Cubs Prospects All The Talk Early In Spring Training

Before Spring Training began it was obvious the top prospects in the system would be the focus in Cubs Camp and throughout the Cactus League games until they were reassigned or optioned down to minor league camp. And Kris Bryant’s mammoth home run Friday just added to the buzz.

Theo Epstein and Jeff Samardzija spent time Saturday morning discussing the young players in big league camp.

Jeff Samardzija likes what he has seen from Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. Samardzija said Saturday, “Even with all of the attention they’ve been getting, they’ve really kept their heads on straight. They’ve kept their mouths shut.”

Samardzija has noticed they really stick together and they are “a close knit group” plus they “kind of feed off each other.” Samardzija mentioned in interviews prior to the start of camp that he liked seeing Javier Baez and Jorge Soler at the complex working hard and preparing for Spring Training. Samardzija also pointed out they are “going to need each other” when they are called up to the majors.

Samardzija complemented Junior Lake for his work ethic as well and said he “set a great example” for players like Bryant, Baez, Soler and Albert Almora to look at. Lake prepared every day, according to Samardzija, and got to the field early and was never late.

Theo Epstein on The Game

Theo Epstein joined Connor McKnight and Todd Hollandsworth Saturday morning for the inaugural ‘The Ballyard Show’ on 87.7 The Game. After discussing the weather in Chicago and the rain in Arizona, the conversation shifted to Spring Training and Rick Renteria.

Theo Epstein talked about the flow of Spring Training and how Rick Renteria and his staff are doing are so far in camp. Renteria is very thorough and meets with his staff three times a day. Renteria and the coaches have a morning meeting each day, then they meet with the team each day before practice and then meet again after the workouts or the game to go over everything that happened during the day. Epstein also said that he or Jed Hoyer will meet with Renteria each day, informally, to make sure everything is okay and to see if there are any issues they need to address. Epstein and/or Hoyer also discuss with Renteria the plans for the days ahead and how each player is being used or should be used so the manager and the front office can stay on the same page.

The veterans in the clubhouse are on the same page with Renteria and the coaching staff. Epstein explained how important the relationship between the manager and coaching staff is with veteran players. Even with such a small group of veterans, as Epstein put it, Renteria cannot lose them because the young players will see that and act accordingly. The veterans have to be role models and show the young players how it is done in the majors.

On Starlin Castro and the message that has been delivered to him to try to get him back on track

The communication from the front office to Starlin Castro to “be himself” began around June of last year. It became apparent to Epstein and Hoyer that he was being pulled in several directions and not receiving a constant message. The Cubs would like him to go back to playing the way that he did when he was successful. Epstein explained that it is hard to get a player to change direction in the middle of a season.

“It is hard during the season sometimes to make those adjustments,” Epstein said. “Even with a day off or two days off at the All-Star break, there is nothing like an off-season to reset. So, I think the message for him coming into this season has been the same. Which is be yourself. We support you. We have your back. Yet continue to work on your game.”

Castro has been open to making some adjustments to get back to some of the mechanical things he has not done recently that made him successful initially.

“Sometimes it’s just as easy, just as simple as giving the player the peace of mind that he knows he is fully supported by the organization. People around him believe in him and just go out and play his game,” Epstein said. “He really earned that by putting in some hard work this winter. He showed up in much better shape this year. Our strength and conditioning coach, Tim Buss, was down in the Dominican for over a month with Starlin and the results have been good so far. It’s a limited sample so far, but his swing is free and easy and he’s aggressive looking for his pitch.”

Epstein added Castro’s unique ability to barrel the ball has come back for him.

On Jeff Samardzija, his future with the Cubs and the ongoing trade rumors

Theo Epstein said the Cubs and Jeff Samardzija “have a great relationship” and they had a “good honest talk at the start of camp.” Every talk Epstein has with Samardzija is about baseball. Whether it is about how to get the team off to a good start this season or getting him locked in.

Epstein said the “trade narrative right now is just through the media.” Epstein knows that is the media’s job. There will be a resolution to Samardzija’s future with the Cubs in the next two years. “There is nothing pressing. There is no trade talks going on right now, Epstein said. “It’s really all about baseball.” Epstein explained that it’s a daily narrative that is being brought in from outside of camp that “is not really going on right now.”

