Jed Hoyer joined Bruce Levine and Mike Esposito Saturday morning on Inside the Clubhouse (670 The Score). Hoyer was in Oklahoma City driving back to Chicago from Arizona. The Cubs GM took time to answer several questions about his ball club on the eve of Opening Night.
Jed Hoyer talked about the front office’s decision to send Kris Bryant to the minors. And what the Cubs would like to see from Bryant before he’s called up. The other young players that impressed him during Spring Training. Hoyer also explained the reasoning behind having Javier Baez start the season with Iowa.
The fourth season of the Theo Epstein–Jed Hoyer regime begins Sunday. Hoyer is excited for the year ahead and is looking forward to the team competing night in and night out.
On his thoughts about the team and the expectations fans should have for the Cubs
“I think expectations are always a good thing. I think that we are much improved. See our lineup. See our rotation. Certainly we are a team I think can compete with any team night in and night out. That really hasn’t been the case the last three years. I think that the biggest challenge we have, is something we’ve talked about a lot, which is our young hitters. We have so much, so many young hitters, guys who need to make adjustments in the big leagues. There’s going to be big ups and there’s probably going to be downs as well as we go with that. I think really our … how quickly they can become regular big leaguers as opposed to young big leaguers.”
On the young players that impressed him during Spring Training not named Kris Bryant
“A couple of guys really stick out. Addison Russell had a terrific spring. His defense was excellent. Very sure-handed, makes a routine play really well. His not a blazer on the bases as a runner but his first step quickness at shortstop is really noticeable. He’s got really good range. He had good at bats the whole spring. And he’s a really solid kid. We’ve never had a Spring Training with him. He wasn’t a guy that we had drafted and so it was fun to get to know him this spring.”
“I forgot a pitcher. C.J. Edwards threw the ball great. Very good curveball, looked like he was healthy and ready to have a big season.”
On Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo being left alone by the media during Spring Training, not having to be the voices of the team and the only players the media go to about the Cubs
“I think that in some ways those guys are sort of forgotten guys this spring. I mean that in a good way. They can go out and get their work in. Having a new manager that is very good with the media it certainly helps. When people are talking about all of the young players or people are talking about Jon Lester, it certainly helps a great deal. Normally you want a clubhouse where the media feels really comfortable going to a lot of different guys, it doesn’t always fall on the same people. We’ve talked a lot about how, especially in [Anthony] Rizzo’s case, he was put in a position where it was really unfair to have trying to lead or try to be a face of a team at age 24. I think that was hard on him. I think he handled it well. I think he learned from it. I think he will be a good leader in the future for it, but it was too much too soon. I think it’s nice for him to now be able to sit back and watch as other people get some attention and learn really how to lead a ball club as he enters his late 20’s.”
On if Joe Maddon is as impressive inside the clubhouse as he as from the outside looking in
“Yeah, it’s a lot of fun being around him on a day-to-day basis. He’s really engaging. He’s really positive. He’s got a thought and an answer for everything. You think about how you handle a young player and you can tell that’s what he thought about all night when he goes back to his RV. How are we going to handle these guys? How are we going to get the most out of them? And he loves the challenge, there’s no question about that. He was a perfect manager for Tampa at that time. They were real young and had no success in their organization to that point and they were a heck of a wild group of young players. He was the perfect manager for that group and one of the reasons we were so excited to get him. We do have a very young and talented group and I think he’s always thinking about how to turn those guys into big leaguers. And he likes the challenge of doing that. Very fun first spring with Joe [Maddon]. He keeps it loose. He keeps it serious and you can tell the players really respond to him. They know that he wants to win and they know that he’s going to be really positive and if they make a mistake, he’s consistently preaching don’t be afraid to fail. That’s important to a player to know that when he does make a mistake his manager is going to have his back. He’s actually probably going to pat him on the back for being aggressive if he made that mistake in that fashion.”
On what the goals are for Kris Bryant and what do the Cubs have to see before promoting him
“I think our goals really long-term with him almost all revolve around defense. When you think about Kris [Bryant], he’s hit everywhere he’s been over the last couple of years. This spring he certainly had a great spring at the plate. And he’s shown over his career that he makes adjustments pretty well. He’ll struggle for a period of time but then he’ll quickly figure out what he was doing wrong and get right back to it. He’s got great confidence in that part of the game. I think he’s an underrated baserunner. He’ll steal a base. He’ll go first to third. Defense is the thing that he’s go to work hard on because of his size. We’d love to be able to keep him at third base. I think that’s something we’ve talked about a lot. It really changes the nature of our offense if he can play third base and we can go out and get another really good offensive outfielder and put another bat in that spot. The biggest challenge for him is going to be working on his defense because of the size. But that’s the thing that we’re most focused on as far as his player plan is really smoothing out his defense. What he did this spring was really impressive and it certainly wasn’t lost on us that he had a great spring. We’ll be paying attention, close attention, to what he does in Iowa when he goes down there at the beginning of the year. Hopefully he can get into a rhythm and there’s no question that Kris is going to help us at some point in 2015.”
