Cubs make minor leagues a family affair

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Cubs make minor leagues a family affair

The Cubs poured almost 12 million into the 2011 amateur draft, tossing lofty signing bonuses at their top picks.

They won't be able to do that anymore with the new CBA rules, but the organization already has something very rare.

In rounds 10 and 11 of the recent draft, the Cubs selected two legacies in Shawon Dunston, Jr. -- son of longtime Cub Shawon Dunston, Sr. -- and Daniel Lockhart -- son of Cubs scout and former Major Leaguer Keith Lockhart.

Add to that the Brenly connection -- father Bob is the popular TV analyst while son Michael is a Single-A catcher -- and the Cubs truly have something unique.

The 2012 Convention came to a close at the Hilton in Chicago with an hour-long session on the father-son connection within the organization.

"A father and son playing catch together is a longstanding tradition in baseball," host Wayne Messmer said. "It doesn't always turn out where either play pro ball. In this case, we have three cases where both played pro ball."

Bob is the more traveled of the fathers, having played nine seasons in the MLB with the Giants and Blue Jays before retiring and becoming a coach. His first year as a manager came in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who topped the New York Yankees for the World Series title.

Michael was 15 at the time and served as the team's bat boy during that postseason.

"Obviously, being in the game of baseball, your ultimate goal is to win the World Series, either as a player or a coach, a scout, a manager," the elder Brenly said. "It was great for Michael to be able to be a part of that."

Bob used the opportunity as a teaching lesson for his teenage son.

"Michael was around for all seven games of the 2001 World Series," he said. "We went to his teachers a week before to get his homework assignments and he had to complete them all before the World Series started or he didn't get to be the bat boy.

"There's a price to pay to be around the Major League clubhouse. I've always felt it's a real privilege to put on a Major League uniform and walk into that clubhouse. If I didn't think that he had the proper respect and knew his place around the team, I probably wouldn't have let him."

Michael, who was drafted by the Cubs in the 36th round of the '08 draft, decided to follow in his father's footsteps in becoming a catcher, but the 25-year-old is not living in his dad's shadow.

"Anybody who has a 'famous' father or mother, there's certain expectations. For some people, that's a tall mountain to climb, even when the father is a .249 career hitter like me," Bob deadpanned.

"Michael has done very well for himself. I think he would be where he is if his name was Jones or Smith or whatever."

Keith didn't spend his playing career in Chicago, either, but he did play alongside a Cubs icon for several years. Just before the start of the 1997 season, Lockhart was traded from the Royals to Atlanta, where he joined the likes of Greg Maddux in the midst of the Braves' dynasty.

While the other two fathers had a hand in helping advance their son's careers, Keith was directly responsible for actually getting Daniel's professional career started. The Cubs scout was asked to write a report on his own son and the organization wound up selecting the young infielder in the 10th round. It was Keith's first-ever draft pick.

"It was really different," Keith said. "I was on both sides of the fence as a dad and a scout."

Shawon, Sr. is the only one of the three fathers to have been on the Cubs during their playing days and he was a fan favorite during his 11 years on the North Side.

The Cubs made the high-energy shortstop their first overall pick in the 1982 draft. It was because of that opportunity that his son signed with the organization almost three decades later.

The Dunstons had a choice after Shawon, Jr. was drafted -- either send him to college at Vanderbilt or release him into the world of professional baseball. A 1.275 million signing bonus helped sway the family.

Shawon, Sr. admitted the only two teams his son would have skipped college for were the Cubs and Giants, where the elder Dunston currently works as a special assistant.

"I'm very hard on my son," Shawon, Sr. said. "In high school, he had to maintain a 3.5 GPA. If he had a 3.4, he didn't play. He doesn't understand right now, but I tell him 'you'll hate me now, but you'll love me later.'"

If Shawon, Jr. makes good on his potential, that fatherly advice could go a long way.