On Kris Bryant, C.J. Edwards and what the organization expects from the prospects during Spring Training

“The organization looks for several things from a young prospect in his first time in big league camp,” Epstein said. “The first is the simplest, just to get him exposure to the big league staff, to veteran big league players so they can get comfortable and get familiar with what it is like to go through the daily routine at the big league level. It is not the season so they don’t get to experience the grind. But the more they are around the veteran players and pick their brains. The more they play games with the Major League speed of the game they can adjust to it. It’s really just get comfortable so the next time they are in big league camp or three years down the road when they are in big league camp and they’re actually trying to make the team, or they are carrying the responsibility of holding down a regular position for the club, they are a little more comfortable.”

The second thing is getting the players ready for the season. It is Spring Training and “there are certain fundamental areas” that need to be addressed. The minor league players, even if they are in big league camp have to work on the areas in their development plan.

The Cubs are really working with Kris Bryant on his defense. The team wants Bryant to stay low so the routine groundball doesn’t get through him. Epstein said Bryant is “outstanding” to his backhand, a little bit better than he is to his left. The team is working on improving his first step quickness.

The Cubs feel adding some “bulk” to C.J. Edwards is important but if he isn’t able to that doesn’t mean he will not have a successful big league career.

“It is not as if he cannot have a career as a starting pitcher if he does not get bigger,” Epstein said. “There are always exceptions to every rule. I think we just feel like the more bulk, the more muscle mass we can put on him, the greater the chances of maintaining durability and being a 200-inning pitcher instead of a 180-inning pitcher. Having a 15-year career, instead of a 10-year career.”

Edwards has one of those unbelievable metabolisms, according to Epstein, that allows him to burn whatever he eats. But that could change for Edwards as he reaches his mid-20s.

Epstein explained that Edwards “is naturally gifted with an explosive fastball” that has late cutting action. “When it is up in the zone,” Epstein said. “It beats barrels with some riding life. When it’s down, it’s a groundball pitch. It is just one of those fastballs that is really hard to square up.” And both his curveball and change-up are really developing.

Theo Epstein feels that what will truly make the Cubs successful is their ability to acquire and develop young talent, and develop it the right way then “integrate that talent onto the Major League roster.”

The unanswered questions on how the front office is going to make the big league team more competitive keeps them up at night. Epstein said once again that just having impact talent in the minors and hoping they arrive at the same time “is not really a plan in and of itself.”

“You really need to provide the proper environment for them at the big level. You need to provide the proper cover for them at the big level,” Epstein said. “That is something you are going to see over the next few years because there have been plenty of organizations that have had more than seven of the top 100 prospects and they look up and it hasn’t translated into success at the big league level. So, the problem is not solved by just generating talent in your organization. You have to translate that into wins at the big league level.”

Theo Epstein and the Baseball Operations Department plan on addressing the area as the focus shifts and they receive “increased payroll capacity.”

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  • Eugene Debs

    I like the comments about Lake’s work ethic (someone has to prove Keith Law wrong) and the top prospects being a tight knit group. Change is coming!

  • GaryLeeT

    “You really need to provide the proper environment for them at the big level. You need to provide the proper cover for them at the big level,” Epstein said.

    That’s what I keep harping on. You know darn well that Theo & Co, knows how to build a team. Blame for the extended amount of time it is going to take for the rebuild, clearly falls on Ricketts.

  • Richard Hood

    You know I think someone else has been screaming for some Vets that go about the game the right way to be that teaching influence in Camp. Hmmm I must be mistaken.

  • Tony_H

    So who are the Cubs elder statesmen, the vets on this team.

    Pitchers
    Jose Veras 33
    Kyuji Fujikawa 33
    Jason Hammel 31
    Edwin Jackson 30
    Carlos Villanueva 30
    James McDonald 29
    Jeff Samardzija 29
    Pedro Strop 28
    Blake Parker 28

    Batters
    George Kottaras 30
    Donnie Murphy 31
    Justin Ruggiano 32
    Nate Schierholtz 29

    On the 40 man roster we have 13, and I would say 11 will be around if not all 13 to start the year. Boy from all the talk I thought we were running a daycare. And no they aren’t the superstar vets that most think about, but guys still in the game nearing 30 and in their 30’s are vets who can help out younger guys.

