Farm System Contributed

The Cubs have been saying for some time now that their farm system is getting better.

Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita pointed to the fact that the club lost four minor league players in the last Rule Five Draft to strengthen his claim of a strong farm system.

Fleita said he did not believe the Cubs' farm system was necessarily as good as many had made it out to be earlier this decade, but he also said he did not believe the system deserved to be viewed as weaker now, which some have said.

If nothing else, the system has contributed in some way to the Cubs' 84-76 record and first post-season berth since 2003.

Chicago defeated Cincinnati, 6-0, on Friday night to clinch their first National League Central Division Championship in four years, and many players who originated from the Cubs farm system have lent a helping hand in the team's success this season.

A quick glance of the Cubs' active big league roster reveals several players in uniform with recent ties to the system, many of which began the year in the minor leagues.

One such player is Carlos Marmol, a former outfielder turned starting pitcher in the minor leagues that has transformed into arguably the Cubs' best reliever to date.

Since being recalled from Triple-A in late May, the right-hander is 5-1 with a sparkling 1.45 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 58 appearances spanning 68 1/3 innings.

"I don't know how much more we can ask of him with the way he's commanded his two pitches (fastball and slider)," said Fleita. "I've said a lot of times that I think he's been the closer that pitched in the sixth or seventh innings. He's stopped the games and kept them right where they were, and gave us a chance to either secure the lead or stay alive in the game to come back and take the lead."

The position players have also contributed.

The Cubs know they have taken on something of a reputation over the years for not developing many quality position players at the major league level, but there are those who have shown the potential to end that trend.

"I think there was some criticism that we weren't developing position players in the past," acknowledged Cubs Assistant General Manager Randy Bush. "I think we've proven that to be wrong.

"I just think that our farm system was a little underrated and I think we've proven that this year with the success that Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot have had. Felix Pie has been up and down, but people rave about what they've seen defensively at the big league level and we know he's going to do better offensively as he matures."

Theriot has struggled of late but nonetheless sports 30 doubles and the team lead in stolen bases, while Fontenot helped spark the club to its 17-11 record in June.

Catcher Geovany Soto had the finest Triple-A season of any player in minor league baseball and has batted over .400 since being recalled on Sept. 1.

Soto took home the 2007 Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player award and the 2007 award for Cubs Minor League Player of the Year.

He batted .353 at Iowa this season, leading the farm system in batting average, home runs (26) and RBIs (109) in 110 games – as a catcher.

"The catchers are always the guys that get short-changed and stuff on their swings in Spring Training and they've got to catch all of these pitchers," Fleita said. "It isn't normal to see a catcher put up those kinds of numbers from start to finish. Even now, given the opportunity down the stretch, he's done a great job and it looks like he's been doing it all his life at the major league level."

Just as important, the Cubs' pitching staff seems to enjoy throwing to Soto.

"That's another sign of his maturity and it's a credit to him," said Fleita.

Then there are those that fall under the category of "Unsung Heroes." One late September call-up, right-hander Kevin Hart, has been nothing short of exceptional in long relief and in doing so may have pitched his way onto the postseason roster.

Hart was named the Cubs' 2007 Minor League Pitcher of the Year earlier this month and has a 0.82 ERA in eight appearances in long relief.

"He got challenged right away," Fleita said of Hart. "(His big league debut), they brought him in with the bases loaded and he went on to walk the first hitter, but then he got himself back together and gained his composure and finished out the inning. Since then, I think he's shown Lou that he can handle those situations and he's done what our bullpen has tried to do all year."

All of this says nothing about the recent products from the Cubs' farm system of past years that have spent most if not all of the entire season with Chicago.

Those players would include pitcher Rich Hill, who recently became the fourth Cubs starter to reach double-digit wins, plus Matt Murton and Theriot.

It also says nothing of those from the farm system that were called up previously this season and are now, or at one point were, added to the club's 40-man roster.

That list would include a slew of former Cub farmhands such as Rocky Cherry, Buck Coats, Scott Moore and Clay Rapada.

Additionally, C/OF Jake Fox, pitchers Sean Gallagher and Billy Petrick, INF/OF Eric Patterson and Pie, the crown jewel outfielder, are all products of the Cubs' system that have earned call-ups to Chicago this season as well.

Those call-ups do not necessarily mean that the farm system is getting better. It does mean that seemingly more players are getting the chance to play, though.

Fleita was asked if he felt that Cubs manager Lou Piniella is more open to giving young players a chance at an everyday starting job than his predecessor, Dusty Baker, was.

"It's kind of a hard comparison," Fleita said with a moment's hesitance, "because these guys are a year older. People don't realize that the experience they got last year has kind of tip-toed their feet into the water. Sometimes, you don't see the results of those experiences, but I always thought that working with both of them, they've always been fair."

"All I can tell you is that, for whatever reason, the guys have responded and we're awful proud of them," said Fleita.

Bush said 2007 has been a statement year for the Cubs system.

"I think it's been a real good statement year for us in that we have a productive farm system, not only with the pitching but also with the position players," he said.

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