Dust-bowl days down on the farm | Bleader

Dust-bowl days down on the farm

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Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus is out with his annual list of the top 100 minor-league prospects, but don't waste your time hunting for all the Chicago players on it. The Cubs placed two -- Geovany Soto at 37 and Josh Vitters at 45 -- and the Sox just one, Aaron Poreda at 87. Suffice to say it's hard times down on the farm for Chicago's baseball teams.

Cubs fans got a glimpse of Soto at the end of last season, and they liked what they saw. After a Most Valuable Player season at Triple-A Iowa, where he hit .353 with 26 homers and 109 runs batted in, he batted .389 with three more homers and eight RBI while catching 18 games in September. Manager Lou Piniella liked what he saw, too, as Soto started the first two games of the playoffs in Arizona. His homer off Doug Davis to put the Cubs briefly ahead in Game Two was the high point of the series for them, as they went on to be swept in three games. General manager Jim Hendry evidently liked it too: he let Jason Kendall go in free agency to make Soto the de facto Cubs' starting catcher this season. A 37 ranking isn't exactly can't-miss territory, but if Soto can hit 20 homers while batting respectably and calling a good game, he'll fit right in. BP's Pecota projection says Soto should approach those numbers. Just as important where the Cubs are concerned, he's got the matinee-idol looks to have the Wrigley Field tube-top brigade sighing for years.

A few Cubs fans got a glimpse of Vitters as well, but they probably didn't realize it. The Cubs' top choice and third overall in the June draft out of Cypress High School in California, he was considered the top high-school hitter available, and upon signing in August they let the then 17-year-old suit up and take batting practice before a game. He's lean and slight, but the ball jumps off his bat, and the projection is he'll fill out and hit for power in playing the position once held by Ron Santo. But for now it's all speculation. He hit .067 in seven games in his Rookie League debut in Mesa, and not much better at .190 in seven more games at short-season Boise. He figures to be at least four years away, but a 45 ranking is high praise for a teenager and marks high promise.

Poreda was the Sox' top draft choice too, 25th overall last June, out of the University of San Francisco, and he had a much more impressive debut at Great Falls in the Rookie League. The lefty was undefeated in four decisions, with a sparkling 1.17 earned-run average, with 48 strikeouts against 10 walks in 46 innings. Bears fans should like him, too, as he played defensive end and tight end in high school, and has filled out to 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds. His three-quarter-sidearm delivery -- think a big Billy Wagner -- produces a fastball that has touched 100 miles an hour and a nasty sinker, but thus far has kept him from developing any other breaking or off-speed pitches. His fastest route to the majors is as a reliever, and if the Sox go through what they did last year in the bullpen, it's not unthinkable the 21-year-old could be called up this year, though the Sox would no doubt prefer to take it slow and see if he can develop as a starter.

The Sox would have had another couple of pitchers in the top 100, but instead they included the highly touted Fautino de los Santos (46) and Gio Gonzalez (56) in the Nick Swisher trade. That left them with "arguably the thinnest farm system in baseball," according to Baseball America's Phil Rogers. So, Sox fans, just consider Nick Swisher your top new prospect for years to come.

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