The final day of the 26th Annual Cubs Convention focused on the young players in the system … both at the Major League level and down on the farm.
Tyler Colvin, Darwin Barney and Scott Maine talked about being 25 and in the majors. The final session of the weekend, “Down on the Farm presented by the VineLine” featured Oneri Fleita, the Cubs VP of Player Personnel and Tim Wilken the Cubs Scouting Director plus D.J. LeMahieu, Chris Carpenter and Jay Jackson.
Wayne Messmer hosted the hour-long discussion with three young Cubs … Tyler Colvin, Darwin Barney and Scott Maine. James Russell was scheduled to be on the panel but was absent from the session.
The session began with each of the three giving short one-word answers to Messmer … their expressions led one to believe it was a part of a plan to loosen up the crowd, and it worked. The hour ended up being entertaining, yet informative.
Messmer led off by listing a few of Tyler Colvin’s accomplishments last season but the most notable was the 20 home runs the Cubs rookie hit … the second most among rookies in the National League and the fourth most all-time for a Cubs rookie. Wayne then asked about the horrifying injury in Miami.
Colvin said it hurt and did not feel so hot. He’s doing great, is already working out and is going back out to Mesa soon. Colvin admitted the whole event was scary, especially with it happening in Miami.
Messmer asked Colvin to describe what happened and to describe the scene for those that might not know. Colvin said he couldn’t because he didn’t see it. Colvin jokingly added, at least it happened in the big leagues.
Scott Maine (drafted by the Diamondbacks in 2007, Cubs acquired him in the deal that sent Aaron Heilman to Arizona) is grateful for the opportunity the Cubs gave him and described his big league debut as a dream come true.
Colvin discussed how much hard work it takes to get to the majors. There were two events in his life that pushed him.
Colvin told the story of being nine or ten and receiving an assignment to write about what he wanted to be when he grew up. At that young age, he knew he wanted to play ball in the Major Leagues. The teacher ended up giving him a ‘B-‘ on the paper because she thought that was an unrealistic goal.
The other came in Junior High when the High School coach visited his school. The coach asked how many wanted to play big league ball. About 15 guys raised their hands and the High School coach reminded everyone that did how hard it would be to make it to the majors.
Scott Maine started 2010 in Triple-A but struggled and was soon demoted to Double-A. Maine later credited conversations and working with Greg Maddux for turning around his season. He said once he got back on track he was promoted back to Triple-A and eventually got the call to Chicago.
Maine pointed out this spring will be his first big league camp.
Darwin Barney talked about how hard he has worked to get to this point. Barney was 5’7″ and 145 pounds as a freshman in High School. Despite hitting .611 his senior year, he was not drafted because of his size. No one knew Barney’s ceiling.
Barney said it’s hard giving up life to chase a dream. The struggle is the unknown end … but if every minor leaguer could spend a month in the majors, no one in the minors would ever retire.
When asked what advice would Colvin give to a kid with the dream of playing in the majors, his response, “Once you think you’re tired, you’re not tired enough. Keep working.”
The three then discussed their Major League debut. Colvin said Jeff Stevens scared him to death just before his first game. Stevens described what he went through his first time on a big league mound. Stevens was so nervous that the catcher’s mitt was out of focus and seemed to be jumping around (Colvin’s story spoke volumes about Jeff Stevens).
Barney’s first game was in San Francisco. He’d been playing short all season, with the exception of a couple of games at second (one came very early in the season). Barney was put in at second of course. Barney said Andrew Cashner was on the mound and he hoped a ball would not be hit his way. Barney said between making his debut and playing a relatively new position, he was nervous. The Giants ended up loading the bases and winning the game on a walk off … without a ball being hit in his direction.
As for his first at bat, that came against Chris Carpenter in St. Louis. Carpenter is known for his great sinker and despite a good at bat, Barney flied out to left. He went 0-for-4 in his first start and his father got mad at him because he couldn’t go back to work until he saw his son’s first hit.
Barney’s first base hit came at Wrigley, a double down the right field line. Colvin made fun of his awkward swing then … and once again on Sunday.
Wayne Messmer asked the trio if they could talk to any Major Leaguer, past or present, who would it, be and which player did they idolize growing up.
Colvin pointed out how big an advantage it is to have Billy Williams around. Colvin said he also tried to pick Derrek Lee’s brain as often as possible. Colvin explained that Derrek Lee is a smart player, plays the game the right way. Colvin then admitted he would one day like to be the same caliber of a Derrek Lee.
