The Foundation: Cougars still learning 'The Cubs Way'

The Foundation: Cougars still learning 'The Cubs Way'

May 2, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Tony Andracki
You're always a Cub on and off the field. You're held accountable for everything you do.
—Dan Vogelbach, Cougars 1B/DH

"Take care of the ball."

This simple phrase was etched on the white board under the word "respect" in the Kane County Cougars' clubhouse before a game this April.

It may seem like a fairly obvious suggestion to professional baseball players -- some of which have been playing the game for almost two decades -- but it's all just a part of coming up through the Cubs system. Nothing is taken for granted.

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When Theo Epstein took over as president of baseball operations late in 2011, he immediately got to work on defining "The Cubs Way".

Top prospect Jorge Soler found out just what that meant the hard way last weekend.

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Soler, playing for High-A Daytona, was benched Monday after failing to hustle on a groundball.

Epstein and his front office staff have placed a premium on fundamentals and want each player to adopt the same approach, regardless of the level of play.

"It's going out every single day, playing hard, going about your business, doing the right things and doing the little things right," Cougars first baseman Dan Vogelbach said.

"But, the biggest thing is, you're always a Cub on and off the field. You're held accountable for everything you do."

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Vogelbach, the top prospect on the Cougars (at least until Albert Almora returns from injury), was selected in the second round of the 2011 MLB Draft, among the final group of players taken by former general manager Jim Hendry.

The 20-year-old first baseman only had six games of experience under the previous front office, but he has already noticed the difference between the two regimes.

"[Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and Co.] bide so much time into their minor-league players," Vogelbach said. "They care so much. We're at mini-camp before spring training and big-league camp is going on down the road and we have Theo, Jed and [senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod] at our mini-camp. You don't find that very often in any other organizations.

"They realize that to win a World Series, it's just not going to happen with the guys they have. It doesn't happen that way. We have a lot of talent in the minor leagues and they have a lot of talent in the big leagues. But people get older and they move on. We're just blessed to have guys who care so much about us."

The Cougars got off to a slow start this season, but they've won six of 11 lately and boast a 10-13 record overall heading into play Thursday. Vogelbach is a big reason why, hitting .389 (7-for-18) with three homers and seven RBI over the last four contests.

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Vogelbach, ranked among the Cubs' Top 10 prospects by several outlets, sits at .309/.346/.479 on the season with five homers, 16 RBI and 12 runs in 23 games.

Rock Shoulders has joined Vogelbach as a presence in the middle of the Cougars' order, boasting a .365/.449/.635 batting line with five homers, eight doubles, 17 RBI and 19 runs. His offensive prowess earned a Player of the Week honor for the week ending April 21.

Vogelbach and Shoulders switch off at first base and designated hitter, while Shoulders has also played four games in left field.

[MORE: Kane County Cougars Schedule]

Part of their success can be attributed to the influx of materials provided to the Cubs' prospects.

"There's so much information to give these young guys," Cougars pitching coach Ron Villone, a former 15-year MLB veteran, said. "Sometimes when you have young guys, they want to use it all at once. This is why we're here, so they develop things and understand that we're going to get better. But it's not an overnight process.

"It's understanding there are different ways to go about things. Trying to get better, finding a way to get better. It's not like we're inventing anything new. It's just going out there and finding ways to get better. We're handing it off to the young men in our organization.

[FOLLOW: @KCCougars on Twitter]

"From Theo and Jed and Jason and [Director of Player Development Brandon Hyde] and all the guys up top -- and everybody in the organization -- who are building this from the ground up, we're trying to make it different and 'The Cubs Way' is going to show on the field. It's going to start with our young players."

Comcast SportsNet will provide coverage of the Cougars all season in the online video series "The Foundation" as well as with featured content on CubsTalk. Follow along for a behind-the-scenes look as "The Cubs Way" takes effect in the low levels of the organization.