Day Three of the 2014 Cubs Convention: Down on the Farm

After being entertained for an hour by Bobby Dernier, Tim Stoddard, Steve Trout, Jay Johnstone, Rick Sutcliffe, Gary Matthews, Scott Sanderson and Lee Smith talking about the ’84 season, the 2014 Cubs Convention wrapped up with the Sunday staple … Down on the Farm.

Jason McLeod, Jaron Madison, Blake Parker, Justin Grimm, Dave Otto and Smokies’ play-by-play man Mick Gillispie discussed the Cubs’ farm system in the final session of the weekend.

The Cubs are trying to attack the system with volume and there are multiple players that project as impact talent in the big leagues. The front office is trying to structure the system so a constant wave of talent can move through the system and up to Wrigley.

Jason McLeod and Jaron Madison provided updates on several players during the session.

Arodys Vizcaino is not 100 percent healthy yet. Vizcaino threw well in the Dominican and the Cubs are being conservative with his rehab. He is on track to be ready for the start of Spring Training.

The Cubs plan to leave Javier Baez at shortstop “for as long as they can” and they “think that will be a while.” The Cubs could possibly expose him to second and/or third base during Spring Training. The front office will sit down with Rick Renteria and his coaching staff before camp begins to come up with a plan for Baez.

Mike Olt was given a breather this off-season. The Cubs did not want him playing winter ball. They wanted him to take a break and hit the reset button on his career. Olt says he is healthy and is ready to compete for the Cubs’ third base job this spring. Jason McLeod said Olt met with different specialists over the winter and was given different drops for his eyes. McLeod indicated Olt looked good in the batting cages at Northwestern during the Rookie Development Program. McLeod explained the Cubs will know early in camp if Olt is fully recovered and is back to where he was prior to the concussion. Olt’s first live batting practice will tell them a lot.

Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters, two former top prospects, are coming off bad seasons. Jackson and Vitters dealt with injuries all season and in Jackson’s case a lot of adversity. The Cubs front office still believes in both players and they will compete for jobs in Spring Training.

Christian Villanueva had a “hell of a year” according to McLeod and is hands down the best defensive third baseman in the system. Dustin Geiger is one of the under the radar players in the system that the Cubs are high on. Jason McLeod drafted Justin Grimm while he was with the Red Sox, but Grimm did not sign and went to college.

There is more to the Cubs’ system than the prospects that are constantly making headlines. The Cubs have several players that have a chance to help the big league team win in the years to come.

Down on the Farm

Dave Otto began the session by acknowledging the talent, including Kris Bryant, the Cubs selected in last June’s draft. Jaron Madison, the Cubs’ Farm Director, said the draft was a good experience. The Cubs feel they added good talent to the system. The Cubs were able to select many of the guys they targeted in the draft and were on their board.

Dave Otto explained there are many things to be excited about in regards to the Cubs’ system. There are a lot of good players in the organization. The key is ‘players’ because, according to Otto, there used to be one or two good players in the Cubs’ system, now there are a lot of good players in the organization.

Jason McLeod fielded the question about Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters and where the two former top prospects stand with the organization.

Both players had a tough season and dealt with a lot of adversity as well as injuries. “We still have belief in both,” McLeod said. Vitters was born to hit and they tried him at different positions last season (first base and left field) when he was healthy enough to play. Vitters “needs to work on a few things” according to McLeod.

The Cubs gave Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters the winter off to hit the reset button on their careers. Jackson and Vitters will be in camp with the Major League team (both players are on the 40-man roster) and will compete for jobs. Vitters has been moved to the outfield on a full-time basis, at least for now.

The Cubs have a lot of depth in the system, a good nucleus as McLeod said. The Cubs feel there are several players, besides the Big Four, that has a chance to perform well in the majors and help the organization reach the goal.

Jason McLeod discussed the depth in the system this past week with Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jaron Madison. The Cubs’ brass feels there are several players that have a significant chance to be impact talent at the Major League level, which is unusual according to McLeod. Typically there are one or two players that project as impact talent at one time in the same organization. And while they know not all of them will reach their projections, there is a good chance that multiple players will. Beyond the Core Four, McLeod really tried to resist using the phrase, there are more players that have a chance to be “special.”

The Cubs need to add pitching to the system, a lot of pitching to the system.

Dustin Geiger has flown under the radar according to Jason McLeod with all of the other prospects in the system. “Geiger is not under the radar with us,” McLeod said. McLeod has brought up Geiger in other interviews when he has discussed the system. Geiger is coming off a really good season and is age appropriate for the level he played at last year (High-A Daytona), if not just a little younger. Geiger is flying under the radar due to the “bigger names” in the system.  The Cubs moved him to first base last year and he will have a chance to earn a promotion during Spring Training.

Jaron Madison described another lesser known prospect, Rock Shoulders, as impressive both on and off the field. The Cubs will move him around to different positions during Spring Training (outfield) to see if he can increase his value. Madison added, “We have to find at bats for him.”