David Justice and Chipper Jones were the two players Colvin idolized as a kid. Messmer asked, why Justice? Colvin quickly answered he was a tall, left-handed hitting outfielder.
For Scott Maine it was Randy Johnson. Maine added he uses the same arm slot as Johnson, but he throws a lot harder. Maine also liked Greg Maddux (this is where he pointed out the influence Maddux had on him last year).
Darwin Barney liked Alex Rodriguez then quickly shifted to a story about Derrek Lee.
Barney described his first Spring Training game in big league camp. Barney had been out working on his defense before the game and his uniform pants got dirty. Lee looked at him and said, “Bro, this is the Show. Go get you some pants.”
Messmer asked about their knowledge of the history of the game and if they followed baseball now that they are in the majors.
Colvin said his wife gets onto him for watching the MLB Network all the time. Colvin wants to learn and really enjoys watching the old games. Messmer asked which pitcher he would not want to face, Colvin quickly responded with Vida Blue.
Scott Maine, on the other hand, did not watch much baseball growing up and still doesn’t unless he knows someone playing in the game. Maine doesn’t like sitting in front of a TV.
Barney would not call himself a historian but he respects the game and respects the history of the game. Barney said he knows about the players that came before him and appreciates what they did to pave the way.
With the trio knowing many of the players that were traded in the Matt Garza deal, Messmer asked how they felt losing people they knew.
Maine said he’s kinda happy for those guys … and especially for Sam Fuld. Fuld moved close to where Maine lives and the two talk a lot. Maine said it would have taken a miracle for Fuld to make the Cubs’ roster this spring and at least now he has a chance to be on a big league roster.
Darwin Barney was sitting next to Chris Archer at the Rookie Symposium when he received the call from the Rays’ GM. Barney realizes this is the second time Archer has been traded but he cannot imagine would it would be like to be traded.
Colvin is excited for them and feels each will get a shot at the bigs very soon.
The question how do they handle being young, living in Chicago and all of the temptations associated with it.
Colvin said you settle down and know your job. Colvin just got married and his wife, his dog and his guitar keep him grounded.
Colvin, Barney and Maine hang out together on the road. Barney said they would not go out with the single guys. Barney’s two-year old and wife have kept him grounded.
Maine spoke up and said, “I’m not married. Don’t have a dog but I do have a PlayStation 3.” Maine said when he’s on the road he goes back to hotel and plays games.
Tyler Colvin, Darwin Barney and Scott Maine are three impressive young ballplayers. They are in a good position to have successful big league careers; it is up to them to take their careers to the next level. And the good thing is, each one seem to know it.
Down on the Farm
Due to the Bears-Seahawks game, one of the best sessions of the weekend had even fewer in attendance than in recent years.
Michael Huang, the editor of the VineLine, hosted “Down on the Farm.” The final session of the weekend featured Oneri Fleita, Tim Wilken and three of the Cubs’ top prospects … Chris Carpenter, D.J. LeMahieu and Jay Jackson.
Oneri Fleita said the worst thing about trading away prospects is saying good-bye. He had Robinson Chirinos over to his house to congratulate him on his promotion to the 40-man roster. Fleita has known Chirinos since he was 14.
Tim Wilken explained that the Cubs use a system of checks and balances to know which players can or should not be traded. Wilken goes out and sees all of the minor league clubs at least once, if not twice, during the summer.
Wilken said they lost real good players in the Garza deal. Wilken feels the organization can fill those holes with the draft and international signings. Wilken pointed out, despite the holes created after the trade, there is a lot of talent in the system.
Oneri Fleita said until a couple of years ago the Cubs were known as a pitching rich system. That has changed.
The Cubs have catching depth in the system with players such as Michael Brenly, Steve Clevenger and Micah Gibbs.
Fleita feels the Cubs have a lot of depth up the middle with Ryan Flaherty, D.J. LeMahieu, Junior Lake and Elliot Soto … plus Flaherty and LeMahieu have begun playing other positions.
Fleita gave a lot of credit to Tim Wilken for drafting players that are ready to play professional baseball. In recent years, the players the Cubs have been signing are starting out in A-ball, sometimes in Daytona, instead of in rookie ball, and they are progressing quickly.
Wilken discussed the changes to the bats at the collegiate level. A new material has replaced the old aluminum bats and the ball just doesn’t jump off the bat anymore. The numbers players are going to put up in the college ranks this year are going to be down. Teams across the league will be questioned about the players they draft this June.
