Day Two of the 2014 Cubs Convention: Scouting and Player Development

For us baseball nerds the highlight of the Saturday sessions is Scouting and Player Development. The game has evolved in such a way stats can no longer be ignored. But it takes the right combination of stats and scouts to build a successful organization. One can no longer exist without the other.

Jason McLeod, Joe Bohringer, Jaron Madison and Matt Dorey are the backbone of the Cubs’ organization. And if the Cubs reach their goal it will be due to the hard work and research turned in by the scouting and player development departments.

Jaron Madison is the Cubs’ new farm director. Madison replaced Brandon Hyde when he moved in to the dugout to be Rick Renteria’s bench coach. Jaron Madison worked under Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow when he was in charge of the Cardinals’ system.

Scouting and Player Development

The session began with Jason McLeod explaining how much the front office has done over the last two years to improve the system. The system is starting to flourish and the Cubs mantra going forward is to try to get as many young, impact players as possible.

The Cubs have a wide net of area scouts they use to gather as much information on players as possible, both on the amateur and professional levels. The Cubs are trying to create histories in the database for players, especially on the amateur side.

With the Cubs being a National League team and right now the Senior Circuit does not have the designated hitter. The Cubs try to draft really good defensive players that can run and hit, basically a complete player, but not only one with the physical ability to be a big leaguer, the make-up of the player is equally as important. Joe Bohringer explained without the possibility of having a DH, right now, they must make sure the players they are drafting are athletic enough to play in the field.

The American League having the DH puts the NL teams at a disadvantage when they are trying to sign older free agents to long term contracts.

The panel was asked how they prepare a player in their system after he is drafted. McLeod explained they want the player just to compete every day in their first year of pro ball. After the player’s first year, the organization sits down with him and creates his player plan. The player plan consists of the fundamentals of the game and both the physical and mental parts of the player’s game that must be worked on. The Cubs list the player’s strengths and weaknesses. Once the weaknesses are turned into strengths the player can be promoted … but he has to check all of the boxes first. Each player receives their own player plan that is tailored to him.

When players are drafted out of high school in some cases that is the first time they have been away from home. The Cubs have to make sure the player understands what is expected from him and that he is going to be held accountable for his actions.

The Cubs’ new farm director, Jaron Madison worked under Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow when he was in charge of the Cardinals’ system. The Cubs are using the Cardinals as the model for the system they are trying to build. But according to Madison, under Luhnow the Cardinals used the same philosophies Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod used to build the Red Sox system.

McLeod is always trying to learn from other organizations to see what they have done to be successful. The Cardinals have systems in place to develop players. They can get their hands on a player and make him better. The Cubs have to be able to have the same development plans in place. Madison explained, based on firsthand experience, the Cardinals got “lucky” on some players. They thought out of the box and were able to develop them in a way that no one expected. Trevor Rosenthal and Matt Adams are two of those players according to Madison.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have put a huge emphasis on scouting. They have allocated the money to give the scouts the resources they need to dominate their area. The Cubs provide scouts with cars, video cameras and other tools needed for the job. The Cubs did not provide those resources to scouts in the past. The Cubs also have scouts in Europe and in Asia and employee a Cultural Assimilation Coordinator to help Latin players adjust to life and playing in the United States.

In a perfect world, McLeod explained, a player would stay at a level for an entire season. But in cases, like Javier Baez, when a player dominates a level they have to promote him. Baez earned his promotions due to dominating levels. McLeod called Baez’s performance at the Double-A level last year, “ridiculous.”

History has shown that college position players taken at the top of the draft have a better chance at success. Houston made the Cubs decision on Mark Appel easy last year and they really liked Jonathan Gray but they felt Kris Bryant was a better fit for the organization moving forward. Matt Dorey explained pitching has the highest attrition rate due to injury. Jaron Madison added it is cliche to say to take the best player available in the draft, but that is the case. The Cubs use the player’s makeup as the deciding factor when selecting players to draft. Joe Bohringer quoted Pat Gillick and said, “You identify the player but you acquire the person.”

The Cubs now have scouts for specific teams, just not leagues. The Cubs try to gather more information about players than other teams in order to have an edge.

Joe Bohringer explained that scouts and stats should complement one another. It is not scouts versus stats, it is actually stats and scouts.

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Quote of the Day

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