Cubs Prospect Rankings: 1-5

The wait is over. Here is the final installment of our rankings.

5-A. Sean Gallagher
Pos: RHP. HT: 6-2. WT: 225. Age: 21.

2006 Totals: 11-5, 2.52 ERA, 164.2 IP, 171 K, 76 BB, .249 AVG. AGAINST.
Acquired: 12th round of 2004 draft (St. Thomas Aquinas HS – Fla.).

Viewed as a late developer, Gallagher has made considerable strides since being drafted, beginning with his breakout campaign at Class-A Peoria in 2005.

The right-hander possesses a four-seam fastball that runs upward of 94 mph and he has the ability to expand on his velocity. To complement his repertoire, Gallagher features a curveball and slider.

This past summer, Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken compared the now 21-year-old Gallagher to a player from his days in Toronto as the Blue Jays' head of scouting: Pat Hentgen.

"There's some similar stuff between the two of them," Wilken said. "(Sean) changes the eyesight level of hitters pretty good. A lot of pitchers are what I call ‘east-to-west' pitchers. They really don't change the hitters' eye level at all. With Sean, that's not the case. He works up and down and as he goes up the ladder, he's going to get more strikeouts with that curveball."

As it stands, Gallagher finished a close second in the farm system last year in strikeouts and with the exception of a brief stint upon arriving at West Tenn for his Double-A debut, he has seldom had trouble finding the strike zone, boasting a strikeout-to-walk ratio just shy of three to one for his career.

Cubs catching prospect Alan Rick caught several of Gallagher's starts both last season at Daytona and the previous year at Peoria, and he described the pitcher as someone who is able to effectively change speeds throughout the course of a game while still maintaining the strike zone.

"When you have a pitcher that can throw three pitches for strikes, it's a big boost," said Rick.

5-B. Jeff Samardzija
Pos: RHP. HT: 6'6". WT: 215. Age: 21.

2006 Totals: 1-2, 2.70 ERA, 30 IP, 17 K, 12 BB, .220 AVG. AGAINST.
Acquired: Fifth round of 2006 draft (Notre Dame).

Former two-sport standout Jeff Samardzija chose a career in professional baseball over a potential one in football, and that alone secures no less than a top 10 spot on virtually every Cubs prospect rankings list.

While pitching at Notre Dame in his final college season, the right-hander consistently sat around 93 mph on the radar gun and topped out at 99 mph, according to his head coach, Paul Mainieri. Samardzija also scraped a breaking ball and split-finger pitch from previous years in deference to a slider and a straight changeup, Irish pitching coach Terry Rooney said.

"I think his slider is a much better pitch because it's a natural arm-slot and he doesn't have to force it," Rooney said after Samardzija was drafted. "His changeup also is a very good pitch; he just didn't have to throw it every pitch. With his athleticism, the more he throws it the better it's going to be."

Where Samardzija begins 2006 could all depend on how well he pitches in Spring Training. Daytona and the Florida State League is perhaps the safest bet, but the Cubs have not ruled out a potential start at Double-A.

4. Eric Patterson
Pos: 2B. HT: 5-11. WT: 170. Age: 23.

2006 Totals: .276 AVG., 138 G, 10 HR, 23 2B, 10 3B, 60 RBI, 98 K, 52 BB, 46 SB.
Acquired: Eighth round of 2004 draft (Georgia Tech).

Though Patterson has flashed some home run pop on occasion, his best hitting usually comes in the form of gap-to-gap power. Adding fuel to the fire, he possesses some of the best speed in the Cubs' farm system, which often allows him to stretch doubles into triples.

An All-Star at Double-A a season ago, Patterson felt he was ready to contribute at second base with the big league club in the second half. Instead, he settled for a late-season promotion to Triple-A.

While Patterson's second half numbers at West Tenn might suggest some struggles, the lefty hitting infielder batted .358 in 17 games with Iowa following the promotion and would finish tied for sixth in the Arizona Fall League with a .345 average in 28 contests.

Pat Listach, who managed Patterson both at Double-A and in the Fall League, was none too surprised by the results, and cautioned not to read too much into Patterson's perceived second half "struggles."

"A lot of the balls he was hitting at Double-A were getting caught up in the gaps and getting caught," Listach said when asked about Patterson's strong showing in the Fall League. "He hit a lot of balls hard that got caught."

Beyond the numbers, Patterson saw some reps in center field throughout pre-game warm-ups in the Fall League. He could begin 2007 in the outfield, but we think it's more likely that he'll continue at second base for the time being – in spite of some otherwise lofty error totals last year.

3. Mark Pawelek
Pos: LHP. HT: 6-3. WT: 185. Age: 20.

2006 Totals: 3-5, 2.51 ERA, 61 IP, 52 K, 23 BB, .232 AVG. AGAINST.
Acquired: First round of 2005 draft (Springville HS – Utah).

The Cubs' top pick from the 2005 draft could have easily folded shop after getting off to a rocky start in his first full professional season, which began with the 20-year-old reporting to his first Spring Training out of shape.

Pawelek was held over in Extended Spring Training until short-season A-ball would commence in the Northwest League, and though he struggled in the early going there, the left-hander eventually flashed many of the same signs of upside that made him the Cubs' first-round selection a year earlier. He posted a 1.88 ERA in his final 10 starts, fanning 42 and walking 14.

When he returned to the starting rotation in mid-July following a brief stint in the bullpen, Pawelek began to get a better feel for his secondary pitches (a changeup and slider).

"Everything was clicking and I could throw whatever pitch I wanted in whatever count for strikes," Pawelek said.