Wilken was asked about the selection of Hayden Simpson last June. Wilken explained that the Cubs’ scouts had seen him earlier in the year. The reports were good and Steve Crawford (Cubs scout) kept in touch with Simpson.
The Cubs got to see Simpson pitch in the championships and his performances in those games were “eye openers” according to Wilken.
Chris Carpenter liked pitching in relief. His stint as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League was the first time he’d ever pitched out of the pen. Carpenter and Jay Jackson are willing to do whatever it takes (start or relieve) in order to help the big league team win.
Tim Wilken looks at versatility when drafting players. Wilken said you could do more with a middle (infield) guy down the road.
The Cubs are trying to create a winning environment. Fleita said they like bringing in guys from winning programs.
The backbone of the business is scouting according to Fleita. Sometimes an organization can getaway with a bad coach but if the organization doesn’t have good talent, it doesn’t have a chance.
The panel discussed a typical game day and what they do on their off days. Chris Carpenter likes to get to the park around 1:00pm and plays golf on his off days. Carpenter’s goal is to get better everyday.
Jay Jackson gets to the park around 2:00pm. He added being at the park from 2-11 everyday can make for long nights. He likes to take road trips on his off days.
LeMahieu fished and spends as much time at the park as the other two … just working and trying to get better.
Fleita spoke up at that point and said, “See what kind of guys Tim Wilken is bringing in. All milk, cookies and X-Box.”
The Cubs handpicked ten guys according to Oneri to participate in “Camp Colvin” earlier in the off-season. Darwin Barney, D.J LeMahieu and Logan Watkins were among the players and Ryan Dempster showed up as well.
Before long 38 guys will be participating in what’s been dubbed “Camp Colvin.”
When LeMahieu was there he put on 20 pounds and Barney added 18 pounds. Fleita jokingly said, why didn’t we think of this 10 years ago.
Tim Wilken pointed out that is the reason he stresses athleticism in the draft and amateur signings. It is called “Projection Scouting.”
When LeMahieu was drafted he checked in at 6’4″ and 195 pounds. D.J. is up to 220. Wilken pointed out guys are going to get bigger and stronger. “Projection will come to fruition,” according to Wilken.
Other players that continue to impress in the minors include: Tony Campana, Brett Jackson, Ty Wright, Jae-Hoon Ha, Ryan Flaherty and Josh Vitters.
Campana is incredibly fast … Bobby Dernier calls him “Spider Monkey.”
Josh Vitters has been out at “Camp Colvin.” The Cubs feel he was really going in the right direction last year before an injury ended his season. Fleita explained that sometimes high school kids take awhile. Vitters started coming out of his shell and was interacting with his teammates.
Miscellanous Notes from Down on the Farm
- According to Tim Wilken, the Cubs worked on the Matt Garza trade for three to four month. Jim Hendry worked on it for a solid month and a half.
- The popularity of the Cubs, generated in large part by the Cubs being shown nationally on WGN, helps with free agent international signings.
- Tom Ricketts told Tim Wilken he will be given a significant increase of funds to spend on the 2011 draft.
- Jay Jackson was unaware the Cubs drafted him. Jackson found out via a text message from a friend while he was playing basketball.
- D.J. LeMahieu grew up a Cubs fan and went out to Spring Training several times.
- LeMahieu and Micah Gibbs were roommates at LSU.
- Oneri Fleita attended Creighton University and Tim Wilken drafted him back in 1985.
WGN’s Sports Central
Dave Kaplan and Jim Memolo hosted a Saturday night version of Sports Central from the Cubs Convention.
The first half hour featured Keith Moreland, Lee Smith and Tim Stoddard. Many feel the ’84 team is responsible for the revitalization of the organization, Wrigley Field, Wrigleyville/Lakeview and the fan base … basically creating the Chicago National League Ball Club the way it is known in 2011.
Sean Marshall and Koyie Hill were next up. In bullet point format, here are the highlights.
- Sean Marshall just got married … and Rev. Ernie Banks performed the ceremony.
- Koyie Hill described Marshall’s curve as one of the best in the game.
- 2011 will be Marshall’s sixth with the Cubs … and the southpaw is hoping for a lot more.
- Hill believes Matt Garza will push the other guys.
- Marshall admitted his life in the big leagues has been a journey. Began as a starter and it is a big difference preparing to pitch out the pen. Marshall likes the fact he could pitch every day when he goes to the park. Marshall likes the pen and will continue to enjoy pitching late in games.