    So let’s see about the NRI that get so much criticized so much, maybe some of these guys were brought in to fill this role as well.

    Tommy Hottovy 32
    Jonathan Sanchez 31
    Tsuyoshi Wada 33
    John Baker 33
    Eli Whiteside 34
    Ryan Roberts 33
    Mitch Maier 31
    Darnell McDonald 35
    Casper Wells 29

    Well at least we found a use for McDonald as he is the elder statesmen in camp. You don’t have to be an All-Star to help a younger player out and be the player they can look up to, you just have to be a good person who goes about their business the right way. Leadership and influence comes in all forms.

    • Tony_H

      Also keep in mind that the youngest guy in camp, still just 19 years old, is said to be the leader of the kids and the future leader of the Cubs clubhouse.

    • cubtex

      You are grasping for straws.

      • Tony_H

        Just stating that it is not all young guys and that there are guys taking over the leadership roles in different areas.

        • cubtex

          Mostly all of those guys are borderline major leaguers. Guys who have been hanging on by a thread their entire career. Those guys obviously are not leaders. They are worried about just making the team

          • Tony_H

            The pitchers have Carlos Villlanueva who has taken on a leadership role, along with Samardzija who just naturally takes on that role. Jose Veras has taken on the leadership role in the bullpen as well.

            We have plenty of veteran leaders for Castillo to continue his development and you know what I think of catchers in a leadership role. Castillo needs to keep moving in this direction as your catcher should be one of your leaders.

            The weakest part is our lineup and where the FO will need to add someone going into next year, with even more young players coming up. Rizzo seems to be ok in that role but right now Barney seems to be the most natural one in that role and might be what keeps him around longer.

          • cubtex

            They had a great leader who had the respect of almost everybody on the team and especially Castro,Lake,Castillo and would have been a great mentor for Soler and Almora but Theo decided giving the Yankees 18 mil of his contract to make room for SweeneyRuggiano was more important than leadership.

          • Tony_H

            You are right about Soriano, but he is perfect example of a player who is not a leader, who took on a leadership role out of default.

            I think he did it to get Corey Black as well as save money, it didn’t cost them money, no matter how hard you try to make it look like it did. Plus Soriano would not have been around by the time Soler and Almora come up to the majors, as they won’t be up until 2015, most likely later in the year.

          • cubtex

            seeking out a Soriano even in spring training and being abe to call him for advice(a player with borderline hall of fame numbers) who speaks the same language as Baez,Soler,Almora,Castro,Lake and Castillo is huge. Castro even reached out to him this offseason.

          • cubtex

            and you are right about him not seeking the leadership role. He is respected by the numbers he put up in his career The young latin players seeked him out. The Cubs have nobody who has the respect of putting up great numbers for several years in a row that players look up in awe at.

          • Tony_H

            Well hopefully after this year it will be Castro and Rizzo who the young guys look up to next spring. Castro will be a 5th year player and Rizzo will be almost a 4th year player.

          • cubtex

            Rizzo needs to be more productive against LHP to ever be considered and Castro is too quiet.

          • Tony_H

            Soriano needed to be better at facing the best RH pitchers (about the same percentage of AB’s as Rizzo faces LH’s) and was quiet….

          • cubtex

            cmon man. look at Soriano’s career numbers. that says it all. Instant respect. Rizzo needs to establish himself.

          • Tony_H

            All veterans who have been around for 10+ years have instant respect for being in the league that long. Obviously Soriano had the respect of his teammates.

            But that is the past, move on. The future is guys like Castro, Rizzo and Castillo and the young guys that make it coming up from guys like Almora (who we know will be a leader the day he is called up) to Baez, Bryant, Soler, Alcantara, etc. There is a lot of good going on in this organization.

