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If Cubs deal veterans at deadline, they may turn to prospects to step in

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Andrew Cashner winds up throw against OaklAthletics during first inning their spring training baseball game Phoenix

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Andrew Cashner winds up to throw against the Oakland Athletics during the first inning of their spring training baseball game in Phoenix, Tuesday, March 15, 2011. (AP Photo)

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Updated: October 29, 2011 12:34AM



The non-waiver trade deadline is Sunday, and it might mark the start of the Cubs’ future.

The coming weeks will tell if the Cubs part with veterans such as Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena, Kosuke Fukudome and any of their pitchers. But who will replace them?

There are calls for the team to turn to youth, with the middle of the infield already in place with shortstop Starlin Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney. But the Cubs’ farm system, ranked 16th by Baseball America at the start of the season, seems more likely to provide pitching help than help at other positions in the near term.

Here are some of the Cubs’ looming question marks and what the farm system might offer as answers:

First base

Bryan LaHair, 29, is having a standout season at Class AAA Iowa, hitting .338 with 28 home runs and 78 RBI. But LaHair has been in the minors since 2003 (with the Seattle Mariners), has been with the Cubs since 2009 and isn’t on the 40-man roster.

Outfielder Tyler Colvin seems a more likely option if the Cubs decide to continue the experiment they started with him in spring training. Colvin, who spent most of last season with the Cubs and hit .254 with 20 homers and 56 RBI, has had a rough year at Iowa, hitting only .262 while playing the outfield. General manager Jim Hendry spent time last week at Iowa and told manager Mike Quade that Colvin is improving but is ‘‘not quite there yet.’’

Rebel Ridling, 25, is having a good season at Class AA Tennessee (.293, 14 homers, 54 RBI), but he isn’t projected to be major-league-ready next season.

Third base

Josh Vitters, the Cubs’ top draft pick in 2007, remains a project. Still only 21, he is hitting .272 with nine homers and 47 RBI at Tennessee.

The Smokies’ other third baseman, 24-year-old Ryan Flaherty, was hitting .305 with 14 homers and 66 RBI when he was promoted recently to Iowa. He was drafted in 2008 out of Vanderbilt and isn’t on the 40-man roster.

DJ LeMahieu was playing second at Tennessee when he was brought up for a short stay with the Cubs in early June. He then was promoted to Iowa, where he has continued to hit (.326 average). At 23, he might figure into the equation if a thought is given to moving Barney and/or Castro around on the left side.

Outfield

Colvin has major-league experience and would be expected to be the first in-house option to fill a need. Behind him is Brett Jackson, the Cubs’ top draft pick in 2009, who was hitting .256 with 15 steals at Tennessee before being moved up to Iowa recently.

Jackson, 22, was in a 1-for-25 slump before he homered Sunday. He still is projected as the Cubs’ top prospect, but he might not be ready for the majors by next season.

Pitching

A number of prospects already have wet their feet in Chicago, including right-handers Chris Carpenter, Justin Berg and Casey Coleman. Carpenter, 25, and Coleman, 24, are projected
starters, while Berg has pitched mostly in relief.

Ahead of them all, though, is 24-year-old right-hander Andrew Cashner, who made the Cubs’ rotation out of spring training before being sidelined by a strained right rotator cuff after his first start. His recovery has been slow, and he remains inactive under doctors’ orders. A healthy Cashner would figure prominently in the Cubs’ plans next season.

Among the pitchers a little further away are 21-year-old right-hander Trey McNutt at Tennessee and 21-year-old Dominican left-hander Jeffry Antigua, who was signed as a 16-year-old in 2006, at Class A Daytona.

McNutt, who was drafted in 2009, is 1-3 with a 4.33 ERA but is considered one of the Cubs’ top prospects and was invited to spring training this year. Antigua suffered an arm injury last season but is rebounding well so far.



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