David Bote and Pierce Johnson were two other prospects McLeod and Madison were asked about and where they fit in the system. McLeod explained they are trying to develop Bote into a versatile, utility player. McLeod described Bote as a “scrapper, grinder, baseball rat” that needs to perform.

Pierce Johnson is coming off a “great developmental year” according to McLeod. Johnson was able to compete for a full season and is he “on his plan.”

The lack of catching depth in the system is a concern for the Cubs and an area they are trying to address. When asked about the lack of catchers behind Welington Castillo, McLeod said, “You share our concerns.” It is a definite area of need for the Cubs. They signed some six-year minor league free agents to help with the issue this season and will continue to convert position players to catchers.

Welington Castillo had a good year. McLeod explained that Dioner Navarro aided in Castillo’s development and Mike Borzello helped a lot with the strides Castillo made last season.

Christian Villanueva had “a hell of a season” according to Jason McLeod and is often overlooked due to all of “the sexy names” in the system like Javier Baez. Villanueva put up very good numbers at the Double-A level and is hands down the best third baseman in the Cubs’ system. Villanueva “can make sick plays” defensively but as McLeod pointed out, one of the reasons Villanueva is overlooked is the guy to his left (Javier Baez) is ridiculous.

And speaking of Javier Baez, the Cubs have discussed the possibility of him being exposed to second and third base during Spring Training. The front office will sit down with Rick Renteria at the beginning of camp to work out the details.

Jason McLeod stated Sunday the Cubs plan to leave Javier Baez at shortstop for “for as long as they can.” And McLeod thinks “that will be a while.” Baez will begin the upcoming season at shortstop. As for a possible position switch, McLeod said having Starlin Castro and Javier Baez “is a good problem to have.”

The Cubs will do their best not to rush a player to the majors. The team wants the players to dominate the level they are in and check all of the boxes in their player plan. Sometimes players are rushed and it stalls their careers according to Madison. The front office wants to make sure the player is ready so once they are in the majors, they stay in the majors.

Smokies’ play-by-play man, Mick Gillispie talked about the limits put on players in the minors from the front office. And while the minor league teams want to win games, they understand the big picture and that is to develop players. The organization’s decision to promote a player usually has a ripple effect throughout the system , and it is the same with injuries in the system.

Jaron Madison will be managing all of the rosters in the Cubs’ system this season and it will be up to him to assign players accordingly when necessary.

After the Cubs draft a player, sign him and get him into the system, they really limit innings for that pitcher in the first year of pro ball. It is good for the organization to get their hands on them. As for the type of pitchers they are looking for, big bodied, hard-throwers. The Cubs are looking for a certain type of type for a starting pitcher and the pitcher must meet the criteria (long check list). There is a process the front office goes through before selecting a pitcher in the draft. They want to do their best to add the pitcher that fits their organizational philosophy the best.

Jason McLeod addressed the incident last season with Jorge Soler. McLeod admitted he had a “couple of tough conversations” with Brandon Hyde about it. Soler understands what he did was wrong and is not accepted.

There are systems in place in the organization to help players adjust to professional baseball and in many cases living in another country. Randy Fuentes is the Cultural Assimilation Coordinator that helps Latin players with the transition to life in the United States. The Cubs work with the young players on the mental side of the game and life and really focus on life off the field. The Cubs give the players English lessons. It is a year-long (12 months) program, not just during the baseball season.

The Cubs system has not only improved on the field, but off the field as well this past year.

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2014 Cubs Convention Reports

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Quote of the Day

"Love all, trust a few. Do wrong to none." - William Shakespeare
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  • cubtex

    If Olt starts the season with the Cubs that contradicts with what they stated. Make sure the player dominates the level they are in and check off all the boxes to make sure the player is ready.

    • Tony_Hall

      It is not an always or never type of policy. Players who already have been in the majors, even for cup of coffees are obvious exceptions to the rule.

      • cubtex

        Sorry Tony but I don’t see how that would be relevant. Just like Rizzo. He struggled badly his first time in majors. Started year in AAA and dominated. Checked off boxes and was brought up. Rizzo did not have a chance to win job in spring training. Gave it to LaHair

        • Tony_Hall

          Then review the other 10 times we have discussed this topic.

          • cubtex

            The only reason is he is 25 and 3rd base is crowded in the system. Rizzo was handled carefully but Olt will be sink or swim. Call it as it is

          • Tony_Hall

            Then you have read my thoughts on this topic.

          • cubtex

            Disclaimer- we will not check off all boxes and give player best chance to succeed if that position is crowded in the minors, If they are over 24 and not dominated current level. We will let them sink or swim. There you go.

          • Tony_Hall

            Lol! You hate this front office so much it is down right hilarious.

          • cubtex

            Is that not true? Rizzo was given zero chance to win job in spring when all we had was Bryan LaHair. Olt is getting an opportunity. Why? See my disclaimer

          • Tony_Hall

            Rizzo was 21
            Olt is 25

            Can’t understand why they would think differently about these 2 players.

