Jason McLeod Sheds Light on Cubs Plan for Baez and News from Down on the Farm

Jason McLeod, the Cubs Senior Vice President of Player Development and Amateur Scouting, joined Jim Bowden and Rich Herrera during The Front Office (MLB Network Radio/SiriusXM Radio) on Sunday morning. And Jason McLeod provided a little information about the team’s plans for Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara.

PrintJim Bowden asked Jason McLeod about what position Javier Baez is going to play once he is called up to the big leagues this season. And if he would play second base every day in Iowa to prepare for his call-up. McLeod said, “We’ve said all along we want Javy to play short for as long as possible. The plan is that he is going to open the season playing shortstop at Iowa. As you saw this last week he did get a couple of games in at second base. I’m sure that is something that as we get into the season and depending on how he is doing, on both sides of his game, offensively and defensively, I think we will have more of those discussions and conversations. I’m sure there will be a time, depending on what’s happening also at the Major League level, that you will see Javy move over to the other side of the bag a couple of times a week.”

“We also have another interesting player there, Jim I know you know about, in Aris Alcantara, who can play shortstop as well and we would like to keep him versatile because he is a really athletic, fast-switch guy, that we know that can play second and we would probably like to get him some exposure at short and move him around as well,” McLeod said. “It is going to be a young team we have there in Iowa this year with prospects at a lot of positions. I think you will see Javy start to move around a little bit as he gets into that first month or two of the season.”

As for a timeframe on when Javier Baez or any of the other prospects will be making their way to Wrigley, McLeod said, “I think we’d love for it to be sooner rather than later. Meaning that they’ve gone out and dominated their competition and shown that they are ready. It is somewhat of a bland answer to say they are going to let us know but really they are going to let us know when they’re ready. Each guy has his own player plan and it stresses on three core areas that we feel are very important for them to be successful Major League players. We’ve sat down with them and they understand and know what it is. When they go out and can turn weaknesses into strengths and dominate the level that they are at, then they are going to move up. There is no set timetable. Like I said if they are here sooner, up in Chicago, that means they’ve gone out and addressed any of the weaknesses that they have and they’ve dominated their competition.”

Jim Bowden wrapped up the interview by asking Jason McLeod what a realistic timetable was for the Cubs to be contenders. “I really don’t have an answer for that,” McLeod said. “I think a lot of that depends on what we end up doing with the Major League club. I think a lot depends on current negotiations with our current players and what the free agent market looks like as we get into the next off-season, what trades we might make. The best way I think I can answer the question is to say from an internal, organizational standpoint, and I was just telling someone this about a week or two ago, I think we are bubbling under the surface and really getting ready to explode and take off as an organization in the next year or two. I know Theo had mentioned, I think at a press conference he gave or an article that he did, he mentioned that the Cubs are coming and we are coming fast. And I know a lot of us in the organization feel that way, we really believe that. With the talented players that we have here and I think with the decisions that Theo and Jed are going to make over this next year, I think that we are going to be one of those clubs that you are going to look up in the next year or two and say ‘Wow this team is really going to be doing some damage here for the near future.'”

Jen-Ho Tseng

Scouts really like what they are seeing early in camp from RHP Jen-Ho Tseng, the now 19-year old Taiwanese right-hander the Cubs gave $1.625 million to last July. After not pitching well in the World Baseball Classic, Tseng appears to be back on track according to a report from Baseball America.

Tseng faced Dominican amateur players from the International Prospect league recently and hit 89-94 mph on the gun while mixing in “an above average curveball” that sat around 75 mph. Tseng’s curveball “had good depth and late, sharp bite” and he “buckled the knees of back-to-back hitters for strikeouts at one point.” Baseball America acknowledged Tseng was facing “mostly 15- and 16-year olds” but his “fastball and curveball were quality pitches regardless of who he was facing.”  BA noted Tseng did not throw his changeup (81-83 mph) often. Most scouts feel Tseng’s best pitch is his changeup.

Video from Baseball America

Keith Law was not as impressed with Tseng as Baseball Prospectus or Baseball America. Law thinks “the questionable signing looks even more questionable now given how ordinary his stuff and arm speed are.”

According to a report from Baseball Prospectus, Tseng “is extremely polished for his age and should handle a full-season assignment this year.”

25-and-Under Talent Rankings

Baseball Prospectus released its organizational rankings of the top talent in the game that is 25 year or younger. So while most lists focus on the prospects in a team’s system that has never played a game in the majors, Baseball Prospectus ranked the 30 teams based on the top talent in their systems 25-and-under.

