Dopirak 'Worries'

In light of the decision the Cubs made recently to place first baseman Brian Dopirak on outright waivers, it might have seemed as though the prospect once at the top (or certainly near it) of the farm system had lost some of his glamour in the eyes of his parent club.

But when the Cubs waived Dopirak (), it was done as a necessity to free up a spot on the 40-man roster rather than anything resembling an indictment of his recent play.

If anything, the 23-year-old former second-round draft pick is playing his best ball since clubbing 39 home runs while batting .307 in the Class A Midwest League three years ago at the peak of his prospect status.

At the time Dopirak was placed on waivers Monday, the Cubs were busy purchasing the contract of INF/OF Eric Patterson from Triple-A Iowa.

An opening on the 40-man roster was needed to free up a spot for Patterson, and Dopirak played the role of Odd Man Out.

"When you're at 40, sometimes you can take a guy like an Angel Guzman, who you know enough days have gone by and put him on your 60-day (DL) and he doesn't count on your 40-man roster," Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita said. "If you don't have any options like that, you have to take someone off your roster and that's what happened to Brian."

When Dopirak was subsequently placed on waivers, it gave the Cubs' front office, particularly their Farm Director, something of a scare.

What the Cubs were not worried about, per se, was that Dopirak would take the demotion from the 40-man roster the wrong way, Fleita said.

"They understand," he said. "It's part of the business."

Rather, the Cubs were worried that a team would claim Dopirak and add him to their 40-man roster for a small finder's fee of $25,000.

It's a risk that comes with "getting better" as a farm system, as Fleita is fond of saying about the Cubs' system. Nature of the beast, you could say.

Dopirak, though, remained with the Cubs and Class High-A Daytona after no one (not even the Orioles, shockingly enough) put in a claim for him.

As recently as 2005, Dopirak was named the best prospect in the Cubs' organization by Baseball America. After a two-year down period, highlighted by a season-ending foot injury a year ago, his numbers are back on the rise despite being older than the Florida State League's average player.

Dopirak was batting a season-best .274 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs through 73 games with Daytona entering play Friday. He joined the team from Double-A Tennessee back in late May following a rough start to the season, which saw him hit only .218 in 21 games. During that time, he was hampered by another injury, this one to his right thumb.

He now has a hit in six straight games along with a .306 batting average since the start of July. Statistically, those are some of Dopirak's best numbers for an extended period of time since the long-lost 2004 season.

It was in 2005, when Dopirak was only 21 years young, that the Cubs placed him on their 40-man roster where he remained until earlier this week.

"Way back when, when he was putting up the numbers that he was putting up, you were damn sure worried that you might lose him (in the Rule Five Draft), so you put him on the roster," Fleita said in retrospect.

The Cubs eventually risked losing Dopirak to another club anyway, but they still think highly of their one-time top prospect, especially given his promising second half with Daytona. (Why else would they have kept him on their 40-man roster all the way past last December to begin with if not for the fear of losing him in the Rule Five Draft to a team such as the Orioles?)

"You'd rather know that you have tough decisions to make rather than no decisions to make," said Fleita.

Ironically, what was once the Cubs' biggest worry with regards to Dopirak – losing him in the Rule Five Draft – is likely to present itself after all.


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