Cubs: McLeod, Epstein looking for game-changers

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Cubs: McLeod, Epstein looking for game-changers

MESA, Ariz. Jason McLeod is looking forward to checking out his new office at Clark and Waveland. He knows he probably wont see it for another eight weeks.

The Cubs senior vice president, scoutingplayer development will be at Wrigley Field for Opening Day, and then hit the road preparing for the June draft. Flying all across the country, he will have some time to catch up on the Mad Men episodes he enjoys watching on his iPad.

McLeod has a fancy title and a big portfolio in baseball operations. Born in Hawaii and raised in San Diego, he gives off a much more laid-back vibe. He compares the database in a scouts mind to the way a gifted musician can remember what hes heard before, and make sense of how it all fits together, to where the recall becomes second nature.

Theo Epstein viewed McLeod and general manager Jed Hoyer as essential hires when he was offered the presidents job and the keys to the Cubs kingdom.

McLeod had drafted so many impact players for the Boston Red Sox Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard and rebuilt the San Diego Padres system into one of the industrys best.

McLeod isnt as corporate or Ivy League, but he believes in all the MBA speak about processes and information management. The executive will be a key engineer for what Epstein has called the machine for scouting and player development.

The Cubs desperately need game-changers. They hold the sixth overall pick in the draft, and five within the first 101 selections.

If the new collective bargaining agreement hadnt restricted the amount teams can spend in the draft, the Cubs would have gone all in this summer and made the 12 million in bonuses they gave out last year look like spare change.

Its now a true scouting competition, and the Cubs are still strategizing when, within the new rules, it makes sense to go overboard and overpay. McLeod will be running meetings in Arizona starting Monday, the spring seasons midpoint, to narrow the focus for a front office where thorough is the new buzzword.

(We) really talk about: If the draft was next week, these are the guys were considering here, McLeod said. Then we really break them down and we start eliminating certain players and thats where we really start steering our coverage now. Were going to roll and rotate in on this group of players. And this next tier of players: This is how were going to attack them.

McLeods iPhone rang the other morning and it played The Whos Baba ORiley (Teenage Wasteland). Remember this is making multimillion-dollar investments on kids who just learned how to drive, in a field where you can be wrong 96 percent of the time and still have a pretty good year.

The Cubs want to know who hangs out with the wrong crowd, and what makes them tick. They want to see how they compete in other sports. Their 25 amateur scouts have been given cameras and must shoot at every game they attend, to create a video library.

Information as a whole is the currency of the draft, Epstein said. So there are different buckets of information scouting information, makeup information, medical information, statistical information, and our goal is to drill deeper than any other team.

The goal is to get to know the kids better than they know themselves, because youre looking at a 17-year-old. Youre projecting how hes going to be at 27. Its very difficult. You need to drill very deep to try to gain that kind of insight.

Everyone talks to the coach and the kids parents, right? Where can you make a difference?

Do you talk to the equipment manager? Epstein said. Do you talk to the guidance counselor? Do you dig deep enough to find out when the kid has struggled and (faced) adversity? What (has been) his biggest failure? How he bounced back from that failure?

Theres a lot of different ways to do it. Do you have a psychologist interview the kid? Do you have him take an objective test? Do you log your entire relationship with the kid, every bit of information that you get, so everyone in the draft room can share it and gain the insight?

You cant just wake up and do it in April and hope to have a good decision. Its like a 15-month process, minimum.

We know this approach gives us a better chance of being less wrong. (Thats) what scoutings about, degrees of being less wrong, when you draft 50 guys and you get two or three right. This isnt just something were doing for like window dressing. It evolved over 10 years in Boston. We feel pretty confident in the system.

Chairman Tom Ricketts has said how the new labor deal could create a new market for scouts, where the best talent evaluators can command higher salaries, because you cant just pay over slot for premium players.

The Cubs recognize they need to care of their scouts. McLeod e-mailed his staff last week to say that later this year scouts will be provided company cars, a benefit he had in Boston and San Diego.

