There are a number of different ways I could have approached putting together this short list of Cubs pitching prospects who went bust.
One thing I decided to do was to completely eliminate any pitcher whose career was cut short by injury. Thus you will not see Mark Prior here. You won’t see Dick Drott, whose rookie season in 1957 was nearly as good as Kerry Wood’s in 1998.
What you will see are pitchers who were either high draft picks who never made it, or guys who got some credence in Top 100 prospect lists, and in one case, a pitcher whose career ended for non-baseball reasons.
I didn’t make a rotation or bullpen out of these guys, because with pitching prospects, you never know which way they’re going to go. Some guys who are good starters in the minor leagues wind up as closers. I’m listing these men in more or less chronological order.
Again, there could be quite a number of other choices for a list like this. You might have your own selections. Feel free to leave them in the comments.
Fast, drafted in 1967, came on... well, fast, through the Cubs system. By 1968 he was pitching in the big leagues, eight games (one start) for the Cubs at age 21.
But he wasn’t called up in 1969, in part because the Cubs weren’t able to get a military exemption as many players had in those days. By then, Fast was listening to a different calling, as he wrote in a book called “The Missing Cub”:
After leaving a promising professional career Darcy entered the Christian ministry and served as Senior Pastor of Centralia Community Church of God for over thirty years.
He filed voluntary retirement papers with MLB at age 23, said to be at the time (and still might be) the youngest player ever to do so.
From 1966 to 1986, MLB had two “phases” of the draft; the “secondary phase” was for players who had been selected but didn’t sign in the first, for college seniors, and others who for some reason didn’t qualify for the primary phase.
Lemonds was the first overall pick in the 1968 June secondary phase. A year later he was in the big leagues, and started one game for the Cubs. Though he posted decent minor-league numbers, he was eventually traded to the White Sox, for whom he had a nondescript season in 1972. After two more minor-league seasons he was out of baseball.
Another inexplicable No. 1 (seventh overall) pick by the Wrigley-era Cubs in 1976, Segelke put together six undistinguished minor-league seasons in the Cubs organization before getting a three-game cuppa coffee in the big leagues in 1982. He was traded to the Giants after that season for Chicago-area native Alan Hargesheimer, who pitched in five games for the Cubs in 1983.
The Cubs passed on the following players in the first round in 1976, several of whom eventually played for them anyway: Steve Trout, Leon Durham, Pat Tabler, Mike Scioscia and Bruce Hurst.
The first round was not kind to Cubs pitching picks for many years. Hall was the Cubs’ first pick (third overall) in 1984. In 45 games for the Cubs from 1986-88, Hall posted a 6.41 ERA, 1.564 WHIP and -1.3 bWAR. He was eventually sent to the Rangers in the nine-player trade that brought Mitch Williams to Chicago, so there was at least some value there.
Other players the Cubs could have chosen in that first round in 1984: Jay Bell, Mark McGwire, Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell and Terry Mulholland.
This was a controversial pick at the time (first round, 26th pick, 1999) because Christensen had deliberately thrown at a hitter in the on-deck circle while in college, hitting the opposing player in the eye. Here’s a good 2012 summary of that incident and its aftermath.
Christensen never pitched above Double-A. Though the Cubs selected late in that first round due to their 90-win season in 1998, one player who was still available at the time was... Brian Roberts.
Sisco was the Cubs’ second-round pick in 2001. He was good enough in the Cubs’ system to be a Baseball America Top 100 prospect in 2003 (53rd) and 2004 (77th).
But the Cubs did not put him on the 40-man roster after the 2004 season and he was selected by the Royals in the Rule 5 draft. He put up a decent year in relief for Kansas City in 2005 (3.11 ERA, 142 ERA+, 2.3 bWAR) but declined in 2006 and was traded to the White Sox for Ross Gload.
Sisco was still pitching in Korea as recently as 2015.
Jae Kuk Ryu
Ryu was signed out of Korea in 2001 at age 18, and steadily moved through the system as a starter. He made his major-league debut in the eighth inning of a 9-0 blowout loss to the Padres May 14, 2006 (pictured above) and two weeks later he made his first (and as it turned out, only) big-league start against the Braves. He was awful, allowing seven hits and six runs in just 1⅓ innings.
The next winter he was traded to the then-Devil Rays for a couple of minor leaguers who never made it. He wound up pitching in 18 games in relief (and not very well) for Tampa Bay teams managed by Joe Maddon. You don’t suppose...
Nah. Ryu went back to his native Korea and was still pitching there, at age 33, in 2016.
Gallagher was the Cubs’ 12th-round pick in 2004, and by 2007 was a top-100 Baseball America prospect (82nd). He made a few major-league relief appearances in 2007 and by May 2008 he was in the Cubs rotation. Those outings weren’t very good (4.45 ERA in 10 starts), but the A’s saw enough in him at age 22 that they wanted him. It’s easy to forget now, eight years later, that Gallagher was the centerpiece of the deal that brought Rich Harden to the Cubs. The others in the deal: Matt Murton, Eric Patterson and some kid catcher at Low-A Peoria named Josh Donaldson.
No one in 2008 would have thought that Donaldson, who was hitting .217/.276/.349 at Peoria, would have become a league MVP a few years later. Even so, it wouldn’t have mattered if Harden had helped lead the Cubs to the World Series, but that didn’t happen.
Gallagher bounced around to the Padres, Reds and Rockies, finally released by Colorado after the 2013 season. He was still pitching in indy ball (Sugar Land of the Atlantic League) in 2016, posting a 3.79 ERA in 27 starts.