          • cubtex

            that is not a fair label to say that Almora will be a leader the day he is called up. Why? Because you read something? Do you know that to be the case for sure? Of course you don’t. What if he struggles the day he is called up? What if he constantly gets hurt and players think he is soft and doesn’t play through aches and pains. You just don’t know.

          • Tony_H

            You are right, we all don’t know all of the real facts, even if we read it somewhere. Not even the players know everything, it is usually the manager and/or GM who know more information than anyone else, which helps them to make the best decisions possible, even if they don’t make sense to those of us he don’t know what they know.

          • Tony_H

            I bet their phones still work and since Castro use to live with Soriano I bet they have talked more than once since the end of last season, as friends do.

          • paulcatanese

            I don’t buy the idea that Soriano was not a leader, do you think that playing when hurt, dealing with the adverse remarks of fans, turning his defense around, ( with the proper coaching of course) had no effect on fellow players,
            And don’t forget his input with big Z, and he always came to the front of the pack to say things the right way,
            I don’t care how one raps it up, letting him go was a bad, immature way to say it was a re-build, or making room for someone else.

          • Tony_H

            Soriano was a leader his last few years with the Cubs, I said he wasn’t a natural leader or did he look to have that role.

          • John_CC

            This is just what I was talking about!

            (See above)

    • Swish23

      the cubs need vets to teach the kids how to win; we have none and that is going to be a problem if and when this team is ever good again; maybe 2016 will see .500 level.
      david ortiz and dustin pedroria led the red sox last year because they are vets and all-stars; so everyone looks up to them, jeter is the yanks leader due to him being a HOF all-star, the cardinals have holliday and molina, again all-stars. no one on the cubs is an all-star that is a vet. not even close. smardz could be if daddys trust fund ownership would sign him long term; even though not an allstar; he does have cubs longevity, but smardz is too focused on his future earnings and getting out of this expansion rebuild. leaders are not just old guys. most of the vets you listed are here on 1 yr deals; no prior cubs tenure. it doesn’t work. once this team doesn’t make the playoffs in 2016 and it won’t (no pitching and too many kids), theo will be gone; tired of top 5 revenues going somewhere but to the team.

  • cubtex

    The unanswered questions about how the FO is going to make the big league team more competitive keeps Theo up at night? Lol

    • TheWrongGuy

      I will agree with that statement.
      ONLY because it is hard to sign or make moves to make the team/roster more competitive. Hard to sign a good veteran player with this penny pinching FO. Hard to make moves for a veteran player and not lose top prospects in our system. Not to mention the same old saying what veteran want to be a Cub on this roster, knowing that he will be traded with the prospects that are coming up in the system?
      Just my Opinion, of course.

      • cubtex

        another problem was the trading for “bad” locker room guys like Ian Stewart. Wasting money on Gerardo Concepcion,Scott Baker,Fujikawa instead of adding quality veteran leadership.

        • TheWrongGuy

          I liked Fujikawa signing. (bad luck there)

          Concepcion signing was so they could sign Soler who at the time was close friends with Concepcion (aka an inside track)

          Baker another bad luck signing.

          • cubtex

            lol. I love that excuse. Concepcion was to sign Soler. So they needed to waste another 6 mil because 30 mil wasn’t enough and he was just a bargaining chip.

          • TheWrongGuy

            I know you “HATE” the Concepcion signing. But if he had worked out we had a lefty arm.
            If you remember at the time every team in baseball was after Soler. So every team was out looking and hunting for an edge to sign him.

          • cubtex

            the Cubs should have signed Tanaka’s best friend( a lefty with the Ya Yi Orioles) who throws 75 with a whirly dirvish delivery for 6 mil and they would have gotten Tanaka. LOL

          • TheWrongGuy

            Hahahaha!

          • paulcatanese

            By the way, I watched Tanaka yesterday and I saw what you were talking about. His delivery is way out there. Everything flying every which way.
            I don’t worry about his arm as much as I do his left leg, or front leg. The way he twists and turns it when delivering the pitch, that will go first, would not be surprised if he breaks the leg.

          • cubtex

            did you see that stress that goes right to his arm after that slight pause? He is for a team that wants to win now…not later.

