The 30th Annual Cubs Convention concluded Sunday with the traditional focus on the farm system. Mick Gillispie hosted the hour-long session that featured Jason McLeod, farm director Jaron Madison and four of the top prospects from the system: RHP C.J. Edwards, RHP Pierce Johnson, C/OF Kyle Schwarber and INF Addison Russell.
In front of a standing room only crowd, the panel answered questions from the fan base.
Jason McLeod said RHP Armando Rivero will be in big league camp on a non-roster invitation. SS Gleyber Torres will likely a start the season with Low-A South Bend and the Cubs are really high on Kevonte Mitchell.
Players in the system that could be getting overlooked include C Victor Caratini, 3B Jeimer Candelario, RHP Duane Underwood, RHP Paul Blackburn, RHP Jen-Ho Tseng and OF Bijan Rademacher.
And when asked about the Cubs interest in INF Yoan Moncada, Jason McLeod said he would not comment publicly about the team’s possible interest in him. Those discussions will take place internally.
Mick Gillispie led off the hour by asking Jason McLeod what it took for the Cubs to have the number one farm system. McLeod said unfortunately it required a lot of losing and last place finishes in order to pick at the top of the draft.
It was actually a combination of factors, McLeod explained. The Cubs feel like the three first round picks were very good with high talent, high character players. McLeod feels Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the pro scouting staff has “done a wonderful job” collecting talent in trades going back to the Ryan Dempster deal.
McLeod knows that soon enough players in the system, like Kris Bryant, will graduate to the majors. And as excited as he is about the Cubs future, McLeod is just as excited about continuing to build the system. The Cubs have to keep the pipeline moving.
Jaron Madison explained the same process Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod set up in Boston then in San Diego, where Madison is from, is what they put together with the Cubs and it’s very thorough. It is important to not only focus on the player, but on the person and the make-up. Madison thinks that makes a real difference and can be seen in their young players.
“They are just as good as people, or better, as they are as players,” Madison said. “And that is exciting because they have the work ethic, they’re down to earth and they want to win and they believe in the mission of the Cubs to bring a championship and that’s what it’s all about.”
C.J. Edwards learned the game from his father and played a lot of sandlot baseball growing up. He feels that really helped him with the mental side of the game. Because he was so much young than the other guys, he dealt with constant “ragging.” But the love of the game and dedication has gotten him to where he is today.
Pierce Johnson grew up around the game. Johnson’s father worked for the Padres. Johnson admitted it was surreal when he was drafted despite being around the game and it being in his blood. Johnson added that his mother used to get on him to do his homework when he was being home schooled. He told her he didn’t need to because he was going to be a professional baseball player … not knowing it would actually come true.
Kyle Schwarber chose baseball over football. He had only three offers out of high school to play baseball. Baseball has been what he’s wanted to play since he was little and baseball is where his heart is. And it turned out to be the right decision.
Addison Russell admitted it’s a lot different with the Cubs than the A’s without going into specifics, except for saying, “There are a lot more fans.”
Russell was asked where he was when the trade went down. Russell was in Arkansas and said he was just starting to settle in at Midland after missing time with the hamstring tear. The next thing he knew he was traded and he didn’t understand why at first. Russell admitted he talked to his Double-A manager about it because he thought the trade meant the A’s didn’t want him. Russell was told, no it means the Cubs want you and it’s a good thing. Russell reiterated how excited he is to be part of the organization with so much talent.
The Cubs have the ninth pick in June’s draft. Minor League coordinators and scouts are in Chicago this week and the draft is one of the areas the team is addressing in those meetings. There are discussions about the initial assessment of the talent pool, especially the first pick. They will “talk through 30 players.” McLeod sees the draft right now as pretty strong for College pitchers and High School players and pitchers but weak for College position players. But those early assessments could change in the spring.
“We certainly feel confident will add a pretty impactful player,” McLeod said.
Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs number one picks in the last two drafts, moved up the system rather quickly after signing with the team. The Cubs expected both players to progress through the lower minors because they were considered the best hitters in the draft and they should dominate in the lower levels.
