Baseball franchises are often building toward the future more than any other sport. Players are signed in their teenage years and come up through a club’s farm system hoping they’ll be staples of the Major League roster for at least a decade. As such, there are some prospects that front office members and fans get excited about, but it doesn’t always work.
Every franchise goes through the experience of putting all of its eggs into a prospect’s basket, only to have injuries or skill regression ruin its plans for years. The Cubs are no exception, and there have been plenty of instances in which a prospect just didn’t work out for the franchise. Here are five of those hyped-up Cubs prospects that simply didn’t pan out.
5. Corey Patterson
Corey Patterson was essentially supposed to be what Mike Trout ended up becoming for the Los Angeles Angels. Patterson was considered a gifted five-tool prospect that had speed, power, could hit for contact, and had a cannon for an arm. Patterson was selected third overall by the Cubs in the 1998 MLB Draft, and made his MLB debut two years later.
For a while there, it looked like Patterson was going to be the real deal. As he started to get more comfortable at the MLB level, he had solid performances in 2003 and 2004. However, Patterson fell off hard in 2005 and was demoted to AAA. Patterson then bounced around the league for several years, playing his final game in 2011.
4. Ty Griffin
Second baseman Ty Griffin wasn’t the top prospect in the 1988 MLB Draft, but he quickly impressed as a Minor Leaguer after being taken ninth overall by the Cubs. Griffin became one of the most heralded prospects in the Minors, with high hopes that he could eventually replace Ryne Sandberg.
Instead, Griffin never cracked the Major League roster…for any team. Griffin topped out at AA, spending his entire 20s playing Minor League and independent baseball. He last played in 1997 with Grand Forks in the Prairie League. The Reds and Cardinals tried to salvage what they could with their Minor League systems, but it was too late.
3. Mark Prior
Mark Prior is the ultimate “what might have been” story in Major League Baseball. Drafted second overall in the 2001 MLB Draft behind only Joe Mauer, Prior was considered to be the top pitching prospect in years. He made his debut the following May, and he didn’t disappoint in his first two seasons.
Prior’s numbers as a Major Leaguer are respectable, with a 42-29 record and a 3.51 earned run average. Those numbers would be much better if it weren’t for his injuries that mounted up, especially in the 2006 season that caused him to have his worst season by far. That also happened to be his final season, as those injuries kept him off the mound for good.
2. Felix Pie
A lot of people felt the same way about Felix Pie as they did with Corey Patterson, except Patterson at least showed some signs of being a five-tool player that would stick around forever. Not many wound up getting that impression of Felix Pie, unfortunately. He came from the Dominican Republic with high hopes, and made his MLB debut in 2007.
Pie played in just 130 games for the Cubs over two seasons and batted .223 with just three home runs. The Cubs shipped him off to Baltimore where he played for three seasons before wrapping up with the Pirates in 2013. Pie hit just .246 in his career with 17 home runs.
1. Josh Vitters
The Cubs’ window was open for a World Series run in the late 2000s, but many of the key players were getting on the wrong side of 30. A rebuild was soon to be in order, and third baseman Josh Vitters was supposed to be the cornerstone. Vitters was drafted third overall in 2007 behind David Price and Mike Moustakas but didn’t make any waves at the MLB level.
Vitters played in just 36 Major League games, all with the Cubs in 2012, five years after he had been drafted. Vitters batted just .121 in those games and returned to the Minor Leagues before being released in 2014. Vitters then left the MLB system altogether and played with various semi-pro teams before retiring from the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball in 2021 after batting .157 with zero home runs.