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Fans' patience may pay off with prospects

Fans' patience to pay off with prospects

Cubs fans know how to wait, right?

After more than a century between World Series victories, the Wrigley faithful shouldn't have trouble waiting for some of the talent in Chicago's farm system to arrive. Though Cubs fans know better than most that there are no guarantees, it does appear that their patience will bear fruit in terms of prospects to be excited about in the future.

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Recently and in the short-term, truthfully, there isn't much. The Cubs did get some nice contributions from their system, namely Randy Wells, Micah Hoffpauir and Jake Fox. (Jeff Samardijza also was up quite a bit, but he had a rough go of it for the most part.)

Not too far off are such pitchers as Chris Carpenter and Jay Jackson. Seeing them at some point in 2010 is within reason, especially for Jackson, and Andrew Cashner isn't too far behind. Beyond that layer of pitching, though, is a host of bats that should have people in Chicago fairly excited.

"[Scouting director] Tim Wilken and the scouting staff have turned the organization around in terms of having position players," said Oneri Fleita, the Cubs' vice president of player personnel. "We had a lot of pitching. Now we have guys who can play a lot of positions."

Fleita is referring to such hitters as DJ LeMahieu, the 2009 draftee who played second and short in his pro debut, and fellow LSU product Ryan Flaherty (who can play second, shortstop and third). LeMahieu and Flaherty complement players who are entering elite prospect status, such as third baseman Josh Vitters, shortstop phenom Starlin Castro and exciting lower-level shortstop Hak-Ju Lee. The 2009 Draft yielded first-rounder Brett Jackson along with LeMahieu, adding to the kind of offensive depth the Cubs haven't had in recent years.

"It looks like we have premium positions that are hard to find," Fleita said. "Maybe that's a strength the organization all of a sudden has. The depth in pitching was there, but now we have position players as well."

Though that combination of players led to just a .487 overall winning percentage, there were bright spots in Peoria and Tennessee. The Chiefs had the second-best overall record in the Midwest League and made the playoffs, and the Smokies won the second-half division in the Double-A Southern League. That might be small consolation for those wanting the big league club to go deep into the postseason, but at least it looks as though the farm system is preparing to help that cause down the road.

ORGANIZATIONAL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Vitters, 3B: The prediction was that Vitters would finish among the organizational leaders in a host of offensive categories. He did finish second in homers and fourth in RBIs, so it wasn't far off. Playing almost all year at the age of 19, Vitters was a Midwest League All-Star and a Futures Game participant, and he earned a promotion to the Florida State League before hitting well as one of the younger players in the Arizona Fall League.

Cashner, RHP: Cashner, it was said, would lead the system in ERA and strikeouts. That didn't happen, though his 2.60 ERA would've been enough had he thrown enough total innings. The 2008 first-rounder was promoted, splitting time between the Florida State League and the Double-A Southern League, and he held hitters to a combined .207 average.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Kyler Burke, OF: Burke has taken a strange path thus far, but it looks as though he's putting things together. Burke was originally a supplemental first-round pick of the Padres, but the Cubs got him in a trade in June 2007, when he appeared lost. He didn't seem so this year, as he hit .303 in the Midwest League with 15 homers and 89 RBIs. His strikeout rate was vastly improved, and his 78 walks led to a .405 OBP, all while he slugged .505 for the year. He's just 21, so there's plenty of time for him to continue his development.

Jackson, RHP: All Jackson did in his first full season of pro ball is pitch at three levels, finish with a 2.98 ERA (second in the organization), hold hitters to a .230 average and tie for the system lead with 127 Ks (one strikeout per inning). He made it up to Triple-A for one start to end the year and isn't far away from knocking on the door.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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