Jason McLeod pointed out that each player has his player development plan and if his goals are not met, he will not be promoted. The player has to turn each weakness into a strength while maintaining those skills that were considered strengths. Madison added that no one expected Schwarber to last only a week in the Northwest League before he needed to be moved up.
“When they show you they are ready, that’s when you have to reassess their player plans to make sure they are working toward their goals and make those decisions to move them up,” Madison said.
The Cubs usually start following players when they are a junior in high school. Sometimes players will get on teams’ radars a little earlier because of teammate getting attention.
A Cubs fan since the 1938 World Series asked Jason McLeod about SS Gleyber Torres and RHP Armando Rivero. McLeod said the Cubs are very high on both players.
Armando Rivero is a power reliever with a mid-90s fastball and a big slider. Last year was his first full year pitching in the States and he had a very good season. Rivero will be in big league camp on a non-roster invitation. Rivero will have an opportunity to show Joe Maddon what he can do and challenge for a job in the bullpen. Because he’s not on the 40-man roster that will factor into the decision with him. McLeod sees Armando Rivero being a big part of the Cubs bullpen in the near future.
Gleyber Torres just turned 18 years old, a Venezuelan shortstop that the Cubs signed two years ago (2013). Torres is a long way from the majors. McLeod said Torres will probably begin the year as Low-A South Bend’s shortstop. Really smart, Cubs thought he could hit when they started scouting him as a 15-year old.
Kyle Schwarber would prefer to catch. No one ever taught him how to catch when he was growing up. He learned how to watching television. Schwarber saw what they were doing and tried to repeat it. Schwarber said, “As it turns out I was doing a lot of things wrong. Luckily, I got a crash course when I was at Kane County how to catch. You know what, it totally flipped right there. It made sense. I got it. So then I went to instructs and we kind of slowed it down and made sure I got it. It was really fun. I love catching. You have to like the position to be there and if you don’t like it, you’re not going to have success back there.”
Kyle Schwarber hopes he will be able to keep catching.
As for the players in the system that are being overlooked by prospect lists, Jaron Madison said the Cubs “have quite a few guys who are interesting in the organization.”
Victor Caratini is new to catching but he’s an interesting player according to Madison, hits from both sides of the plate with some power, big strong body and is learning how to catch. Madison thinks Caratini is due for a breakout year.
Madison also mentioned Jeimer Candelario and said he has all of the tools to be an impact third baseman. Candelario also hits from both sides of the plate. After struggling last year at Daytona, the Cubs sent him back to Kane County and saw improvement. Madison is also expecting a big year from Candelario.
Jason McLeod thinks in a couple years big things will come from Kane County’s staff. There is one, if not two of those pitchers the Cubs are expecting to step forward.
RHP Duane Underwood had a “great developmental year and has the best pure stuff of any of our young arms in the minor leagues.”
RHP Paul Blackburn and RHP Jen-Ho Tseng were two other pitchers McLeod named from the 2014 Cougars’ staff. Tseng was the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Another under the radar guy according to McLeod is OF Bijan Rademacher. He quietly had a really good year and excelled in the Arizona Fall League. McLeod thinks Rademacher is one of those players that will have to keep proving himself, but he would not be surprised to see Rademacher in the big leagues in a couple of years.
The Cubs view the talent up the middle of the field in the system as “a wonderful problem to have.” A team cannot have enough talent in the middle of the diamond. McLeod admitted when the Cubs acquired Addison Russell there was a lot of discussion at first about where to play him. The Cubs decided not to try to look into a crystal ball and just let him play. The players’ performances will determine which position on the Major League team they play. The Cubs will continue to put together their player development plans and go from there. McLeod feels eventually the players will force the issue and the Cubs to made decisions on which player will play where defensively.
Schwarber and Russell are up to moving positions and only feel it would benefit them in the long run to know how to play multiple positions and be more versatile. Schwarber is looking forward to learning from Miguel Montero and David Ross this spring, basically confirming he will be in big league camp on a non-roster invitation.
