Jason McLeod joined Bruce Levine and Ben Finfer during Hot Stove Saturday on The Score. The Cubs’ Vice President of Scouting and Player Development discussed a variety of topics including where they plan on starting Javier Baez next season and which positions he might get some exposure to in Spring Training.
The pitching the Cubs have either acquired or signed is starting to make its way up the system. Pitchers like Kyle Hendricks and Eric Jokisch will be at Triple-A Iowa to begin the year and the organization is excited about the pitching staff that is likely to start the year at Double-A Tennessee.
And while he would not show the Cubs’ cards, Jason McLeod likes what he has seen, on video, of Masahiro Tanaka and the reports he has read from the Cubs’ scouts that have seen him pitch in Japan.
Bruce Levine: Vice President of Scouting and Player Development, Jason McLeod joins us on Hot Stove Saturday here on The Score. Good morning Jason, how are you?
Jason McLeod: I’m doing great guys, thanks it’s good to be on with you.
BL: Obviously you are usually the center of attention from media people when you do show up because the organization is obviously counting on your players. Guys that you end up scouting and signing and developing along the way. I guess we should probably start with where we are at going towards Spring Training with Javier Baez. Certainly one of the great young players in the minor leagues last year. First of all where do we think he is going to start next season Jason?
JM: Well obviously he’s getting a lot of well-deserved attention coming off the monstrous season that he had. We’re going to try our best to make sure he stays on his development plan and works on things that we’ve laid out for him. With that in mind, the plan for Javy is going to be to start the season playing shortstop in Iowa.
Ben Finfer: And then is there a chance you guys will give him an opportunity to work out at second base at all as you try to figure out where he will fit best when he gets to the Major Leagues?
JM: I think that is something, once we get to Spring Training, and we’ve certainly had those conversations already internally. But once Ricky gets, and his staff get to see Javy for the first time on the field, I am sure that is something we will discuss more in Spring Training. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some exposure to second, and maybe even third base …
BF: I’m sure …
JM: [unclear comment]
BF: … No, go ahead. I am sorry.
JM: I was just saying I wouldn’t read too much into that when that happens. I mean, Starlin Castro is our shortstop and Javier Baez WILL be the shortstop in Iowa this year. That is the plan going into 2014.
BF: I know that you probably get asked about him and your other top guys, a lot, and it is because there is so much pub about them. But, I am going to ask you about them as well, what is the timetable for all of these guys to get the majors? You mention Baez, but Soler, Bryant, Almora and I will even throw C.J. Edwards into that mix to because I would say he is one of your top prospects.
JM: Yeah, I think you know it’s a combination of things. It’s first and foremost performance. They are going to dictate when they are ready by how they go out and compete and perform. There is also their individual player plans and things we’ve laid out for them. Once we can check off most of those items that we’ve laid out and discussed with them to work on and combine that with how they are performing. That will let us know and tell us when they are ready to move to the next level.
BL: Jason McLeod of the Cubs, Vice President of Scouting and Player Development, joining us on Hot Stove Saturday here on The Score.
BL: Jason, when you look at the plan, and I’ve said from the beginning, even when I talk to Theo, that you are the most important guy in the organization. I know you laugh and say ‘Well, of course but Theo makes all of the calls anyways’ …
BL: The point is that what you and your scouting staff and your development people do is going to be the key to what happens here over the next five, seven years and certainly, in your mind it is a five, seven, nine-type of system where it is going to take that long to be consistently competitive, isn’t it?
