A suggestion was made in one of the recent “Building” articles that I look into putting together a lineup of Cubs prospects who never made it.
Sounded like an interesting idea. The Cubs’ World Series winning team this year had a number of fine prospects who made it big: Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber from within the organization; Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo, acquired by trade.
But for years — even decades — before that, we were tantalized with prospects who quickly became suspects. Until Rizzo, the Cubs hadn’t had a young lefthanded hitter who made it that big since Billy Williams — five decades earlier.
Here are 10 prospects, by position, who were highly touted at times for various reasons, but who never made any major impact at the big-league level. Unlike the other lists here, this one’s pretty much my own subjective choice. I tried to pick guys who had some kind of hype for themselves, not just draft picks who didn’t make it. You might have others you think could make this group.
C: Pat Cline
Cline never made it to the big leagues. He was the Cubs’ No. 6 pick in 1993 and put up big numbers in Low-A (13 HR, .818 OPS) in 1995 and in High-A in 1996 (17 HR, .847 OPS), enough to make him Baseball America’s No. 72 prospect before the 1997 season. He did well enough at Triple-A in 1998 (.281/.346/.434), but never got even a September callup. Word was that his defense was suspect, and then his hitting declined.
This Tribune article suggests that had the Cubs been willing to trade Cline in 1998, they could have acquired Mike Piazza. That would have been interesting. Instead, Cline washed out of baseball after 2000.
1B: Micah Hoffpauir
Here’s a name you surely recognize, as Hoffpauir was the subject of great debates here back in 2008-09. He had a monster year at Triple-A Iowa in 2008: 25 HR, 100 RBI, .362/.393/.752 — and that in only 71 games and 290 at-bats!
Unfortunately for Hoffpauir, he was already 28 when he did that and in his fourth year at Triple-A. He wound up having only 359 PA in the big leagues, in which he hit .251/.312/.421 with 12 home runs. He did have one huge big-league day, September 25, 2008 against the Mets, when he went 5-for-5 with two homers and five RBI. (The Cubs blew a 6-3 lead and lost 7-6.)
Hoffpauir wound up playing three years in Japan (2011-13), and not all that well: .225/.298/.384 in 770 at-bats, though with 31 homers.
2B: Ty Griffin
The Cubs have had a number of bad No. 1 draft picks over the years, and if this isn’t the worst, it’s right up there.
Griffin was a star college second baseman at Georgia Tech from 1986-88. As you might recall, the Cubs had a pretty good second baseman in those days. But the Cubs brass said, “We’ll take him and turn him into a third baseman!”
This, even though the College Player of the Year, Robin Ventura, an actual third baseman, was available to them at the time the Cubs selected. The Cubs took Griffin with the No. 9 overall pick in 1988. Ventura went to the White Sox with the next pick. The Cubs also passed on the following pretty good players chosen in that first round: Tino Martinez, Royce Clayton, Charles Nagy and Alex Fernandez. (Fernandez, taken by the Brewers, didn’t sign and eventually was drafted by the White Sox two years later.)
Ventura would have looked pretty good in a Cubs uniform through the 1990s.
Griffin never played above Double-A.
SS: Chad Meyers
Meyers was the Cubs’ fifth-round pick in 1996. He had a very good year split between Double-A and Triple-A in 1999 (.317/.414/.436 with 39 stolen bases), which got him a late-season callup. But he didn’t hit: .232/.292/.296 in 142 at-bats with the Cubs. So back to the minors he went in 2000, in which he hit worse (.690 OPS) and then a late-season callup in 2000 in which he was awful (9-for-52 with 11 strikeouts). He played again briefly in the majors in 2001 (2-for-17) and then the Cubs released him. He re-surfaced in the majors for nine games with the Mariners in 2003.
3B: Gary Scott
Scott was the Cubs’ second-round pick in 1989, and hit pretty well in 1990 split between High-A and Double-A: .298/.354/.449 with 31 doubles and 16 home runs.
This, plus a good spring training in 1991, got him the Opening Day third-base job. At age 22. With no games above Double-A.