On why the Cubs hesitated to put Kris Bryant in the outfield and why did it happen so late in Spring Training
“The real reason was he had a sore arm. We wanted him to play third at the beginning of spring exclusively to just kind of relax him and let him play that position. Our plan was to start to introduce the outfield a little bit here and there just for the versatility. Then he had that period where he had a sore arm a little bit and we thought it was a bad idea to put him in the outfield while he was kind of nursing a sore arm. That probably lost us a week to 10 days in the middle of spring there. But that is something we’ll keep working on. Like I said, we really want him to stay at third. We know we’ve got some options as far as his positions but that would be our choice and our preference for certain.”
On what the Cubs would like to see Javier Baez work on while he’s with the Iowa Cubs
“I actually thought it was a really productive spring for Javy [Javier Baez]. Joe really saw all the things that Javy does very well. He’s a very instinctive baserunner. He’s a really good defender. He’s got incredible hands. He saw glimpses of what he can do at the plate. I think in a lot of ways it was really important for him to get with a new manager and have the new manager see that he really is a complete player. He just needs to go down and kind of lock in these changes he’s making. Javy was a guy that, thinking back to the end of 2013 in Double-A this guy was hitting all pitching with power. He was very confident. I think he lost some of his confidence last year. He knows he has to make some adjustments. He needs to go lock in those adjustments in the minor leagues. He showed some signs of a two-strike approach and showed some signs of shortening up a little bit but he still has to be able to put the ball in play more consistently and have more consistent at bats. If he can get to that point, he’s going to be a really good player because of all the other things he does on the field.”
On if he thinks Javier Baez can learn from the way Anthony Rizzo struggled in San Diego and use Rizzo as an example of the success a player can have if he makes the right adjustments
“Yeah, I use the example of him a lot. It is very similar. They had equally poor struggles. You look at Rizzo he spent the first two months of the following year in Triple-A locking in before he came up to the big leagues with the Cubs the next year. I think sometimes we forget about that two months that Anthony spent locking that in. He didn’t come right to the big leagues after Spring Training with the Cubs in 2012. He had some more time to lock in what he was doing and it is important. People forget sometimes when a young player struggles it’s not only about the competition it is probably a loss of confidence as well. At some point you struggle. You hit that downward spiral where you can’t get out of it. I think Javy got to that point last year where he ceased being himself on the field anymore and the lack of confidence sort of took over. He needs to go back to Iowa, remember how good a hitter he is, get back to that point and I think when he does I think he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch for us.”
On the conversation he had with Joe Maddon about Javier Baez
“Joe really loves what he saw out of Javy and I think that’s a … it’s a wonderful thing that Javy could show him all the different parts of his game without really showing the offensive part. For us it was we’ve had a longer history with Javy and I think that we saw at the end of last season when he did lose his confidence. We wanted to make sure that he had a chance to make some of those adjustments and make some of those occur in the minor leagues. I think at the Major League when you are right in survival mode from day one, you’re facing Adam Wainwright on national television on day one, I think it can sometimes be hard to sort of stick with what you are doing because your natural reaction is to do anything you can to get a hit, anything you can to survive. That’s not the best way to make changes. I think he can go down there and he can make some of those adjustments. Certainly I hope Javy Baez spends a lot of this year in the big leagues. I think we are probably a better team for it, but ultimately looking at the length of his career I think that it’s important that he makes these changes now.”
On entering Year Four of being in charge of the team and the Cubs now being considered a contending ball club
“I think we’ve made some steps along the road that we’re proud of. I think we do have a very young and talented organization now. I think we certainly have an organization that you can dream on and look at different positions and feel like we have a chance to have an impact player at a lot of those positions. That said, we haven’t accomplished anything yet. We’ve spent a lot of time building. Whether it’s scouting or player development systems or building players through the draft, through trades, but we haven’t accomplished anything yet and that’s what exciting about this season and the seasons to come. We don’t do this to simply build an organization. You do it to win, do it to really have everyone want to come out to Wrigley and see a championship team. I think that’s the next phase. Let’s get past the building process and let’s get to the place where we can really enjoy watching our game every night and enjoy October baseball. We’re not there yet. We haven’t proven anything yet. It’s been a challenging three years but I think it’s been three years that was well worth it and I think we will look back when we are successful and realize that we needed the patience of our fans. We needed the patience of our owner to be able to get to this place where we could build that talent, build up our talent and really feel like we could have an organization that can compete with the best organizations in the National League.”