to a fast start and having more confidence under his belt. The 21-year-old won his first four decisions in the Midwest League and was undefeated through the first two months of the season. By contrast, he dropped six of his first seven decisions at Class Low-A Boise in the Northwest League in 2005.
Atkins features a fastball (generally in the low 90s), changeup and curveball in his repertoire. He doesn't consider any of those pitches an out-pitch because he feels that all of his offerings are quality, strikeout pitches.
Toward the end of '05, Atkins' changeup began to come around and he was able to work both sides of the plate more effectively. For the most part, his arm held up well under the strain of 138-plus innings last year despite having missed a pair of starts toward the end.
"If you look at his numbers across the board, they are strikingly similar to what Sean Gallagher put up in 2005," Peoria broadcaster Nathan Baliva notes. "The wins are the same, the ERA is the same and the innings are right around the same. The age was the same and Mitch might not throw as hard as Sean, but he's got a similar curveball and throws it for strikes."
Despite the recent success, Atkins isn't getting carried away just yet.
"The big thing is just staying healthy and going more into the late innings," he said. "Not dying out early and just finishing out the whole season. I think my stuff is good enough, but you have to take care of yourself."
14. Randy Wells
Pos: RHP. HT: 6'5". WT: 230. Age: 24.
2006 Totals: 9-7, 3.36 ERA, 131.1 IP, 113 K, 36 BB, .260 AVG. AGAINST.
Acquired: 38th round of 2002 draft (Southwestern Illinois College).
Wells was drafted as a catcher, but would spend only a year or so at the position before converting to pitcher. His bat never quite got off the ground, but the Cubs were impressed by the right-hander's throwing arm and Wells has yet to disappoint the organization in his three seasons on the mound.
"He knows how to win and he's going to pitch to win every game. That's something you can't really teach," said former big leaguer Pat Listach, Wells' manager at Double-A West Tennessee in 2006.
Since his first full season of toeing the rubber for Class-A Lansing in 2004, Wells has made two All-Star teams, his Triple-A debut, and garnered two invitations to big league Spring Training. He is a strike-thrower that has remained free of injuries over the years and has proved to be quite durable with over 100 innings logged in each of the past three seasons.
In the Southern League at West Tenn a season ago, Wells posted a 1.59 ERA in 12 starts before earning a promotion to Triple-A Iowa in late June. In spite of his success in the rotation, though, Wells is the first to admit that he feels more comfortable in the bullpen. He spent most of his 2005 season at Daytona in relief and would like to return to that role.
"My mentality as a reliever is 10 times better than as a starter," confesses Wells. "I like starting and it was real fun to do last year, but I think I'm better suited as a reliever and I can see myself as a big league reliever."
Wells is also the first to admit that he scoffs at the notion of a walk. The 24-year-old has posted a career 3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio and features a four and two-seam fastball in his repertoire, plus a changeup, and a slider that was still in the developmental stages a season ago.
Fox is a polished hitter that has continued to impress Cubs coaches and officials with the bat.
The 24-year-old was named the 2006 InsideTheIvy.com Cubs Minor League Hitter of the Year and is coming off his best season yet with career-high's in both the average and power departments. He began the year with a second stint in Daytona, but soon received an overdue promotion to Double-A after an All-Star first half in the Florida State League.
While it would seem that Fox added some extra power to his swing last year, the right-handed hitting backstop attributed most of his home runs and RBIs at Daytona to his role as the team's middle-of-the-order presence. Fox was also slightly less aggressive at the plate a season ago and admitted to having improved his pitch selection.
The area that Fox is most passionate about is defense. It is also the one area (and perhaps the only area) where he receives the most criticism.
"He drops some balls he should catch and he obviously needs to get some more consistency," Listach said of Fox this past season.
All the same, Fox believes he's shown modest improvement behind the plate.
"When I went into big league camp [in 2006], they had a pre-conceived notion of how I played before they'd even seen me," Fox said. "The big league coaches and the guys who made those decisions had never really seen me play a whole lot. They had this idea that I wasn't very good behind the plate and I think I surprised a lot of them because I performed well."
Near the end of last year, Fox gome some reps in the outfield and had planned to get additional playing time there in the Arizona Fall League.
Instead, Astros catching prospect Luis Santangelo left the league early on to attend the birth of his newborn child. That left Fox and Los Angeles Dodgers catching prospect A.J. Ellis splitting the bulk of playing time behind the plate.
Though he may still be a work in progress defensively, Fox's work ethic and passion for the game are second to none.
12. Chris Shaver
Pos: LHP. HT: 6'7". WT: 235. Age: 25.
2006 Totals: 7-10, 2.83 ERA, 159 IP, 130 K, 56 BB, .252 AVG. AGAINST.
Acquired: Fourth round of 2004 draft (William & Mary).
Since being drafted, Shaver has made 61 starts and posted a respectable ERA of 3.35 – all the while not pitching at 100 percent.
Once his 2006 season ended, Shaver admitted that he hadn't been completely healthy since joining the organization. He underwent offseason surgery to remove a bone spur in his left elbow, and now the 6'7" southpaw is ready to see just how well he can perform with a clean bill of health.
With his frame and a plus-90s fastball, Shaver is considered a power pitcher and is able to induce a quality amount of groundballs. He gets a lot of sink with his two-seam fastball and mixes in a four-seam fastball, slider and a changeup that Shaver describes as his most consistent offering.
At West Tenn a year ago, Shaver had one of the most durable arms in the Jaxx starting rotation, going six innings or more in 16 of his 26 starts. He has done both starting and relieving since his college days at William & Mary, but it appears his immediate future is now in the rotation.
11. Brian Dopirak
Pos: 1B. HT: 6'4". WT: 230. Age: 23.
2006 Totals: .257 AVG, 52 G, 13 XBH, 23 RBI, 41 K, 16 BB, .322 OBP.
Acquired: Second round of 2002 draft (Dunedin HS – Fla.).
Dopirak's 2006 campaign began promisingly enough with an invite to big league spring training. But his season essentially ended after only one game.
While he would play in 52 contests at Double-A, Dopirak fractured the fifth metatarsus (pinky toe) in his left foot on April 6 and never fully recovered. The first base prospect underwent surgery to repair the bone, returned to Double-A for two months, and then opted for follow-up surgery.
Injuries aside, the past two seasons have not been kind to Dopirak. He put together an MVP season at Class-A Lansing in 2004 (which saw him belt 39 home runs and drive in 120 runs), but he regressed the following year at Daytona and admitted to pressing a lot early on that season.
Following his 2005 campaign, Dopirak spent time in the Cubs' annual Instructional League, where he worked on shortening his swing in an effort to reduce his strikeout totals. At 6'4" and 230 pounds, Dopirak has nevertheless shown the ability to hit for both power and average.
And in light of the past two seasons, he is anxious to get back to work.
"You have no idea," Dopirak said. "I have never been as hungry as I am today to get back on the field. It's something I've been thinking about mentally and physically. I can't wait to get back out and perform healthy."
Photo attribution: Atkins -- Scout.com/Dave Sanford; Wells, Shaver -- InsideTheIvy.com/Steve Holley; Fox, Dopirak -- InsideTheIvy.com/Jerry Hale.