JM: Yeah, you know and I think Jed and Theo said it from Day One it is just acquiring as many young players as we can, hopefully as many young, impact players as we can. And really shoot for volume, especially when it comes to the pitching and certainly all of us in scouting and player development has taken this on as a challenge. We are really excited about it and invigorated by it. A lot of the moves we have made too, with the pro scouting staff and Joe Bohringer, and all of those guys in pro scouting have done a tremendous job in a lot of these trades we’ve made in getting back the players we have, especially some of the pitching, like C.J. Edwards and Kyle Hendricks and those types of guys. So as a group it is something we understand what our goals are, what the plan is and to go out and get as many, acquire as much talent as we can. You hope, like they say, there is safety in numbers. We feel really good about those guys at the top end of the scale in terms of our prospects. We feel like we’ve done a really good job collecting, NOT just depth, but a lot of guys who have the ability to be everyday players in the Major Leagues in the coming years.
BF: What would you say would be the areas you would like to see improve in your system over the next couple of years?
JM: I think you talk to 30 GMs and they will all say they do not have enough pitching, and certainly we feel that same way. You can never have enough. I think that over the last couple of years, with all of the arms we’ve drafted and acquired via trade, signed internationally, that know we are going to see that wave finally getting to the upper levels. For the last year-plus to two years, I’ve said mostly we are lacking starting pitching at the upper levels. Now this year, coming into ’14, you are going to see the Kyle Hendrickses and the Jokisches up at Triple-A. But also some of the guys we’ve drafted and acquired are now going to be pushing into Double-A. We were talking in Orlando last week that on paper that Double-A staff is going to be really exciting to see because we’ve got starting pitchers with power, swing and miss stuff, performance in High-A last year with that Daytona staff. And of course, you understand these guys have to staff healthy, which is why you try to acquire as much volume as you can. Now we are starting to see those guys in Double-A and as you guys know, once you’re there, it’s a pretty quick phone call away from getting to Wrigley.
BL: Jason, in my opinion, an impact signing for a number one young pitcher would be a tremendous energy boost for your organization as well as on the field. That said, I am not going to ask you to speculate on the Japanese pitcher Tanaka, that wouldn’t be fair. I ask you what you’ve seen of his skill set and what type of pitcher this is, if indeed he is posted by his Japanese team.
JM: It’s been quite the interesting saga. I followed it, obviously we speak about it internally, follow a lot of it on Twitter and what’s out there. But, I have not seen him in person. I have seen a lot of video of him and obviously read our scouting reports of our guys who have seen him. Without getting to in depth and showing our cards, he is an exceptionally talented guy. You don’t want to put any type of Yu Darvish-type expectations on him and saying that he would come over here and do that right away, but I think he has the ability to come over here and be successful in a pretty short time.
BF: We’re talking to Jason McLeod, the Cubs Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development. This is Hot Stove Baseball on The Score.
BF: So a lot of people Jason know what your title is. We know that you are highly acclaimed by your colleagues and by people in the media. Explain to fans exactly what your role is in the off-season as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer try to build their roster.
JM: I feel like I’m spoiled in my job because I really love what I do. I love being involved with younger players and player development. I absolutely love the amateur draft. You’ve heard about us talking about that being the Super Bowl for us. In the off-season, there is no really off-season in terms of player development or scouting for that matter. A lot of what we do in the off-season is running off-season camps, strength conditioning camps, Instructional League that we run out in Arizona, keeping tabs on our players that are playing in winter ball, setting up our programs that we have coming up like the Rookie Development Program that we are going to be running out of Chicago next month. Constant updating with our medical staff, our trainers on guys that are on rehab that were hurt maybe during the year. The player development NEVER stops, that is year-round. And then on the amateur scouting side, you know we are going to be picking fourth coming up in this year’s draft and our guys have been out pounding the pavement already. We have about a handful of guys going into the year we think are in consideration already for that pick. So we setup off-season meetings with those players as well as scouting the college scout days. Scouts getting into homes and starting the background information. I try to keep tabs on all of that. Reading through the follow-up reports, watching a lot of video, going down to our Latin academies in the fall to check on the younger players down there. It is a constant job and one that I really, really enjoy. We have a great staff, a lot of young talented players. Like I said, it doesn’t stop.
