Jason McLeod, the Cubs Senior Vice President of Player Development and Amateur Scouting, joined Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden during Sunday morning’s Front Office (MLB Network Radio). McLeod talked about the recent call-ups of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell.
Javier Baez is expected to be back with Iowa by the end of the week. Baez knows what adjustments he has to make with the I-Cubs and McLeod talked about what the front office would like to see from Baez.
Kyle Schwarber continues to impress the front office with the progress he’s made defensively. And McLeod has really liked what he’s seen from Albert Almora this year.
The draft is just around the corner and McLeod shared his thoughts about selecting pitchers that have had Tommy John surgery.
On what he’s seen from Kris Bryant so far and about him playing center field, left field and third base
“Obviously Kris’ athleticism allows us to do that. He started at third. He’s been in center. He’s been out in left. It’s kind of a learn by trial with him doing it up in the Major Leagues but certainly we feel like he has the athleticism to move around. It was unfortunate the injury to Mike Olt took place. But certainly Kris, coming off the year he had and the Spring Training he had, has a lot of confidence going right now. I told Theo [Epstein] before we called him up I said, ‘Wow, you know usually want to bring these guys up on the road. Here we’re pulling him up at home and he is having to face [James] Shields, [Tyson] Ross and [Andrew] Cashner. Welcome to the big leagues.’ He’s done very, very well. The home run isn’t there yet, but his at bats have been very good. He’s getting a lot of walks. He’s getting hits and the doubles. He’s already played a pretty significant part in the offense and helping us score runs.”
On if he is concerned about Joe Maddon moving Kris Bryant around in the field with all that he has to learn about hitting in the Majors
“I think it depends on the individual and because of the way Kris is wired and his expectations of himself and ultimately just the ability and the athleticism it certainly allows us to do these things with him. Certainly you can’t do this with everybody. First of all you have to have buy-in from the player. Kris understands and feels like he just wants to be here because he knows he is going to help the team win in multiple ways. He is not just an offensive player, even though that is what gets so … talked about so much because of the numbers he has put up. I think in some ways it has helped him not focus such much on just one thing or maybe just on third base play. I think if anything it might have helped him free up his mind a little bit knowing that he never knows where he is going to be when he gets to the ballpark, other than in the four-hole, batting clean-up. So far he’s taken to it very well.”
On bring up Addison Russell to play second base, the timing of the call-up and long term could Starlin Castro and Addison Russell switch spots defensively
“First of all you’re right on the makeup and calling him up, I don’t think it was in the plans. We didn’t say in the off-season he will be up in mid-April. But looking at what was happening with the Major League team and some of the struggles that were taking place with [Arismendy] Alcantara and the injury to [Tommy] La Stella, certainly there was a need there and Addison, because of the way like you said the make-up and the way he is wired, this is a guy that’s only played all of five games at second base in the minor leagues so we are challenging him somewhat to come up and learn the position at the Major League level and the speed of the game and the reads off the bat and so forth. Even with the early struggles that he’s having at the plate this is a guy who is ultra-prepared, has a lot of confidence in himself and we as an organization have a ton of confidence in him that no matter what the numbers might say from an offensive standpoint that this guy is the right player at the right time for us. And then to get back to your second question, that is still down the road. Just because he is playing second base now, all of us feel that this guy has an opportunity and a chance to be a premium defensive shortstop in the Major Leagues. Those are questions that will still remain to be seen as this year and the coming years happen. But I think Addison Russell, no doubt about it, can be a very, very good Major League shortstop.”
On easing Addison Russell into the majors and hitting him at the bottom of the lineup with other players being able to take the pressure off of him offensively
“I think the dialogue with Addison is the fact that he does understand that he’s not coming to be a savior and hit him in the two, three-hole. Like you said, we can bat him down in the lineup. He certainly knows that we expect him to come up here and play good defense and take his lumps, somewhat, as he learns the league and gets his offensive career going. I wouldn’t say we expect for him to struggle but we certainly don’t expect him to come up here and rake from day one. We feel that he certainly is going to get through this. Like I said, he is ultra-prepared, a lot of confidence. We feel like he is a guy who has always hit. He’s going to be a very good offensive player in time.”
On who wins Rookie of the Year, Jorge Soler or Kris Bryant
“[Laughs] Flip a coin, we would be happy with either one of them that’s for sure.”
On Javier Baez, the Cubs plan for him going forward and what he has to work on once he returns to Iowa
“Obviously it was a learning experience for him last year, throughout the whole year. He had his struggles at Triple-A. Certainly showed some flashes of brilliance like we’ve seen in the past and then his Major League experience was somewhat of the same. We all know what the strikeouts were. He showed some very good things with the bat speed and the power. The one thing and Joe [Maddon] talked a lot about it in Spring Training, the defense and the other things that he brings to the game every day that never wavered. He played at an extremely high level defensively and on the base paths. This whole off-season there was a lot of discussion with him about the approach. He went down to Puerto Rico and went in to Spring Training and the numbers weren’t there for Javy, but the work ethic was. And then this unfortunately happened with his sister passing away. He’s just had a lot on his mind, certainly both on and off the field. Right now he’s back in extended Spring Training. He will get into a couple of extended games this week and we expect him to join our Triple-A club at the end of the week. It’s been a pretty trying time for him and certainly we, as an organization, are here to support him and continue to work with him on the on-field things as well as off-field stuff. More than anything he has been working his tail off, the reports have come back very good and we’re just looking forward to seeing him between the lines again, enjoying his teammates in Iowa and starting to play again.”
