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Angel Guzman combines presence with pitches that dance. He has established an extremely high standard yet is only 21, suggesting the really good years lie ahead.
Guzman is the complete package. He should have fans hyperventilating as they count the days until he arrives as an ace with staying power.
But the Cubs have accumulated so many elite arms under general manager Jim Hendry and scouting director John Stockstill that they didn't need to tip their hands about Guzman.
He arrived at his first major-league spring training as a guy only readers of Baseball America had heard about but immediately showed why some scouts suggest he could come to the big leagues as quickly in 2003, as Mark Prior did in 2002.
Prior, of course, was advertised as the best college pitcher of all time before joining the Cubs, who scooped him up when Minnesota bypassed him with the first pick of the 2001 draft. He made only nine minor-league starts before coming to the big leagues last May.
Prior was the talk of Arizona last spring. He struck out 16 in 10 innings before being shipped to the minor-league camp, foretelling a rookie season in which he struck out 11.3 per nine innings and compiled a 3.32 earned-run average.
Guzman pitched much better this spring than Prior did a year ago.
In 16 innings, Guzman allowed only eight hits and two earned runs while striking out nine. He capped his spring with five scoreless innings against Anaheim on March 19. He followed Prior into that game and then outpitched him. Considering Prior allowed only one run in four innings, that's saying something.
Guzman, a native of Venezuela, was 11-4 with a 2.19 ERA between two Class A leagues last season. An improved curveball was the key to his success, but a mid-90s fastball doesn't hurt either.
Guzman never has worked above Class A. He is scheduled to start this season with West Tenn in the Double-A Southern League, but he might not be there long.
Prior and Greg Maddux needed ver few starts above Class A to reach the majors. It seems like a reach to put anyone in a class with those guys, but Guzman has shown just as much polish.
With Kerry Wood, Matt Clement, Carlos Zambrano, Juan Cruz and Prior already providing power arms for manager Dusty Baker, the Cubs won't be in a hurry with Guzman and the other arms in a pitching stable that Baseball America rates as the deepest in the majors.
Other Cubs starters
to keep an eye on
Bobby Brownlie: It's unfair to compare any college pitcher to Prior, but Brownlie and Prior were rated at the head of their respective classes in 2001 and '02. The Cubs were able to wind up with both because Brownlie's stock took a hit during his junior year, largely because of questions about his shoulder.
Brownlie didn't sign until March but still got a $2.5 million bonus. He will begin his pro career in Class A but will put himself into serious consideration for a major-league job by late 2004 or '05 if his velocity and breaking ball are as good as advertised.
"He could move up quickly," Stockstill told Baseball America. "I don't rule out a player like that pitching well in A ball and then moving to Double A by the end of the year."
Andy Sisco: Barely 20, the Sisco kid is a potential ace who stands 6 feet 9 inches and throws 95 m.p.h. As a bonus, he's left-handed. The natural comparison is to Randy Johnson, but the Cubs are quick to note Sisco is much more polished than Johnson was as a minor-leaguer. He dominated the rookie-level Northwest League last year and will open this season with Lansing in the low Class A Midwest League.
Felix Sanchez: The Cubs believe the 21-year-old left-hander from the Dominican Republic is better than he showed with Lansing last year (6-6, 4.15). He pitched very well over seven appearances in the big-league camp, giving up seven hits in 12 innings. He is likely to start the season with Daytona in the high Class A Florida State League.
Luke Hagerty: Another highly regarded left-hander, the 6-7 Hagerty is 22. His Ball State rotation included Bryan Bullington, whom Pittsburgh selected first overall in the '02 draft. Hagerty throws in the low 90s. Like Sisco, he dominated in the Northwest League last year and will be part of a very good pitching staff at Lansing this year.
Todd Wellemeyer: The 24-year-old right-hander quietly has climbed the ranks in the Cubs' system. He advanced to Double A last season and then opened eyes in the Arizona Fall League with a live fastball. He has struck out 376 in 343 pro innings. He probably will start this season at West Tenn but should move to Triple A before the year is over. He's a starter for now but could get moved to the bullpen.
Jae Kuk Ryu: Signed to a $1.6 million bonus two years ago, Ryu could give the Cubs a pair of big-league Koreans in another couple of years. Ryu has a mid-90s fastball with natural sink and throws a split-finger. Ryu has thrown only 87 pro innings. He'll open alongside Sisco and Hagerty at Lansing but could climb to Daytona before the year is over.
Justin Jones: A second-round pick in last year's draft, the 6-4 Jones was a most pleasant surprise. He won an ERA title in the Arizona League in 2002, using a low-90s fastball and a solid curve to hold hitters to a .181 batting average. He will pitch all of this season at 18. He's one more left-hander in the stable.
Carmen Pignatiello: A 20-year-old left-hander from Providence High School in New Lenox, Pignatiello compiled a 3.17 ERA over 167 innings with Lansing last season. His fastball has improved as a pro and could touch 90 this season. He has succeeded as a finesse pitcher but could climb fast if he gained a jump in his velocity. He'll pitch at Daytona this year.
Billy Petrick: Drafted in the third round last year from Morris High School, the 6-6 right-hander turned down a football scholarship at Washington State to play baseball. His fastball jumped from the high 80s all the way to 95 during the Instructional League, putting him on the list of power pitchers worth watching. He hopes to win a job with Lansing but could be assigned to extended spring training before the Northwest League opens in June.
Ben Christensen: Once considered the organization's top pitching prospect, Christensen has gone to the back of the pack after missing more than a year recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery. He's expected to pitch at Double-A West Tenn but will need a strong season to keep himself on the radar screen.