(Its) creating an environment where they know that people care about what theyre doing, McLeod said. Theyre not just 2,000 miles away driving down a lonely highway and no one knows what the hell theyre doing out there. Because it can be a lonely frickin gig.

McLeod has known Epstein since the mid-1990s, when they were starting out in the business with the Padres, one in stadium operations and the other in media relations.

They were in their 20s and started hanging out after games, grabbing beers and talking baseball. They were given chances to drive to USC and Cal State Fullerton, and go watch Adrian Gonzalez play in high school, and began learning how to scout.

McLeod the great-grand nephew of Hall of Famer pitcher Carl Hubbell was drafted by the Houston Astros in 44th round of the 1991 draft and pitched briefly in the minors before taking an internship with the Padres.

But when the Padres first asked McLeod to transition to coaching, they had him as a rookie league hitting coach. So he spent an entire offseason at Qualcomm Stadium, three or four days a week, watching prospects in the cage alongside people like Tony Gwynn.

I would just sit there like a sponge, soak it up, McLeod recalled. Really, its just that old adage: Shut up and listen.

Near the end of a long conversation, McLeod is asked if hed ever be interested in running his own team, if this fast track could one day make him a general manager.

I think everyone thinks about: What would I do in this situation? McLeod said. Certainly, Ive had those thoughts: What would I do here? What would I do there? If the opportunity ever comes up, certainly I would be interested in looking at it.

McLeod paused for a moment and laughed: But were so damn busy here. Plus, The Trio just got back together!

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Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Corey Crawford rebounds

Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Corey Crawford rebounds

The Blackhawks’ starts have been all over the map this season but their finishes have usually been strong. That was the case again on Sunday night as the Blackhawks took a lead, lost a lead and regained a lead for good in their 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

This one featured a little bit of everything. So let’s just get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory over Vancouver.

1. Jonathan Toews breaks through. If the Blackhawks captain’s confidence was a little shaken with his lack of scoring this season, it should’ve gotten a boost with his Sunday outing. Toews’ goal and three assists were as big for him as they were the Blackhawks, who needed every bit of it late against the Canucks. In his last 12 games Toews has three goals and eight assists. He’s getting there. Said coach Joel Quenneville, “it seems like he was around the puck way more and when he does that, usually good things happen.”

2. Great start. This hasn’t been written very often but it was more than evident on Sunday night. If this wasn’t the Blackhawks’ best opening period of the season it was pretty close, as they broke out to a 2-0 lead against the Canucks. The Blackhawks, outside of a 3 ½-minute sequence without a shot on goal, were tenacious and ready to shoot, taking an 18-9 shots-on-goal edge in that first.

3. Corey Crawford rebounds. Quenneville considered Scott Darling for this game, an understandable thought with Darling coming off a 30-stop shutout. But he wanted Crawford to get back to where he was prior to his appendectomy, and Crawford took a step in that direction on Sunday night. In stopping 25 of 27 shots Crawford got his 18th victory of the season and 200th of his career. Quenneville said Crawford “looked like he was in control.”

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4. Michal Kempny’s tough stretch. When Kempny has been good this season he’s been very good. When he’s been bad... The defenseman was in the penalty box when the Canucks scored their first goal and he was beaten by Bo Horvat on the Canucks’ second goal. Kempny didn’t play the final 14 minutes of the game. Quenneville, who liked what Kempny brought on the team’s road trip, said Kempny just has to work through some things. “Coverage with awareness and knowing sometimes it’s man coverage, sometimes it’s playing the puck and clearing the loose stuff,” Quenneville said. “Defenseman is a tough position as you’re growing and learning it, but the more you play the better you play and I still think he’s making progress.”

5. Brian Campbell gets to keep No. 500 this time. Campbell thought he had his 500th point against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night but it was taken away. Well he got it back on Sunday night, setting up Richard Panik’s 11th goal of the season in the first period.