Pos: LHP. HT: 6'3". WT: 205.
2006 Totals: 10-8, 3.27 ERA, 159.2 IP, 114 K, 31 BB, .267 AVG. AGAINST.
Often when a team drafts a player in the 16th round, they're not quite sure what to expect. J.R. Mathes was one of those players, and he's progressed quickly through the farm system to this point, having bypassed any would-be stints in the Midwest League by going straight to Daytona for his first full season in 2005.
Having logged almost 300 innings the past two seasons combined, Mathes put together a strong showing at Double-A in 2006 en route to being named a Southern League All-Star in July. He won 10 games and finished with an ERA over a point lower than in his first full season a year ago, while surrendering roughly the same number of hits in almost 30 more innings.
While showcasing a four- and two-seam fastball, a breaking ball and a four- and two-seam changeup, the left-hander averaged less than two walks per nine innings this past season – the lowest on the Double-A staff. He likes to keep the ball down, but with the help of pitching coach Mike Anderson, he began to expand the strike zone in an effort to keep hitters honest.
"He's not an overpowering guy, but he's a command guy that keeps hitters off balance and turns his fastball over," said Pat Listach, Mathes's manager at West Tenn this past season. "He cuts it in a little on righties and has a pretty good curveball. He keeps himself in the game."
24. Sam Fuld
Pos: OF. HT: 5'10". WT: 180.
2006 Totals: .300 AVG., 89 G, 29 XBH, 40 BB, 54 K, .378 OBP.
There's a reason why Fuld was No. 1 in our in-season Prospect Power Rankings for several weeks this past season: he can hit, walk and get on base. Oh, and he can run fairly well, too, as evidenced by his 22 stolen bases in 25 attempts through four months this season.
Simply put, he is one of the best on-base guys in the Cubs' farm system and was given the award for "Best Strike Zone Discipline" by Baseball America entering 2006. The leadoff man reached base safely in 33 consecutive games this past season and held a 17-game hitting streak at one point.
After becoming a late addition to the Florida State League All-Star Game this past season, Fuld would miss the final month of the season with a hip injury. He has since undergone surgery this off-season to repair the hip and expects to start hitting shortly after New Year's Day.
Defensively, Fuld carries plenty of range in the outfield, but his throwing arm has taken a beating over the years. He underwent shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in his final college season at Stanford in 2004, and missed time a season ago with a jam in the same shoulder.
Fuld is the first to admit he doesn't have the strongest throwing arm, which is to be expected from his 5'10" frame. What he lacks in power, though, he makes up for with accurate throws and a quick release point.
23. Grant Johnson
Pos: RHP. HT: 6'6". WT: 220.
2006 Totals: 7-5, 4.70 ERA, 92 IP, 56 K, 38 BB, .294 AVG. AGAINST.
You don't have to preach to Grant Johnson about disappointment. A second-round pick in a year in which the Cubs had no selections in the first round, Johnson knows things haven't exactly gone his way thus far.
"I've struggled with finding something that's comfortable for me and getting back to the way I used to be," Johnson told us this past season. "I've been struggling ever since I signed and am trying to figure something out."
In an effort to do that, Johnson was sent to the bullpen at Daytona this past season following 10 starts. Prior to that, he was placed on the disabled list with shoulder tendonitis in his right arm.
In two-plus seasons with the Cubs, Johnson has struggled to find some consistency with his mechanics.
"A consistent arm slot and little things like that are part of the problem, and are part of the difficulty of pitching," Johnson said.
The right-hander still has plenty of upside, though, and the Cubs aren't ready to label him a relief pitcher just yet.
"The biggest thing for him is that he's very mature, disciplined, and his work habits are off the charts," Daytona pitching coach Tom Pratt said.
"A lot of times, we try to do a little variety with these guys just by getting them on the mound in more game situations," added Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita when discussing Johnson's move to the bullpen.
22. Mark Holliman
Pos: RHP. HT: 6'0". WT: 195.
2006 Totals: 8-11, 4.38 ERA, 144 IP, 121 K, 58 BB, .241 AVG. AGAINST.
The Cubs' third-round pick in the 2005 draft signed late in the season a year ago and missed the opportunity to make his professional debut the same year he was drafted. So in 2006, Holliman bypassed any of the short-season or various other Class Low A leagues by going straight to the Florida State League at Daytona.
He got off to a strong start and had six wins by July, closing out June with a 1.10 ERA and 15 hits allowed in over 30 innings for that month.
From that point on, though, it was a struggle. Holliman would win only twice the rest of the season as his ERA climbed throughout the second half.
When things were at their worst, Holliman struggled periodically with control and admitted to spending a good portion of '06 working on mechanics.
When he keeps the ball down in the zone, Holliman typically has success. His fastball can reach 90-92 mph with good consistency and the 23-year-old features a curveball, slider and changeup in his repertoire.
Holliman considers the slider his out-pitch, but told us this past season that he'd gotten a little too comfy with the offering. As a result, he began working in the curveball more often.
21. Jose Ceda
Pos: LHP. HT: 6'5". WT: 205.
2006 Totals: 3-0, 3.52 ERA, 46 IP, 63 K, 22 BB, .194 AVG. AGAINST.
Is it too early to get excited about a 6'5", 19-year-old right-hander with mid-to-high 90s heat and solid control thus far in his career? We think not.
The Cubs got Jose Ceda from the Padres' farm system this past July in the trade that sent Todd Walker to San Diego. After joining the Cubs, Ceda yielded all of five runs and 11 hits in 23 innings. He struck out 32 and walked just nine, and now has a strikeout-to-walk ratio just shy of three to one through his first two years of pro ball.
Ceda can reach as high as 99 mph on the radar gun according to Padres Director of Professional and International Scouting Randy Smith.
"It doesn't necessarily mean success, but it sure is a nice way to start," Smith told MadFriars.com (the Padres' equivalent to Inside The Ivy on the Scout.com network).
Ceda features a slider and changeup in his arsenal, and while pitching for the Mesa Cubs of the Arizona Rookie League, he fanned 21 batters in 12 innings, yielding one earned run for a 0.75 ERA in five outings with the club.
"It will be interesting to watch him develop," Fleita said. "His arm works real well. He throws in the mid 90's. We love the guy and think he has a great ceiling. We're excited to have him."
Photo attribution: Mathes – Inside The Ivy/Steve Holley; Holliman, Fuld, Johnson – Daytona Cubs/Tommy Proctor; Ceda – MadFriars.com.