A Trip Down Memory Lane

Baseball prospects often come and go – to borrow a line from T.S. Eliot – not with a bang but a whimper. Looking at the number of minor league players currently in the Chicago Cubs' farm system this time of year, Spring Training is an appropriate time to reflect on some of the top prospects of yesteryear.

"Well time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of glory days"
--Bruce Springsteen

Billy Petrick – RHP

BACKGROUND: A highly touted third-round pick in 2002 that was offered a football scholarship to Washington State by former Cougars coach Mike Price, Petrick chose to follow a career in professional baseball. For a while, it was a promising career—then the injury bug bit. Petrick underwent shoulder surgery in 2005 and was never really the same afterward. He returned to pitch mostly in relief and was even called up by Chicago for his big league debut in 2007 before falling completely off the face of the earth in 2008. Adding mystery to the somewhat curious case of Petrick was his debatable appearance on the suspended list a season ago.

WHERE HE IS NOW: Petrick signed a contract with the Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent Frontier League back in February.

Brian Dopirak – 1B

BACKGROUND: The top prospect of the system for about year or so, Dopirak is best remembered in Cubs circles for hitting 39 home runs in his first year of full-season ball with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2004. Injuries and other issues slowed him down afterward and he would hit only 35 home runs combined over the next three seasons with Chicago before being released at minor league camp a year ago.

WHERE HE IS NOW: After his release, Dopirak was scooped up right away by Toronto and clubbed 29 home runs with over 100 RBI combined for the Blue Jays' High-A and Double-A clubs. He was invited to big league camp with Toronto this spring and was returned to minor league camp earlier this week.

Bobby Brownlie – RHP

BACKGROUND: The first of many first-round disappointments from the Cubs' 2002 draft class, Brownlie decided to sign with Chicago and begin his pro career rather than opt for another semester at Rutgers after months of contract negotiations. He was sent to High-A right away and performed relatively well, but was shut down with two months left in the season to avoid overuse after throwing all of the previous winter. He made it to Triple-A by 2005, but struggled heavily and the following year was on his way back to High-A ball before a last-minute change of plans kept him in Double-A. He was released at the end of spring training in 2007.

WHERE HE IS NOW: Brownlie spent most of the last two summers at Double-A with the Indians and Nationals, respectively. He was invited to big league spring training camp with Washington and was sent to minor league camp earlier this month.

Luke Hagerty – LHP

BACKGROUND: The second of four first-round draft picks in '02, Hagerty got off to a promising start in the Northwest League at Boise, racking up 50 strikeouts in 48 innings and posting a 1.13 ERA in 10 starts. Like most of the other Cubs first-round picks from that year, it was his only healthy season as the southpaw underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2003. Upon his return, he made just 24 appearances over the next three seasons and lost his velocity along with his ability to throw strikes. The Cubs cut their losses early in 2007.

WHERE HE IS NOW: Hagerty never signed with another major league club. He made 11 appearances over the last two years in independent leagues.

Chadd Blasko – RHP

BACKGROUND: The third of the four first-round Cubs draft picks in 2002, Blasko also got off to a hot start, posting a 1.98 ERA in 136 1/3 innings at High-A in 2003. Little did anyone know it was the eve of the end for the Purdue alum. The rest of his career was plagued by shoulder injuries and one setback after another. As close to healthy as he was ever going to be by spring training 2007, the Cubs released him after he had missed two straight seasons.

WHERE HE IS NOW: Blasko made 17 appearances out of the bullpen for the Baltimore Orioles' High Class-A team in 2007, but hasn't played affiliated ball since.

Matt Clanton – RHP

BACKGROUND: The last of those four first-round picks from 2002, Clanton was the youngest—and the oddest. To say the Cubs' scouting department completely dropped the ball with this pick is an understatement. He pitched in only two games with the Cubs in Low-A before being sidelined by injuries, and that's just for starters. Attitude problems (to say nothing of a wild imagination) led to him being placed on the restricted list before the Cubs formally released him in 2006.

WHERE HE IS NOW: Last seen accusing Jim Hendry of running after him with a baseball bat and muttering something about Hendry and Oneri Fleita personally tapping his phone lines.

Jon Connolly – LHP

BACKGROUND: Named the Minor League Pitcher of the Year by Detroit in 2003, the Cubs got their hands on this soft-tossing left-hander a year later as part of a straight-up trade for pitcher Felix Sanchez. Connolly rewarded the Cubs with 10 victories and a 2.36 ERA between High-A and Double-A in 2004 and was hyped as having the best changeup in Chicago's system by Baseball America. He developed shoulder problems the following year in 2005 and was released at the end of minor league camp in 2006.

WHERE HE IS NOW: Last seen pitching in independent ball in the Atlantic League.

Matt Craig – INF

BACKGROUND: A third-round pick from the University of Richmond in 2002, Craig played a little of everywhere on the diamond and was always average to above-average from both sides of the plate. But the Cubs seemed content to keep Craig at Double-A the last two years despite two of his best seasons with the bat.

WHERE HE IS NOW: Inked a minor league contract with Florida in the off-season.

Chris Walker – OF

BACKGROUND: An outfielder from Georgia Southern in the '02 draft class, he had some of the best speed in the Cubs' system and was never a liability with the bat, either. He earned an invite to big league spring training in 2007 and worked his way up to Triple-A later that year before he was released the following spring.

WHERE HE IS NOW: Was scooped up by the Angels following his release by the Cubs last year and was assigned to their Triple-A team. He signed a minor league contract with Philadelphia in the off-season.

Ricky Nolasco – RHP

BACKGROUND: A fourth-round pick from Rialto (Calif.) High School in 2001, Nolasco won 35 games with the Cubs in five minor league seasons and was used as a big piece of the trade that brought OF Juan Pierre to Chicago from Florida following the 2005 season.

WHERE HE IS NOW: Still with the Marlins, where he won a team-best 15 games and posted a 3.52 ERA in 32 starts as the staff ace a season ago.

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