This was a really bad idea. Scott was totally overmatched in the big leagues and washed out after a couple of partial major-league seasons with a .160/.250/.240 line with three homers in 175 at-bats. One of the homers, at least, got him some recognition: a grand slam off the Phillies’ Kyle Abbott on April 20, 1992 at Wrigley Field.
Scott probably should have spent 1991 at Triple-A. If he had, he might have been able to develop enough to have a decent major-league career. He had talent; he was just terribly mishandled by that era’s front office.
OF: David Kelton
Kelton was supposed to be the Next Big Thing. He hit .313/.378/.549 with 12 homers in just 58 games at High-A Daytona in 2001, which got him named Baseball America’s No. 45 prospect before 2002. But he never really again hit as well. Even so, he was originally tabbed to platoon with Todd Hollandsworth in left field in 2004. That never happened; Kelton had a bad spring and spent most of 2004 at Iowa, where he hit only .245/.303/.448. He went just 3-for-22 in the major leagues.
OF: Danny Murphy
In the days when teams were signing “Bonus Babies” to huge contracts, then by rule had to keep them on big-league rosters, Murphy got the biggest deal to that date. The Cubs gave him $130,000, a huge number for any team in that era, much less the Cubs, who generally didn’t spend big on anyone in those days.
As noted, by rule Murphy had to go directly to the big leagues. He wasn’t even 18 when he debuted for the Cubs in 1960, and it showed: he went 9-for-75 (.120). He had to spend two more years on the Cubs roster when he probably should have been in the minors developing — and those years were the College of Coaches years, so Murphy likely got no development teaching at all.
Murphy was traded to the then-Houston Colt 45s just before the 1963 season, along with Dave Gerard for Hal Haydel, Dick LeMay and Merritt Ranew, a largely irrelevant deal. Later Houston sent him to the White Sox for Nellie Fox, an interesting footnote to baseball history. The White Sox eventually converted him to pitching and he had one good year (1969) and one bad one (1970) as a reliever for them before he was done, at age 27.
The bonus-baby system hurt players and excesses like this were among the reasons the draft was instituted in 1965.
OF: Karl Pagel
Pagel put together a monster year at Triple-A Wichita in 1979: .316/.436/.617 with 39 home runs, 96 runs scored, 100 walks and 123 RBI, this in a lower-offense era. That got him a September callup, in which he got... one at-bat, a strikeout (this after a similar callup the previous year in which he’d gotten two at-bats... both strikeouts). Word was that Pagel was a worse defensive outfielder than Dave Kingman, which is saying something. But he was blocked at first base with the Cubs by Bill Buckner, so the Cubs traded him to the Indians the next year for Cliff Johnson.
DH, right? Well, he was blocked there, too, and played in only 45 games over parts of three seasons with Cleveland. His only major-league homer was off Dennis Martinez, a pretty good pitcher, so that’s something, at least.
If Pagel’s last name sounds familiar, it should, if you are a football fan: his brother Mike Pagel played 12 years as an NFL quarterback with the Colts, Browns and Rams.
DH/P: Brooks Kieschnick
This is perhaps, even more than Griffin, the most inexplicable No. 1 pick in Cubs history.
Kieschnick was a DH and pitcher at the University of Texas. He didn’t play the field when he wasn’t pitching. Yet the Cubs, who did not have the DH available to them, picked him anyway and said, “We can make him into an outfielder!”
This did not work, even though he was a top-100 Baseball America prospect three years in a row (1994-95-96). Kieschnick was a terrible outfielder and it affected his hitting. He hit poorly (.231/.321/.395) in 64 games in parts of two years with the Cubs and the then-Devil Rays chose him in the 1997 expansion draft.
Eventually he made his way to the Brewers, who decided to take a chance on converting him into a relief pitcher who could occasionally pinch-hit. This actually worked for a couple of years (2003-04). Kieschnick put up positive bWAR (OK, not much, 0.7, but positive) and hit .286/.340/.496 with eight homers in 133 at-bats as a part-time hitter.
Why the Cubs didn’t at least try that with Kieschnick is beyond me. Even worse, they passed on the following players who they could have picked in the first round in 1993, selected after Kieschnick was chosen: Billy Wagner, Derrek Lee, Torii Hunter and Jason Varitek.