They Were ‘Easy Picks'

On a day when the Chicago Cubs celebrated a second straight NL Central title, they also recognized top individual players from their minor league system. The Cubs announced prior to Saturday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field that Class AAA Iowa INF/OF Micah Hoffpauir and RHP Mitch Atkins had been named the club's 2008 Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively.

Hoffpauir, 28, had a banner year at Iowa, batting .362 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs – all career-best numbers for him – in 71 games. The highlight to his season was on August 9 against Round Rock when he hit four home runs in one game.

Over half of Hoffpauir's 105 hits (61) at Iowa this season were extra-base hits.

"Those are Nintendo-type numbers," said Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita. "It's hard to imagine a guy getting as hot as he did and staying that hot."

Hoffpauir was recalled by Chicago on September 1 and has made five starts in the outfield this month. He started Sunday's 5-1 victory over the Cardinals in left field and was 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI.

In 27 games with Chicago this season, Hoffpauir is batting .315 (17-for-54) with seven doubles. The Cubs drafted him from Lamar University in the 13th round in 2002.

"I hope I can live up to the expectations and high regards that they put upon me and just continue to go out, do what I'm supposed to do and handle my business to the best of my ability," Hoffpauir said of being honored.

Hoffpauir put together a strong showing in major league spring training, batting .419 (26-for-62) in 28 Cactus League games. He missed the first month of the season while recovering from an oblique injury that he suffered in an exhibition game at Des Moines in early April, but upon returning from the disabled list he spent less than two weeks with Iowa before receiving his first big league call-up.

"Coming in and having one of the best springs I ever had … to feel like I did coming out of spring training made me really want to get off to a good start and try to get to the big leagues as quick as possible," Hoffpauir said. "Then, once I got back healthy and ready to go, it was business. To come back and to get off to a great start like I did was really nice."

Atkins, 22, combined to make 28 starts this season between Iowa and Class AA Tennessee. He led the Cubs' farm system in wins (17) for the second time in the past three years and 132 strikeouts over 164 1/3 innings, finishing with a 4.00 ERA.

The Cubs drafted Atkins from Northeast Guilford (N.C.) High School in the seventh round in 2004.

"At 22 years old, it's been a long time since I've seen a pitcher go through the system like that," Fleita said of Atkins. "He doesn't miss starts; he's a work horse; and he's well ahead of his years from a maturity standpoint."

Fleita said that Atkins was not necessarily considered for a September call-up this year, but added that he was "not far off" from one in the future.

He said that Hoffpauir and Atkins were "easy picks."

"They both have great futures ahead of them," Fleita said.


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