How Cubs reached the breaking point with Kyle Schwarber

How Cubs reached the breaking point with Kyle Schwarber

MIAMI – Theo Epstein scoffed at the possibility of sending a World Series hero down to the minors on May 16, writing the headline with this money quote: “If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we’re buying.”

If the Cubs aren’t dumping their Schwarber stock, they’re definitely reassessing their investment strategy, trying to figure out how such a dangerous postseason hitter had become one of the least productive players in the majors.

The overall portfolio hasn’t changed that much since the team president’s vote of confidence, Schwarber batting .179 for the defending champs then and .171 when the Cubs finally made the decision to demote him to Triple-A Iowa. That 18-19 team is now 36-35 and still waiting for that hot streak. 

What took so long?

“The honest answer is we believe in him so much,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Thursday. “He’s never struggled like this. We kept thinking that he was going to come out of it. We got to a point where we felt like mentally he probably needed a break before he could come out of this. 

“The honest answer is patience. We’ve got a guy who’s never really struggled. He was the best hitter in college baseball. He blew through the minor leagues. Last year in the World Series, he performed. We just felt like he was going to turn himself around.

“It just got to a place where we felt like the right way for this to come together was to allow him to get away from the team, to take a deep breath and be able to work on some things in a lower-pressure environment.”   

The Cubs plan to give Schwarber a few days off before he reports to Iowa, an idea that would have seemed unthinkable after watching his shocking recovery from knee surgery and legendary performance (.971 OPS) against the Cleveland Indians in last year’s World Series.

But preparing for one opponent and running on adrenaline through 20 plate appearances is completely different from handling the great expectations and newfound level of fame and doing it for an entire 162-game season.   

This might actually be the most normal part of Schwarber’s career after his meteoric rise from No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft to breakout star in the 2015 playoffs to injured and untouchable during last year’s trade talks with the New York Yankees. 

“There’s been a long and illustrious list of guys that have gone through this,” manager Joe Maddon said. “When a guy’s good, he’s good. Sometimes – especially when they’re this young – you just got to hit that reset button. It’s hard for a young player who’s never really struggled before to struggle on this stage and work his way through it.

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“There’s no scarlet letter attached to this. It’s just the way it happens sometimes. You have to do what you think is best. We think this is best for him right now. We know he’s going to be back.” 

When? The Cubs say they don’t have a certain number of Pacific Coast League at-bats in mind for a guy who’s played only 17 career games at the Triple-A level.

Maddon pointed out how Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee needed minor-league sabbaticals/refresher courses before becoming Cy Young Award winners and two of the best pitchers of their generation.

New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto – another college hitter the Cubs closely scouted before taking Schwarber in the 2014 draft – has gone from the 2015 World Series to Triple-A Las Vegas for parts of last season to potential All-Star this year.

The Cubs fully expect their Schwarber stock to rebound – whether or not the turnaround happens in time to impact the 2017 bottom line.    

“I’m still sticking by him,” Maddon said. “But at some point, you have to be pragmatic. You have to do what’s best for everybody. We thought at this point that we weren’t going to necessarily get him back to where we need him to be just by continuing this same path.

“It’s not a matter of us not sticking with him anymore. We just thought this was the best way to go to really get him well, so that we could utilize the best side of Kyle moving forward.”

CubsTalk Podcast: Reacting to Kyle Schwarber's demotion and Mike Montgomery on his evolution

CubsTalk Podcast: Reacting to Kyle Schwarber's demotion and Mike Montgomery on his evolution

Tony Andracki, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson react in real time to the breaking news that Kyle Schwarber was demoted to the minor leagues. Plus, the trio play around with expansion drafts and who the most indispensable players on the Cubs are.

[RELATED - Inside the numbers on Schwarber's season-long struggles]

Patrick Mooney also goes 1-on-1 with Cubs swingman southpaw Mike Montgomery about the lanky lefty’s role and how he got here.

Check out the entire Podcast here.