Down on the Farm, the final panel session of the 2017 Cubs Convention, featured Jason McLeod (senior VP of scouting and development), Jaron Madison (director of player development), and Matt Dorey (director of amateur scouting) discussing the methods to their madness. I don’t know if it was the timing or the personalities involved, but the three men on stage all seemed a bit more candid than I had expected them to be. McLeod had shared much of the same info when I spoke with him Saturday, but there was actually some pretty solid insight offered in response to the fan questions.
Moderated by Smokies broadcaster Mick Gillespie, the panel members spoke about what the Cubs look for in young players, noting that desire and effort are paramount in their evaluations. That’s evident when you talk to guys like Rob Zastryzny (interview here) and Jeimer Candelario (interview here), but it was eye-opening to hear the front office guys admit that the lack of those traits led to at least two of the team’s offseason moves.
In addressing a question regarding how the team disciplines those players who don’t bust it out of the batter’s box, McLeod talked about Joe Maddon’s “Respect 90” mantra and said that Jorge Soler had been benched more than once for not hustling. That’s obviously not the only thing that went into the trade, but it sure didn’t make the big outfielder any less expendable in an increasingly crowded unit.
I’m sure differences of opinion on Soler will persist, but, as I’ve been saying for some time now, the only view that really matters is that of the organization. They know these players and how they fit within the system better than we could ever hope to. That’s not to say these execs are infallible, not by any stretch, just that there’s much more to personnel decisions than just what we see — or want to see — on the field.
The ability to focus on one’s personal development came into play with Christian Villanueva, the promising corner infielder the Cubs released this offseason. That move came as a bit of a surprise to many of us on the outside, but McLeod mentioned how Villanueva was shaken up by Kris Bryant’s ascension through the system and wasn’t able to stay locked in on his own growth.
One player the Cubs have never had to worry about in that regard is Kyle Schwarber, upon whom much praise was heaped. I missed the very beginning of the answer, but McLeod related a story about how they were able to leverage War Bear’s confidence against him in a prank.
If you watched that whole video, you also heard Madison and the others talking about how the Cubs rank prospects and how that bumps up against various other lists. It’s pretty well known that Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ are up at the top of all such rankings, but there are a lot of interesting pitchers climbing the ranks as well.
Some quick notes on the various individual players discussed toward the end of the panel:
- The Cubs love that Jimenez “hits the ball real far”
- Thomas Hatch’s spring performance will determine where he starts
- Eddy Julio Martinez is in the mix to start at Myrtle Beach
- Dylan Cease has lightning in his arm, will be at South Bend
- Schwarber taking under-slot deal allowed Cubs to draft Cease
Admittedly, I had gone into this session with relatively low expectations and not a small level of fatigue from the weekend. It ended up being a great capper to the Convention, though, and I’m glad I stuck around through the Q&A portion. If only the rest of my day had gone as well.
As I stopped to use the restroom on my way out of the Sheraton Grand, I found that someone had pulled an Ishmael Boorg in the urinal. So that was awesome. And then, when I was but 30 miles from home, my car got a little shaky after traversing the pocked stretch of garbage that passes for an interstate just north of Lebanon, IN. Then it got a lot shaky and I managed to get to the shoulder, where I found my right front tire turned in at a 45-degree angle despite my steering wheel not agreeing.
My car is definitely not following the personal development plan I had put together for it.