Cubs Release Two More Top-Round Picks

If you had predicted at the time they were drafted that the Cubs' three highest selected players from the 2003, 2004 and 2005 draft classes would collectively receive only slightly more than a cup of coffee above Class A ball, you might have garnered a few quizzical looks. Yet that is the reality with a week remaining in minor league spring training 2009.

It simply is not a good time to be a former first-round draft pick by the Chicago Cubs. After cutting ties with outfielder Ryan Harvey (first-round, 2003) last week, the Cubs have also dropped left-hander Mark Pawelek (first-round, 2005) and right-hander Grant Johnson (second-round, 2004).

Actually, Johnson was given his release a little over a week ago, but Pawelek learned of the news that he was being let go only on Sunday.

Pawelek, 22, appeared in only 54 games over four seasons with the Cubs, mostly at short-season Low Class-A Boise. He was 6-12 with a 3.80 ERA and 147 strikeouts and 79 walks in 149 1/3 innings in those four seasons.

Pawelek learned of the news from Cubs Director of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita, Minor League Pitching Coordinator Mark Riggins, and Field Coordinator Dave Bialas.

"They said, ‘We have exhausted all efforts with you, and things did not go as we planned.' Basically … ‘you're not playing well and we don't want you around anymore,'" said Pawelek.

"(Sunday) was kind of a struggle because I made the mistake of coming to the game (at Fitch Park) right afterward. I was like, ‘I really want to throw a baseball right now.'"

The Cubs drafted Pawelek with the 20th overall pick in 2005 from Springville High School in Utah, where he was 10-0 with a zero ERA in his final prep season. He made 13 starts later that year for the Cubs' Arizona Rookie League affiliate in Mesa and had a 2.72 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 43 innings en route to being named the league's top prospect that season by Baseball America.

But things went downhill for Pawelek from there.

In 2006, Pawelek reported to his first spring training in poor physical shape and began the season in Boise that summer. A year later, in 2007, he suffered a freak accident that resulted in a fractured right elbow as he was preparing to leave Arizona to pitch a second stint at Boise. And last August the Cubs sent Pawelek home with two weeks remaining in the season after he reportedly violated team rules.

Pawelek said he was surprised to be given his release.

"I came into camp in good shape. I was told to work out of the stretch instead of the windup. But then I was averaging one or two innings a week. I pitched (4 2/3) innings in three weeks," said Pawelek.

Pawelek received a $1.75 million signing bonus from the Cubs in 2005.

Although Johnson was a second-round Cubs draft pick from Notre Dame in 2004, he was the first player selected by the club in that year's draft. Johnson, 25, debuted at Class A Peoria in 2005 and made 14 starts, finishing 3-8 with a 3.82 ERA. He was plagued by injuries the next several seasons.

A season ago, Johnson made 28 appearances (including 14 starts) between Class AA Tennessee and Advanced Class A Daytona, finishing with a 5.35 ERA in 79 innings combined.

"It's always shocking when you get released, but it's one of those things where I've been hurt quite a bit and they've got a lot of young guys coming up through the system," said Johnson. "I wasn't totally unprepared for it. I had thought about it."

"In the long run, it might be best for me and the Cubs," he added. "It's been a little nerve-racking trying to figure out if you're going to get picked up by another team and get another shot. Sometimes you think, ‘Maybe this is it.'"

Johnson received a $1.25 million signing bonus from the Cubs in 2004.

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