Pawelek also spent a good portion of last season working on the command of his fastball, and the work lasted well into the Cubs' annual Instructional League camp in Arizona last fall.

As for the bitter taste of his first Spring Training, it's all water under the bridge as far as the Cubs are concerned.

"There's no book out there on how to prepare for your first season or Spring Training," Cubs Director of Player Development Oneri Fleita said last summer. "I think sometimes players think the reason they come to Spring Training is to get in shape. That's a misnomer in today's game."

"I don't look for him to do that ever again," Fleita said.

2. Donald Veal
Pos: LHP. HT: 6-4. WT: 215. Age: 22.

2006 Totals: 11-5, 2.16 ERA, 154.1 IP, 174 K, 82 BB, .175 AVG. AGAINST.
Acquired: Second round of 2005 draft (Pima CC – Ariz.)

It's hard to imagine anyone other than Donald Veal holding down the honor of top pitching prospect in the Cubs' farm system entering 2007.

Having led the system in ERA and strikeouts a season ago – and dominating both the Class-A Midwest and Florida State League's with the lowest average against of any full-season Cubs minor league starter – Veal was a shining example of how a young pitcher should prepare himself during the offseason for the year ahead.

The left-hander held up well under the strain of 150-plus innings and from a numbers standpoint, he only got better as the season progressed. Veal would overcome a shaky first two outings at Peoria and earn a promotion to Daytona, where he was arguably the Florida State League's best pitcher in the second half.

Veal spent a good portion of his first full year in the Cubs' system working on his secondary pitches – a changeup and curveball. Though he says he isn't completely satisfied with the breaking ball just yet, the 22-year-old feels his changeup is now one of his best offerings, saying the pitch is "almost as good as my fastball when it's on."

The fastball itself ranged from 90-93 mph last season.

"There are a lot of swings and misses on some of his fastballs in the zone, either because of the late explosion or the sink that he has on it," said Daytona pitching coach Tom Pratt.

The biggest thing Veal learned about pitching last season?

"I learned to trust myself more," Veal said this offseason. "If you pitch the way you're supposed to and throw the pitches you can throw, you can get pretty much everyone out as long as you execute. That's the biggest thing I learned – trusting my stuff and having faith in it. I know its good enough."

And as good as it was in 2006, Veal has the potential to become even more dominant. Despite his farm system-best 174 strikeouts, he also led the system in walks. The further he matures, the more likely it is that the walk totals will taper off.

In the meantime, it's not something Veal is overly concerned with.

"Not really," he said. "I know the further I move up, the more patient the hitters are. I also know that when I give a guy a free bag, it's going to be easier for that guy to score. Runs don't come easy, so I don't want to give up any easy ones."

1. Felix Pie
Pos: OF. HT: 6-2. WT: 170. Age: 21.

2006 Totals: .283 AVG., 141 G, 15 HR, 33 2B, 8 3B, 57 RBI, 126 K, 46 BB, .341 OBP.
Acquired: Signed as non-drafted free agent (July, 2001).

A year later, nothing has changed atop these rankings and there's little to say about Pie that hasn't been said already.

Simply put, Cubs scouts and coaches view Pie as the ultimate five-tool package. He hits well for average; his power potential has gradually increased from season to season; he runs the bases well, though not without a few workable flaws in his stance; he plays sound defense, and he has the best all-around throwing arm in the Cubs' system.

Much was made of Pie's struggles in the first half of his inaugural Triple-A season a year ago, but at age 21, he would go on to finish second in the Pacific Coast League in hits – all the while doing so less than a year after undergoing season-ending ankle surgery.

At the plate, the Cubs would like to see Pie cut down on his strikeouts. He fanned a career-high 126 times a season ago, but also garnered more at-bats (559) than anyone in the Pacific Coast League. By that virtue, he also walked a career-high 46 times.

Defensively, Pie continues to make up good ground in the outfield. He led his league in outfield assists with 18 a season ago and Fleita recently compared his throwing arm to that of St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds.

"I'd say that in the big leagues, he'd be in the top five or six left-handed throwers in the game," Fleita said. "He's a plus-arm guy that throws up there with the Edmonds's. He's got an accurate arm, too. Guys will think twice before they go first to third on Felix."

On the base pads, Pie spent a good two weeks in the Instructional League working with Cubs Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator Bob Dernier on getting better jumps off the bag. Pie stole 17 bases last year, but was thrown out 11 times.

Dernier's tutelage all began by getting Pie into a better stance.

"I tried to convince Felix that he needs to feel natural, to feel like you're in a natural position to make that first move as quickly as possible," Dernier said. "If you're 6-3, you don't want to be all bent over and suddenly be 5-8, so I basically tried to encourage him to be 6-3, to stand tall flexing his knees, and then to run downhill."

Dernier said he could tell the difference in Pie's running game after he left Instructs than when he first arrived.

"He got what I thought were a lot better jumps in the couple of weeks that we worked on it down there," Dernier said. "He felt a lot better when we looked at it on film. I think he understands the difference there."

Throughout his career, Pie has been on a winning team at each level to date, starting in 2003 when he and the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts took home the Midwest League Championship. The Cubs would realistically prefer his next championship team be in Chicago, but another stint in Triple-A should be considered reasonable, if nothing else.

All the same, if the Cubs and manager Lou Piniella want to cast out the many demons that have haunted the North Side over the years and embark on a new tradition for years to come, the successful and long-lasting development of a five-tool talent such as Felix Pie would be a good way to start.

Photo attribution: Pie, Patterson -- Holley; Gallagher -- Hale; Veal -- Daytona Cubs/Tommy Proctor; Pawelek, Samardzija -- Pam Davis.

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