- When asked about the 24-13 finish, Hill said he feels Lou Piniella was burnt out at times. Lou had a lot to handle toward the end. Mike Quade came in with a fresh energy and a clean plate.
- Quade gave the team goals when he took over. Hill pointed out the 17 changes to the 40-man roster during the season and said it was a lot but he feels Quade had a positive influence on each player toward the end of the year.
- Quade is a unique man. Where Piniella is old school, wears every loss on his sleeve and loves winning. Quade is very personable, very communicative with all of the players. The players like the fact Quade posts the lineups two -three days in advance. It makes it better on each player to know how to prepare … and in some cases; it lets them know they will be playing.
- Hendry told Hill to take his time after his accident with his family and healing. Hendry promised Hill he would have a job waiting for him when he returned.
- Sean Marshall has been going full force for the last couple of weeks and is ready for Spring Training to start. He threw two bullpens last week and three the week before, he has been ahead of schedule and the break for the convention probably came at the right time.
- Catchers are nothing but glorified suggestion boxes according to Hill.
- Marshall thinks the players can carry over from where they left off last season.
- More than half the guys are leaving to Mesa to get a jump on the start of Spring Training according to Sean Marshall.
- Hill does not believe the end of 2010 was a fluke but they have to put together eight months in the same direction.
- Hill feels like the Cubs have hard workers that hold themselves accountable.
Tim Wilken and Oneri Fleita
- Two important pieces of the Cubs’ front office joined Dave and Jim during hour two. In bullet point format here are the highlights:
- Dave Kaplan asked about the Matt Garza trade at the top of the show. Fleita said telling someone good-bye is difficult. Fleita said he’s known Robinson Chirinos since he was 14.
- The first things Tim Wilken looks at before drafting a pitcher is body control and arm speed. Body control is a big key to repeating deliveries.
- The draft is under a microscope more now than ever before.
- Wilken really like the seasons D.J. LeMahieu and Welington Castillo put together last year. Josh Vitters was starting to put it together but an injury derailed his season. Wilken said the most important thing with Vitters is that he is beginning to recognize pitches and his pitch recognition has really improved.
- As for other players in the system to keep an eye one … Fleita mention Marwin Gonzalez (who has a good chance to start the year at Triple-A), Reggie Golden, Micah Gibbs and two recent free agent signings. The Peoria Chiefs have a chance to have a real athletic club.
- The June Draft will be a pretty solid draft according to Wilken. Deep in right-handed pitching and outfielders not much in the way of middle infield depth. Wilken would rather take an everyday player in the upcoming draft but he is not going to ignore the pitchers.
Carlos Pena and Fernando Perez
- Carlos Pena was thrilled when he found out the Cubs were interested in signing him. Pena said everyone thought he would sign with the Nationals.
- Pena kept envisioning playing with the Cubs and when it materialized it was a dream come true.
- Pena said it is an honor to play for the Cubs and he is both grateful and thankful for the opportunity.
- Pena is looking forward “to this type of intensity” and is also looking forward to not seeing empty seats.
- Fernando Perez is a humble person but a great young man according to Pena. Perez has a lot of character and Pena described him as a great individual.
- Perez said, “I’m really fast. I’ve always been fast. It’s really neat.” Perez likes to be annoying on the bases and use his speed to his advantage.
- As for what Matt Garza will bring to the table … Pena said Garza will be an impact player on the team.
- Garza is one of the most intense players Pena has ever played with.
- Pena feels it is unbelievable for Perez, Garza and himself to have another opportunity to get to that place again this year. Pena loves the story of the underdog becoming the top dog.
- Pena appreciated hearing the comments Joe Girardi made about his clubhouse leadership. Pena said he was flattered. Girardi is very impressed with what Pena can bring to a team … both on the field and behind the scenes. Pena said he has genuine love for all of his teammates and he also understands how to be a teammate. He just enjoys being around the guys.
- Fernando Perez gave his teammate a great compliment; Carlos Pena acts the way most feel a big star should act.
- Carlos Pena and Fernando Perez were extremely enjoyable throughout the interview. It was great to hear the positive words used by two of the Cubs off-season additions.
For recaps from the first two days of the 26th Annual Cubs Convention, click on the links below.
It was a blast covering the convention once again and being able to hear all of the great stories about Ron Santo. Here’s to the future …