The player Addison Russell looked up to growing up was Barry Larkin. He had a chance to meet him when he was 12 or 13 years old. He got an autograph and a picture and ever since then he’s been Russell’s favorite player. Russell looks up to his dad, who came into his life at two years old and is not his biological father. Russell credited his dad for making him who he is today. And Bruce Lee is Addison Russell’s idol. Russell admitted later in the session he did not really have a favorite team growing up, because he played outside and didn’t watch much TV.
Kyle Schwarber looks up to his parents. His father used to throw him batting practice while his mother and dog shagged balls. They didn’t have a ‘L-screen’ so Schwarber would knee-cap his father from time to time.
Pierce Johnson and C.J. Edwards also look up to their parents. And Pedro Martinez is Edwards’ idol.
Jason McLeod was asked about the Cubs interest in Yoan Moncada. McLeod said he would not comment publicly about the Cubs possible interest in the player. Those discussions would be kept internal.
McLeod fielded a question about Kevonte Mitchell, and he joked his last name is actually ‘McLeod.’ The Cubs selected Mitchell in the 13th round of last year’s draft. McLeod called him an interesting player, two-sport athlete. Mitchell also played basketball and he impressed the Cubs with his performance in the Arizona Rookie League after he signed. The Cubs are excited about Mitchell, but according to McLeod he’s a long way away.
C.J. Edwards was asked his cut fastball. Edwards does not throw a cutter. He explained he throws a four-seam fastball that just cuts naturally. Edwards is working on it and would like for it to move more. There have been questions as to if Edwards would be able to hold up physically as a starter due to his frame. Mick Gillispie said the movement he gets on his pitches is the best in the Southern League and he really gave teams problems last year. Gillispie thinks Edwards can be a starter in the majors.
Edwards, Johnson and Schwarber does not think the :20 pitch clock, that could be added to Double-A and Triple-A, will be that big of a deal.
Even with selecting lower in the draft, from a scouting standpoint it will not change the Cubs mindset. Jason McLeod said the days of the Cubs acquiring young talent for the system, via trade, in the summer are probably over. McLeod pointed to the way the Cubs have been able to use the draft system to their advantage, move money around and pick up talent in later rounds … like the team did last year with LHP Carson Sands, LHP Justin Steele and RHP Dylan Cease. The Cubs are always going to try to maximize their dollars to bring in the most talent from the draft.
“From a trade perspective, I would hope and assume that we are probably not going to be involved in those big trades going forward now because of where we are with the Major League team,” McLeod said. “You’re not going to be able to acquire C.J. Edwards for Matt Garza and go get Addison Russell because we are not going to be moving those pieces anymore.”
Without those trades, the pro scouts will have a bigger challenge finding talent. The Cubs will still be aggressive internationally. And they are not going to sit around and pat each other on the back. They know it is imperative to find the next guys.
Addison Russell knows he has to work on his approach at the plate and that he must cut down on the strikeouts. Russell likes to do the small things that helps make him that much better of a player. Russell said he cannot predict the future but he can control the things that would make him a better player.
The penultimate question of the Sunday morning session was about pitch framing and from an organizational standpoint what are the Cubs doing to implement and emphasize the skills?
The Cubs have a catching coordinator, Tim Cossins that is more knowledgeable and passionate about catching than anyone Jaron Madison or Theo Epstein has ever met. Cossins is constantly looking for ways to get advantages, work through game calling and pitch sequencing and really trying to get the most out of every catcher. And in turn that would get the most out of the pitchers.
Madison explained the Cubs are constantly trying to find ways to take advantage of those types of numbers and those types of theories.
Kyle Schwarber worked a lot with Cossins during fall instructs. McLeod said there are little things that go into pitch framing as well, simple things like where the catcher’s other hand is when he’s receiving the baseball.
Mick Gillispie wrapped up the session by saying he really thinks everyone is going to enjoy the Future of the Cubs.
2015 Cubs Convention
- Day One of the 2015 Cubs Convention: Let’s Go! The Excitement and Optimism is Back
- Day Two of the 2015 Cubs Convention: Ricketts Family Forum
- Day Two of the 2015 Cubs Convention: Baseball Operations with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer
- Day Two of the 2015 Cubs Convention: Meet Joe Maddon