          • cubtex

            Actually Rizzo was 22 and thank you for proving my point.

          • Tony_Hall

            Lol your point is noted again, but I didn’t prove your point by showing one is younger than the other.

          • cubtex

            That was not me. Do you want me to give you one now?

          • Tony_Hall

            Lol. Must be my buddy. He gets 4 and 5 down arrows yesterday on numerous posts when I am not on yet still thinks I give him down arrows.

          • CubbyDenCritic

            Not me doing that here…..btw Tony, ..I am not your buddy, not your friend, not your pal, not your amigo, not your brother, not your homie, not your BFF……we will not drink together, nor share a meal, we will not play poker together, or we will not take long hot showers together at a gym……….stop thinking about me, you are creeping me out.

          • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

            What’s with that? Relax Critic, we try to have friendly banter on here and despite the fact I wouldn’t recognize them in an empty room there are folks on here I consider to be my friends.

          • CubbyDenCritic

            Just poking fun at Tony….so relax……it is my humor…….besides, most the people might belong in a rubber padded room then be seen in an empty room……….Cubs fans will go NUTS if there is no World Series by 2019.

          • Denver Mike

            For the record, I don’t typically give you down arrows, but I did indeed give you the one above. I read that post 4 times, and still can’t understand it. That confusion lead to me being slightly perturbed, which in turn caused me to click the down arrow. Here are my results thus far, and some follow up questions:

            “Most [of] the people might belong in a rubber padded room…” What people? Why do they belong in a padded room?

            “…then be seen in an empty room.” So, after the padded room they get put in an empty room? Are they rehabilitated from their unknown prior ailments that caused them to be put in a padded room in the first place?

            I’m probably being excessively snarky right now, but I felt the need to point these items out because you honestly may not realize how your posts read to others. When it is important I oftentimes have others read my writing to ensure it reads as I intended, so I am not immune either. It just seems inconsiderate to criticize anything about anyone when one can’t even do so in a form that others can understand.

          • Tony_Hall

            TeX with the down arows….for emphasis?

          • cubtex

            I didn’t give you any of those down arrows. Why so sensitive about them? I tell you what I think

          • Tony_Hall

            I laugh at them. Just thought you were adding emphasis.

          • GaryLeeT

            I never give down votes either. Like you, if I have a differing opinion, I just express it with a reply.

          • GaryLeeT

            Come on Tony we expect better from you.

          • Tony_Hall

            What? Tex and I have had a few conversations before and many times he has received down arrows and then accused me of doing it, I was just asking him the same thing, as I didn’t get why if we were expressing our thoughts with replies he would do that.

          • GaryLeeT

            OK, I fixed it to help you out.

          • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

            Every situation is unique. Ray it’s like you take detailed notes of everything the front office states and when anything remotely contradicts you are there to hold them to the fire. It’s that kind of stuff that turns franchise spokesmen into Bill Belichick. These guys are human, minds can be changed, situations can change. Olt isn’t a sure thing for the big league roster but he may if he performs. We have an opening in Chicago and AAA is full. He’s likely the most ready so they are giving him a shot. He dominated in AA two years ago and played a year in AAA with concussion symptoms and blurred vision. If he looks solid in the spring why not let him have the spot? Is Valbuena too good to be replaced?

          • cubtex

            I want Olt to succeed. I think he can be more than just a (who cares if he fails type of player because we are deep in the minors) This guy hasn’t been dominant or even average in a year and a half. It is not fair to him is what I am saying. Let him start in AAA(just like they insisted Rizzo would) no matter how his spring goes. If he hits in AAA and finds his stroke and confidence…that is when you bring him up. He was once rated as a top 25 prospect in the game and to not give him the best opportunity to succeed just because of a logjam and he is 25? He is only 1 year older than Rizzo and could be a much better big leaguer than Rizzo if he is handled correctly.

  • Dorasaga

    What I really like about this current Cubs management is that they don’t sugarcoat anything. They say what they directly observed or digested from reports that follow players and issues closely. I start to wonder if all the tweets and rumor-mill had changed how a big-town club like the Cubs communicate with the fans. Maybe it’s just a Ricketts thing?

  • cubtex

    Too bad the cocky Seahawks pulled out the game. Bad officiating. Roughing the punter wasn’t called and that non fumble. Seahawks corners mug the receivers on every play and never gets called. Easy decision who I will be rooting for in SB. Go Broncos!

    • Tony_Hall

      Same here. Is a leg suppose to bend in that direction? I don’t think so!

      • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

        Charger fan, I detest the Broncos.

  • Scott

    I enjoyed the rookie session and for the most part, had a good time with friends. We managed to get some autographs too, ie. I have Rizzo, Castro, Soler, Olt, Samardzija baseballs and available 4 trade or sale.

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  • Sanibelchuck

    Maybe the Super Bowl should be called the 1st Marijuana Bowl. Washington and Colorado have both legalized recreational marijuana.