          • Tony_H

            Other teams were in on Concepcion and you know that. They added more money to sign him and it did have a little to do with Soler. So what, not every deal works out and Concepcion is still young and could have a chance to have a career still.

          • cubtex

            not with his stuff.

          • Tony_H

            Why are all your definitive comments the right answers, but when someone else talks about a players and says they have a chance you just say no way.

            He just turned 22 yesterday, I think it might be a little early to right him off already.

          • cubtex

            this is why.

            According to reports I
            have seen, Concepcion can barely hit 90 MPH, which is about what Maya
            throws. So here we will look at Concepcion’s statistics through
            Contreras and Maya’s difference in the two countries.

            Gerardo Concepcion

            Cuba: 4.7 K/9IP, 3.36 ERA

            MLB Projection: (negative strikeouts somehow), 5.165 ERA

            Just for fun, a projection including Chapman: 1.74 K/9IP, 4.4 ERA

            As you can see, the strikeout projections are particularly unhelpful,
            but a 4.7 K/9IP at any level is terrible. His ERA is also very
            pedestrian and unimpressive. He is only 18, and could develop more (I
            would be surprised if he didn’t), but throwing 90ish with no apparent
            strikeout abilities isn’t exactly something teams should be clamoring
            over.

          • Tony_H

            How can you hate the use of stats to determine players future performance, then use stats to say the players you don’t like, will never make it?

          • cubtex

            he doesn’t have a swing and miss pitch. Got absolutely hammered in A ball. I mean hammered. I will make you a little bet. I say he will never sniff a major league team. Go ahead and name your price.

          • Tony_H

            He was sick and lost 2 years from it.

            I have no idea if he will ever make the majors, but to say he has zero chance it ridiculous.

          • Chris K.

            Jamie Moyer couldn’t throw 90+ and he played until he was 49.

          • cubtex

            look at Moyer’s K rate in A ball and look at Concepcion. It is laughable.

          • paulcatanese

            Don’t know for sure, but seemed like the majority of his wins were against the Cubs. Looked like he owned them.

          • Tony_H

            Baker was just another in the Maholm, Feldman type signings. What is the old saying “2 out of 3 ain’t bad.”

          • cubtex

            but what was so good about the Feldman signing? They got 2 guys who I feel will not help them in anything. Arrieta is not a mlb starter and Strop will be awful this year(you heard it here first) Strop has no command.

          • Tony_H

            Key words is “you feel”

          • cubtex

            exactly

          • cubtex

            as well as the Orioles

          • Tony_H

            I bet the Orioles would love to have Arrieta and Strop back instead of 3 months of Feldman.

          • cubtex

            I bet Strop and Arrieta wouldn’t make the O’s team if they were still there. So….no

          • Tony_H

            Hate to tell you this, but neither your or my opinion matters at all.

          • TheWrongGuy

            I agree about Strop’s command issues but he has ALWAYS had command issues.

          • cubtex

            and guys like that don’t stick around very long.

          • TheWrongGuy

            True and not so true.
            Guys who can trow 95 mph + fastballs ALWAYS find a job.

          • cubtex

            Henry Rodriguez? lol

          • Tony_H

            Every players career ends at some point.

          • cubtex

            he is 27. Strop is 28

          • Tony_H

            Yeah so. What does that have to do with when any one players career ends? Nothing all players career ends when no team will pick them up anymore. Henry will be picked up by a team at some point this year.

          • cubtex

            and Sveum will manage again :)

          • Tony_H

            Yes he will.

          • cubtex

            hahaha. Yea the Frederick Keys A ball team. lol

          • Tony_H

            Do you ever get tired of being so negative? And it is not realistic, it is just being negative.

          • cubtex

            do you ever get tired of trying to sugarcoat everything this FO does? do you ever get tired of defending moves like Concepcion and Sveum etc? be realistic and we would agree more.

          • Tony_H

            No, I don’t get tired of seeing the positive in things. How could anyone?

            Concepcion may never make to the AA or AAA, but he has a chance. Yes they overpaid him, but that is the way the IFA market has gone.

            Sveum was your typical first time manager who made mistakes and hopefully learned from them. To say he has no chance to manage again, is just not realistic to looking at the history of managers, as most managers fail in their 1st attempt.