The Cardinals and Nationals topped BP’s ranking and the Cubs came in tenth. Baseball Prospectus said the following about the Cubs, “With a list headlined by the no. 4 prospect in the game – shortstop Javier Baez – and running deep, the Cubs have a plethora of young talent either at or percolating toward the big league roster. It’s a U25 list that leans toward prospects, but shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo are big league draws. The system’s talent gives Chicago a strong punch and plenty of hope for turning around the franchise.”

Top 10 Players in the Cubs System 25-and-Under

  1. Javier Baez
  2. Starlin Castro
  3. Kris Bryant
  4. Anthony Rizzo
  5. Albert Almora
  6. Jorge Soler
  7. C.J. Edwards
  8. Arismendy Alcantara
  9. Peirce Johnson
  10. Junior Lake

Baseball America released its list of the top 50 players in the game 25-and-under last week. And both Javier Baez (21) and Kris Bryant (24) cracked a top 50 list that featured a top five of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Jose Fernandez, Manny Machado and Stephen Strasburg.

Blocked Prospects

Keith Law posted a report earlier in the month that focused on the most-blocked position-player prospects in the game … and near the top of his list was Javier Baez.

Law explained that Baez is “blocked to the extent that he’s playing behind someone, Starlin Castro, who is under contract long term.” As Law pointed out, the Cubs will have to find a position for Baez when they feel he is ready for the Major Leagues.

Javier Baez said he prefers second base and played two Spring Training games there recently. Law said Baez could stay at short and the Cubs could move Starlin Castro to left field. Another suggestion Law posted that if the Cubs would like Castro to stay at short, Baez could move over to third with Kris Bryant moving to right field.

Law’s report posted on ESPN before Mike Olt showed he was healthy and started making a push for a spot on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster. In regards to Olt, Law said his “window to reestablish his value as a potential everyday third baseman is very small; if he gets a trail this season and doesn’t hit, he might be buried by season’s end.”

Minor League Moves

The Cubs traded Trevor Gretzky to the Angels for Matt Scioscia. And the trade made national headlines due to their famous last names. The Cubs selected Gretzky in the seventh round of the 2011 draft and he hit .274/.300/.333 in 41 games for Boise and Kane County last season with three doubles, one triple and one home run. The Angels selected Scioscia in the 45th round of the 2011 draft. Scioscia hit .194/.248/.224 in 40 games over three levels last year (rookie, Low-A and High-A) with two doubles and one triple. Angels’ GM Jerry Dipoto said the trade was “simply giving two players a new opportunity.”

According to a report from Baseball America’s Matt Eddy, the Cubs released RHP Carlos Gutierrez. The former first round pick of the Twins (2008) made just six appearances in the Cubs’ system last season. Gutierrez ended up with a 0.77 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP after allowing four runs, one earned, on six hits with six walks and six strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings in the rookie league, High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee.

The Cubs also released catchers Yaniel Cabezas, Carlos Escobar and Neftali Rosario. First baseman Kelvin Freeman, infielders Greg Rohan and Brad Zapenas were released as well according to a report from Baseball America.

News and Notes

Kris Bryant signed an endorsement deal with Adidas.

The Cubs have several players in the game that are among the best in their age bracket. Baseball America released its ranking of the top players in each age bracket from 16 – 25. OF Eloy Jimenez ranked as the second best 17-year old in baseball. Albert Almora came in as the third best 19-year old in the game. And Kris Bryant followed Mike Trout in BA’s ranking of the top 22-year olds.

The Indians released former Cubs’ prospect RHP Robert Whitenack. Cleveland claimed Whitenack off waivers from the Cubs last year and he really struggled in Cleveland’s system. Over three levels (Low-A, High-A and Double-A), Whitenack posted a 4-9 record with a 5.96 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP in 19 games, 17 starts. At Double-A Akron, Whitenack was 0-2 with a 27.00 ERA and a 4.33 WHIP. A one-time top pitching prospect in the Cubs’ system had not been able to bounce back from Tommy John surgery.

For those that missed it and have a subscription to Baseball Prospectus, Jason Parks loved what he saw from the Cubs’ minor leaguers when he was at the Cubs’ complex earlier in the month.

Jeff Passan thinks two elite prospects could help rescue the Cubs from misery.

LHP Jose Paulino was mentioned as one of the top 20 Dominican Summer League/Venezuelan Summer League prospects from last year by Baseball America.

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