BF: So how does it work when, let’s say either Theo or Jed are looking to make a move with a team. Do they come to you and say ‘Hey, we are talking to this squad. Can you begin looking at their prospects in their system?’ Or have you already done that for many of the teams around the league?
JM: No. Joe Bohringer and his pro staff they are the ones who are CONSTANTLY on top of that information on that side …
BF: Okay …
JM: … As we start getting close, we always have meetings about what our needs are. What we are looking to do. As things start to get a little more serious in terms of, we need Player X or we need this position, we will meet as a group. Theo and Jed will kind of layout what they are looking for and then we will start looking through other team’s organizations, watching video and having those discussions more in depth. That is when I will get involved and start looking at video, at players, read more reports and of course, if I have background or I have seen them before as amateurs or as professional players, of course, then I will give more of my scout’s opinion on them. I’ll just be one of the guys looking to collect information and help these guys make good decisions.
BL: Well Jason, you are in the projecting business. That is how you make your money. That is how you’ve gotten your success to this point. So are we. If I would give you a scenario where Kris Bryant and Javier Baez dominate their leagues where they are at and its June 25 and Theo and Jed come to you and say ‘Can we promote these two guys?’ something like what the White Sox did in 1990 with Frank Thomas and Alex Fernandez on the same day. What that scenario being intact, would you be comfortable with that?
JM: Well, I think that by that point we would have had two and half months of the season to evaluate the quality of their at bats, the quality of their defense. Do we feel that they are ready to come up here and play defense in the Major Leagues? Do we feel like they are ready to come up here and compete in their at bats and be able to hit in the lineup somewhere that they would have success. If we felt that those boxes were checked, and of course if there was a need up here at the Major League level, then YEAH I would feel very comfortable with it. The process would have to be right. I wouldn’t want that to happen if we just had an injury up here …
BL: Right …
JM: … And he was the next best guy, even though we did not feel from a development standpoint it was the right time for him, I would not want to do that. If he checks all of the other boxes, and things were going well on his player plan, then yeah I would be very comfortable with it.
BL: The other checked box is that I made sure I had a date there for salary arbitration purposes …
BL: … They were pushed back. I’m sure you are well aware of where I was going with that one. Obviously, people are so excited, Cubs fans are so excited about your young players that literally all of the questions I get in the emails and the chat rooms that I do, ninety percent of it is about players you are helping to develop, and your people are helping to develop to get there. Do you feel any more pressure from that because of that concentration?
JM: No. Not pressure, no, because these are talented players. When you are in the business long enough, of course teams always fall into the trap of over-evaluating their own prospects and falling in love with their prospects to a degree sometimes. I think that being with Theo and Jed for as long as I have I feel like we have a pretty good, we are able to be pretty objective with our guys. I know I was always hard on a lot our prospects in Boston so I think we have a pretty good check system in place. So when it comes to the players that are being talked about in our system here it IS exciting because these guys are really talented. Now, we understand that they still have some development time to go, but it is an exciting time. I know that everyone in Player Development is excited, our scouts are, and it makes us that more excited to go find more players like these guys that are in the system now.
BF: It seems like, at least once a month Jason, there is article about how one day you are going to become a General Manager, teams are interested. I mean, Cubs’ fans want to know, based on how important you are to the re-build. How long are they going to have you for?
JM: Until we win multiple World Series. It is something I don’t really think about because I work with two people that I respect so much. Not only that, they’re very close friends of mine and an incredible town. I’ve been very spoiled along with Jed and Theo to have experienced World Series Championships in Boston, especially when we won it in ’04 and came back and won it in ’07 with more of the players we had developed. So we know what that feels like and we know how much it means. It is just an incredible challenge here with an ownership group who wants nothing more than to win and build it the right way. I hope five, ten years from now we are all here and hopefully we’ve won one or two World Series, if not more, by then.
BF: Jason, we really appreciate the time and thank you very much and good luck the rest of the off-season.
BL: Take care Jason, thanks.
JM: Had fun guys, great to be on with you.