Day Three…Interest in the Cubs at an All-Time High

The 24th Annual Cubs Convention concluded on Sunday with two final sessions, “Meet Cubs Business Management” and “Down on the Farm“….but it did not go out without a bang.

Moments after the Convention officially ended at 1:00pm, news surfaced that the Cubs traded once sure thing and five-tool prospect Felix Pie to the Baltimore Orioles for two pitching prospects….lefty Garrett Olson and Class-A righty Henry Williamson. Oneri Fleita discussed Felix Pie, among other prospects, during the “Down on the Farm” session…so more on Pie later on.

The annual gathering was much of the same as it has been in recent years….with one small exception, it seemed like there was more people packed into the hotel and most were more focused on obtaining autographs than attending the sessions.

At times it was very difficult to go from one session to the other, mainly due to the autograph hawks camped out in the lobby and the vendor areas were not much better. While numbers for the weekend vary from report to report, it certainly appeared they figured out a way to sell more passes for the weekend event.

The highlight of the last day was “Down on the Farm” with Tim Wilken and Oneri Fleita but “Meet Cubs Business Management” featured a lot of useful information, including a possible celebration of the number thirty-one this summer at Wrigley…..

Meet Cubs Business Management

Matt Wszolek, the Director of Sales and Promotions, hosted the first session that featured Senior Vice President of Community Affairs Mike Lufrano, Executive Vice President of Business Operations Mark McGuire and Director of Ticket Operations Frank Maloney. The majority of the hour was a Q&A session with those in attendance.

Mr. McGuire mentioned from the top that depending on what happens with ownership this could have been their last convention.

The first subject broached was that of Sammy Sosa and his number. The question was asked why Milton Bradley will wear his number and the gentleman at the microphone received numerous boos as he attempted to defend his stance that Sosa’s number should be retired.

The Cubs are tough on which numbers they retire and feel a player should be in the Hall of Fame before their number is retired by the club (For those thinking Ron Santo’s number is retired and he’s not in the Hall, go look the numbers and find out where he ranked when he retired in 1973 for the number of home runs hit All-Time by third basemen). The Cubs may do something this summer to honor number 31 worn by Ferguson Jenkins and Greg Maddux (In this writer’s opinion, each player should receive his own flag with one flying on the right foul pole and the other hanging on the left, that way there would be three flags on each side of retired numbers).

Mr. McGuire talked about how tough it has been working with a ballclub that is trying to be sold by a parent company that declared bankruptcy. The Cubs are looking forward to having a new owner, but a owner with a passion for baseball.

The wonderful work of Cubs Care and the tours of Wrigley Field were briefly discussed. Mike Lufrano said they might expand the number of dates the tours are offered this summer…and he admitted he takes the tour himself at least once a year.

Carlos Zambrano and Geovany Soto broke ground on “Little Cubs Field” in Humboldt Park in September and it was announced on Sunday the field would be opening in the spring (April).

Improvements to Wrigley for the upcoming season were discussed. They are trying to move toward a prettier campus but until the new owner is in place it sounds like those plans are on hold. Mr. McGuire mentioned the fact he is tired of talking about the Triangle Building and joked they have been discussing that project for as long as he’s been with the organization.

The panel confirmed the fact 100% of ad revenue goes toward player payroll. They said there are not any plans to add big screens inside Wrigley, similar to the ones the NHL installed in right and left field. Matt Wszolek stated when asked again, “Within the seatin bowl you will not see any changes.

The Cubs would like to upgrade the TV monitors inside Wrigley. The gentleman that asked the question joking said to Mr. McGuire and Mr. Maloney the current monitors might have been at Wrigley as long as they have. Once the laughter subsided it was revealed the Cubs are not sure how flat screens will react to the spring weather in Chicago.

The MLB Network has told the Cubs they will be at Wrigley from time to time this summer. The network might televise some of the Cubs Spring Training games and possibly the games at new Yankee Stadium.

Mr. McGuire mentioned PSL’s (personal seat license) for Wrigley but did not say they are in the works. He said that the future owners could look at all avenues to increase revenue.

Aramis Ramirez and his absence from the convention was asked about. Aramis is apparently pleaded with every year to participate in the weekend. He does not want to and chooses instead to stay home and prepare for the season in the warmer weather. The panel thinks it would be a good idea if the players rotated each year.

Down on the Farm

The session on the Cubs Minor League system, presented by VineLine and hosted by Michael Huang, featured Brandon Guyer, Darwin Barney, Oneri Fleita and Tim Wilken. Shortly after the session began, Tim Wilken was asked about the process behind the draft.

Wilken indicated the Cubs have 600-800 names on the board a month before the draft. They go over the board with their area guys and then follow players through tournaments. Wilken stated they will break down the board into positions of need within the organization.

Tim Wilken went on to say sometimes with a first round pick it is better to get the best player, instead of drafting by need. He added there is high value with a first round pick and if the player does not end up with the Cubs, he could have a lot of value in a trade.

Wilken and Fleita then discussed what happens after the draft with a player. They indicated where the organization sends a player after the draft depends on what condition he’s in. Sometimes players are late signing (like in the case of Andrew Cashner) and could be out of shape. The Cubs want the player to have a positive experience in the first year after the draft.

Typically players out of high school will report to rookie ball in Mesa while college players usually end up in Boise. The entire panel discussed the ‘Host Families‘ in Boise and the fact that sometimes those families might even have a third car for the player.

Darwin Barney and Brandon Guyer were asked about their draft day experiences. Barney mentioned he was practicing and their coach would not let them watch the draft. He found out he was drafted and then returned to taking ground balls. Guyer on the other hand dislocated his shoulder the day before but watched the entire draft with his father….he admitted he probably wouldn’t do that again.