            I will not become negative just to agree with you, that is for sure.

            I am not saying this team will make the playoffs, win 80, heck I am not even saying this team will win 70 games this year. So what part is not realistic?

          • cubtex

            who is saying be negative. How about being a little realistic? How about acknowledging the flaws and mistakes that this FO has made and have continued to(like you did sooooo many times under the Hendry regime) It is almost comical. One guy is an idiot and has no clue about baseball…..but the other guy is a genius and can walk on water. Mr. PR!

          • Tony_H

            To go over it again, and again, and again, since you seem to never remember. I supported JH until it became obvious that he was doing damage to the team by not realizing he was more than a few moves away, that it was time to retool. To this point, I have seen no reason to pick apart every move that Theo has made. He has a plan, has told us the plan and is moving forward with it for 27 months now. That is it, just 27 months.

            Has he made mistakes?

            YES!

            Has he made moves that didn’t work?

            YES!

            Please name me one GM that hasn’t in the last 27 months? Please name me one?

            You are not realistic, as you hate Theo and hated him beofre he was even hired. You are negative about almost every move he makes. That is not realistic, that is negative. You know that the plan isn’t to go for it right now, but you view every move like he is trying to win now, so you can be negative about the move. If you were realistic you would view it through the lens that he has told us he is using.

          • GaryLeeT

            Mozeliak, Dumbrowski, Friedman, Cherington, Schuerholz, and Beane.

          • Tony_H

            I sure hope you aren’t saying they haven’t made any mistakes in the last 28 months. Because they all have, just ask their fans, they will tell you what moves they are, because even when a team is winning there are fans who call themselves “realistic” and complain about the moves their team is making.

          • cubtex

            sorry man. had to run but I will end on this today. You said you supported Hendry until it became apparent he was doing more damage to the team than good. What is Theo’s timeline? When will you act the same as you constantly ripped Hendry and called him an idiot? When is Theo’s honeymoon over or (in your eyes will it ever be?) They will always sell the fanbase about the “next” wave of prospects so that will keep the fans like you always thinking they are close. When will you start being “realistic” and have “expectations”?

            Have a good day!

          • Tony_H

            A good test will be in Years 4 and 5 (2015 and 2016) By then the farm system will be producing players every year, all of the inherited contracts are gone and the business side should be starting to produce more revenue to spend on payroll. I don’t think we are talking World Series in those years, but the team needs to be competitive by then.

            And yes there will be another wave of prospects. I am watching Bogarets, Middlebrooks, Doubront, Bradley Jr right now be the Red Sox next wave. Boy did Theo set that franchise up well.

          • cubtex

            so you answered my question. You will never end your honeymoon. For better or worse till Theo do we part. May you too have a strong and healthy marriage! lol.

          • Tony_H

            Not sure how you got that. I have heard that reading is a skill though.

            Have a good day!

          • cubtex

            because you brought up Boegarts etc. You will always believe the next wave will lead them to the promised land even after he ruins the mlb team with bad contracts,chicken in the clubhouse and a 90 loss season etc. It is easy to read between the lines with you.

          • Tony_H

            LOL!

            Same with you, as you already have him ruining the mlb team beyond repair, so nothing he does will ever show you they will turn it around, even as they make the playoffs become a contender year in and year out, you will still be negative. You will never enjoy the Cubs as long as Theo is in charge, even if they win the World Series.

          • cubtex

            I will enjoy a WS as much an anyone. I loved every season the Cubs have made the playoffs. I know how the best team doesn’t always win. I could never understand how anyone would say they don’t want to make the playoffs until the team can win a WS. That makes absolutely no sense. Give me any playoff team. I don’t care if they make the wild card. Get me to the dance. You are mistaken about me enjoying any time the Cubs win!!!!

          • Eugene Debs

            LOL @ chicken in the clubhouse.

          • paulcatanese

            And another guy who cannot wear his hat correctly:)

        • Tony_H

          Get over things, not every move works, that is true of every single team in this league. No GM or FO is perfect!

  • WidespreadHisPanic

    Good stuff. Thank you for posting all of this!

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