On the main things the Cubs are talking to Javier Baez about when it comes to his development
“I think more than anything it’s just simplifying it and understanding the ability that he has and the bat speed that he has and the fact that this is a player who can the ball out to any part of the park with ease and that it doesn’t have to be 550-foot home runs that 400-foot home runs count, too. It’s just slowing things down when he gets into the box because his work ethic, like I said, is tremendous and he can do anything you ask him to do in BP [batting practice] in terms of how high the leg kick might be or the effort level in the swing. When the game starts that motor gets going a little higher at the plate, you don’t see it in the field, he really slows the game down defensively, on the base paths, all of that. But at the plate it starts, the motor gets revved up a little bit and the effort level is high and then you see some of those big, wild swings. That’s really it, it’s the mindset in the batter’s box, slow things down and understand how good he is and that he can take any pitch in any part of the zone and hit hard to all fields.”
On the development of the Cubs other prospects such as Albert Almora and the pitching in the system
“I’m actually in Tennessee now. I just joined our Double-A club yesterday. I drove over from Vanderbilt. These guys are off to a good start. Kyle Schwarber is here catching. I think he’s hitting up in the .350’s with some doubles and home runs. He’s doing, again, I don’t want to say what we expected him to do because this guy was in college 12 months ago but he’s hitting very well. Danny Vogelbach [Dan Vogelbach] is hitting like .460 right now three weeks into the year. He’s getting on base well over .500. It’s been a tremendous start for him. Albert is here playing center field, Albert Almora. And we’re seeing a much more mature approach with Albert. We talked a lot about that with him last year in terms of the over aggressiveness at the plate and so now we are seeing that maturation process. Maybe not manifesting itself yet in terms of the average and the power numbers but in terms of the quality of at bats and just not the number of walks he’s taking now but the pitches that he’s taking rather than just swinging at so many things in the zone because he can get his bat on so many pitches. C.J. Edwards is also here and we are working C.J. out of the pen right now to start the year off and he’s more on a designed throwing schedule out of the bullpen and it’s been fun to see him come in to games with the mid-90s fastball with a late-cut life on his heater. Those are a few of the names that here. Throughout the organization it’s been a good start to the season across all levels for us, save for some of the Triple-A pitching that’s been dinged up out of the gate with Dallas Beeler and Eric Jokisch up in Iowa.”
On how Kyle Schwarber has looked defensively
“It’s been a great year of development for him. And this is no knock on anyone that was at Indiana but just what he had to do receiving wise to catch what we feel is at the Major League level in time, he’s worked his tail off. You see it every single day now. When he was in big league camp he was catching [Jake] Arrieta and all of those guys there. He’s got tremendous hands and he’s moving very well behind the plate. Last night he had a sub-2 throwing time on a runner down to second base. So the process has been great with him. I know I can speak for all of us in the organization, we feel very confident that he is going to be able to catch in the Major Leagues and be a force at the plate.”
On the upcoming draft and will the Cubs take another bat with the first round pick
“So far it is kind of a wild card draft this year. We are picking nine and there have been a lot of injuries to some of the college pitchers that were all projected to go in the top half of the draft. So I think a lot of teams are weighing the injury factor and I think Brady Aiken is still a wild card to see where teams are going to slot him in. It doesn’t have as deep of a college position player group as we’ve seen in prior years. I think the high school class is strong overall, but with where we are picking there are just a lot of variables for us to consider. Last few years we’ve taken the college position player. I can’t sit here and say that type of guy is there right now for us. We are out there scouting. The boys are pounding the pavement and we’re confident in the process that we’re going to get the player that we like. It’s just, as a total draft year, it is probably down a little bit from prior years and I think a lot of it does have to do with some of the injuries to the pitchers.”
On if he has a general philosophy on drafting high school pitchers or college pitchers in the first round that have had Tommy John surgery
“Well, I think you have to weigh the risk certainly. I mean just draft history will tell you that high school pitching is a risk in and of itself as you guys know. I think now when you look at the injury, now you have to add that to risk factor so you’re weighing the risk versus the upside and what you think the impact potential could be of this player and you’ve got to take that into consideration when you make that decision. I think the Nationals are probably really happy they took [Lucas] Giolito when they knew he might have some arm issues. Funny thing actually I just saw him last week pitch against a Canadian team down in Florida and he was great. I think you have to … you always weighing that risk factor. If you think you can hit on a guy it’s kind of like a lottery ticket or sorts but it’s a risky lottery ticket.”
On the impact Joe Maddon has had on the Cubs
“I don’t know if I can properly put the right words in context. What I can tell you is that from the time that the announcement was made there certainly was this energy like ‘Wow, this is great we got Joe Maddon.’ But from the time we had our organizational meeting back in February, this is when all of our scouts, all of our player development people are in, all of the International and pro scouts. And to get to spend, for those guys to get to spend two days with Joe and Joe was great. He got up in front of the room and spoke for about an hour about what he is about, about what his expectations are, about what his beliefs are going to be. You could really sense it from that moment that everyone was just on board and bought in this belief this guy is the person to lead us to where we want to go. And then being around him in Spring Training and just seeing how loose he keeps everything but at the same time how direct he can be in what the expectations are and the way he says things that are very unique and intelligent but in a really understandable way. I think that can relate to so many players. It doesn’t matter if you’re an International sign from Latin America or if you were Kyle Hendricks from Dartmouth. I think it relates to everybody in a way that is simple but in a way that is really meaningful and impactful. He keeps it light. I think he’s a great player’s manager. Talking to all of the staff members that are working with him for the first time everyone has been just so impressed with him and then to top it off, he’s just a really cool guy as you know. He’s like someone that you want to, ‘Man, I wanna be like this guy.’ It’s been fun. It’s been really refreshing and energizing and invigorating and everyone is really excited that he’s our manager.”