The state of pitching within the Cubs’ organization was asked about. Tim Wilken explained he talked a lot about the organization’s philosophy on pitching year before last with his scouts, but was not able to in 2008.

The Cubs want athletic pitchers in the organization and more of them. They want pitchers that can field their position and catch the ball. Wilken mentioned sometimes two-way players at the amateur level will fit the bill. Wilken feels the Cubs drafted more athletic pitchers last June.

The Cubs brought over Mark Riggins from the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization in November of 2007 to be the Cubs minor league pitching coordinator. They feel his addition will be a big boost to the system.

The Cubs would like for their young pitchers to come in and start games (like Cashner). The player is able to then throw all of their pitches and the Cubs in turn have a way to evaluate whether they should be a starter or a reliever.

The entire system is organized in such a way that all six pitching coaches report to the Minor League Pitching Coordinator, Mark Riggins (same with all of the hitting coaches, etc.). Oneri Fleita added the main thing within an organization is communication and feedback.

Wilken and Fleita feel there is a lot of talent in the Cubs’ organization. Fleita mentioned their high ranking a few years back and he believes the Cubs were ranked 27th this year by Baseball America. Fleita said he judges the farm system two ways. One, by how many players were able to help out the big league club last year. Two, by how many players were traded that helped get pieces to help the big league club.

Hitting is the hardest thing to do. A player is asked to hit a round ball with a round bat squarely. The Cubs realize they have not developed position players in recent years but Fleita pointed to the fact the Tennessee Smokies (Double-A) were totally homegrown last year. Fleita pointed out who would have thought Geovany Soto would hit the way he has at the Major League level.

Fleita said Welington Castillo, Mitch Atkins and Esmailin Caridad would all start the year at Triple-A. He said they must keeping pushing their players and keep trying to get results. Darwin Barney added that competition is good that is drives people. He said, “All you can do is go out and perform and try to help the team win.

Tim Wilken said the Cubs are not only wanting balance at the big league level but balance throughout the organization. The Cubs drafted more left handed hitters last year due to that fact. Wilken added the most important aspect is to find contact hitters. He said from time to time they will draft swing and miss guys but overall the goal is to draft contact hitters.

Josh Vitters is the purest hitter in the organization. Fleita also feels good about the catching depth within the organization. He said Welington Castillo is a good catch and throw guy and Steve Clevenger has done a good job since converting from shortstop to catcher. Michael Brenly (Bob Brenly’s son) was also mentioned.

As far as infielders, Jovan Rosa, Marquez Smith and Darwin Barney were discussed. Fleita said Barney is a good shortstop and has a good idea of how to hit. Fleita also mentioned Ryan Flaherty and said he is built in the mold of Cal Ripken, Jr. The Cubs are also high on Starlin Castro and Hak-Ju Lee.

Brandon Guyer received praise from his bosses. Wilken and Fleita described him as the kind of guy the organization is looking for and they would pay to come out to see him play. They said he is a linebacker on a baseball field and plays the game right. Tony Campana and Nelson Perez also received high praise.

Wilken revealed the Cubs could pick as low as 32nd in the upcoming draft and as high as 31st. He added there are a lot of high school pitchers in the 2009 draft but did not go into specifics. Tim Wilken said 12-13% of all players signed will make it to the big leagues.

Andrew Cashner is the one pitcher in the organization Tim Wilken said to keep an eye on….while Ty Wright is the position player. Wilken called Wright an underdog. Wright reminds Wilken of Reed Johnson and Matt Diaz (the Atlanta Braves) and Wilken emphatically stated he will be a big leaguer for quite awhile.

They discussed the players the Cubs received in the Mark DeRosa trade. Fleita feels Jeff Stevens will compete for a spot in the pen come spring and if he does not make the team, he feels he will be up and down all season. He said Stevens will help the Cubs this season.

John Gaub was briefly discussed and Fleita said how badly the Cubs need southpaws in their system. Chris Archer’s needle is pointing North according to Fleita. He called him a “high end guy” and said he appears to have a really good curve ball. Tim Wilken added that he received a lot of compliments from other teams when they landed Archer. Apparently many organizations asked about him when they talked trades with the Cleveland Indians.

Sam Fuld was asked about. Fleita said Fuld was banged up last year. He lost his speed but he has recovered and put together a great off-season. Fleita said he is back to running and throwing the way he did. Fuld has one more option year left and Fleita said he feels like he will help out this season….and if he is unable to this year and next spring he will have to try in a different organization.

Josh Vitters was detoured by the injury bug last year. He performed well in Boise and in winter ball. The Cubs are not sure where he will start the year. Fleita said that is what Spring Training is for.

The former crown jewels of the system, Felix Pie and Rich Hill, were asked about less than two hours before the trade of Pie to Baltimore was announced. Fleita said both are frustrating. He said it is a tough city and a tough business and the decisions they have to make on both players would be very difficult.

With Pie out of options, the Cubs brought in Joey Gathright to compete with him. Fleita said Pie was like a son to him and he takes full responsibility for Pie….as well as taking his failure personally. Both were sent to winter ball, Pie performed well but Hill did not. He said both players are going to face a harsh realty soon and the Cubs will have to make a difficult decision on both players….one was finalized on Sunday afternoon.

The final question was about Tyler Colvin and an update on him. Colvin had Tommy John surgery four months ago. He should be ready to go shortly after Spring Training and they are thinking about sending him to Daytona to be the team’s DH until he is ready to play in the outfield. From Daytona down they can use a DH and the warmer weather will help in his recovery. The Cubs are hoping by June for him to be with Ryne Sandberg in Double-A.

More from the 2009 Cubs Convention:

Quote of the Day

"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life." – Arthur Ashe