Time for another post in our series looking at the five largest signing bonuses each team has given to amateur players. The Cubs are up…
- Mark Prior, $4MM (2001)
- Corey Patterson, $3.7MM (1998)
- Josh Vitters, $3.2MM (2007)
- Luis Montanez, $2.75MM (2000)
- Bobby Brownlie, $2.5MM (2002)
You'd be hard pressed to find a team that pumped more money into high draft picks and received so little in return. Prior was undeniably special, going from USC to a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting within two years. His first 56 big league starts (377 innings) featured a 2.60 ERA with 10.6 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 (removing intentional walks), but arm injuries wrecked the rest of his career. Prior last pitched for the Cubs (and in the big leagues) on August 10th of 2006. If his latest comeback attempt is unsuccessful, his career is likely to end with a 3.51 ERA, 10.4 K/9, and 3.1 BB/9 in 106 starts (657 innings).
Patterson and Montanez were the third overall picks in their respective drafts. Neither delivered on their promise, though Patterson at least managed to reach the big leagues for Chicago. He hit just .252/.293/.414 with 70 homers and 86 steals in 589 games for the Cubbies before being traded to the Orioles for a pair of minor leaguers before the 2006 season. Montanez spent six years in the Cubs' farm system before signing with Baltimore as a minor league free agent in 2007. He didn't make it out of A-ball until five years after he was drafted. Vitters, yet another third overall pick, reached Double-A at age 20 this season, but he's just a .275/.317/.435 hitter in the minors, walking only 46 times unintentionally in 1,178 plate appearances.
Brownlie, a Scott Boras client and the 21st overall pick in 2002, pitched very well in Cubs farm system for two years before his elbow started to act up in 2005. He was shifted to the bullpen and pitched terribly in 2006 (6.33 ERA, 6.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9), leading to his release. Brownlie bounced around a bit after that, including a stint in an independent league, but he now coaches at his alma mater Rutgers. He never reached the big leagues, but did throw 199 innings at the Triple-A level.
Kosuke Fukudome matched Prior's signing bonus at $4MM, but he's not considered an amateur given all of his time in Japan despite having zero MLB experience when he signed.