Billek's professional debut season in 2005 took him to the Northwest League with Class Low-A Boise and later to Peoria. He posted modest numbers with a 3.65 ERA, 45 strikeouts and 16 walks in 54 2/3 innings combined.
But when he reported to Spring Training in 2006, Billek was a noticeably different pitcher. Listed at 6'4, 235 on the draft charts, he showed up to his first minor league camp 20 pounds heavier and out of shape.
"I didn't do enough maintenance work in the off-season and basically pitched with a weak shoulder all of (2006)," Billek later said.
Billek's velocity, clocked at 95 mph in his final season in Conference USA with Central Florida and likewise at Boise, was down considerably.
He returned to Boise for another stint in short-season ball and reported that his fastball was topping out at 85 mph in some starts.
Earlier this spring, Billek's shoulder problems persisted, and he remained in Extended Spring Training in Arizona until joining Peoria earlier this month.
Billek was drafted just a few spots behind right-hander Mark Holliman as a supplemental pick in the third round of the '05 draft, but the two have experienced completely different career paths since then. Holliman started Saturday for Double-A Tennessee and leads the Cubs' farm system and the Southern League with a 1.37 ERA through his first seven starts this season.
Billek received a $315,000 signing bonus from the Cubs in 2005.