The Cubs bookended their rookie development program around Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. The next generation got to hear about how you carry yourself in the big leagues and what it takes to make it in Chicago.
Do they have any idea what theyre getting into? That question might have gone through your mind on Thursday if you were watching those 12 prospects working out inside Northwestern Universitys field house in Evanston.
It shouldnt have been hard to see the warning signals. Last years Cubs Convention was overshadowed by the sexual-assault allegations against Starlin Castro. The night before, the Internet exploded with Deadspins story about Manti Teos fake dead girlfriend and the scandal at the University of Notre Dame.
Everyones under a microscope, said Jason McLeod, the vice president of scouting and player development. So weve spent a lot of time trying to help talk about those types of things and letting them know what to watch for. Of course, we cant be babysitters 247, but we can give them the tools to make good decisions. Ultimately, thats what were trying to do.
McLeod highlighted seminars on media training and how to deal with social media and watching what they put on Twitter (because team officials are definitely tracking it).
The run of guest speakers included baseball czar Theo Epstein, chairman Tom Ricketts, president of business operations Crane Kenney, pitching coach Chris Bosio and Bears linebacker Nick Roach, along with presentations from nutritionists and strength and conditioning staffers. It started last week with Wood and was scheduled to end Thursday afternoon with Prior at Wrigley Field, leading into this weekends convention at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.
Who better to know and understand having all the hype, having all the pressure, being the young guy coming up and then performing in this environment? McLeod said. Who better than those two guys? Those had to have been two of the most hyped Cubs prospects of the last 15-20 years.
Prior, who hasnt pitched in the big leagues since 2006, is said to be looking for another chance to play, though that isnt expected to come with the Cubs. McLeod didnt know all the details about how it ended here, but hes friendly with Prior because theyre both San Diego guys.
The audience included four position players Javier Baez, Jae-Hoon Ha, Matt Szczur and Logan Watkins and pitchers Dallas Beeler, Marcus Hatley, Barret Loux, Trey McNutt, Zach Rosscup, Nick Struck, Robert Whitenack and Tony Zych. The ETA for these prospects could be within the next year or two.
McNutt remembered being blown away as a kid in 1998, watching Woods 20-strikeout game against the Houston Astros on television at his grandfathers farm in Alabama: It was like: Oh my God, this guys awesome.
During this trip to Chicago, McNutt made a point to ask Wood how he threw that curveball and took mental notes on the grips.
Its real awesome to get their opinion, McNutt said, (see) the way they carried themselves to the majors, (hear) what they accomplished, how they accomplished it.
The Cleveland Indians are widely credited with first developing this kind of assimilation program several years ago. Epstein, McLeod and general manager Jed Hoyer had worked to put together a similar one for the Boston Red Sox.
One of the challenges we had in Boston was really getting young players to come up and be able to perform at a high level right away in a big market, Hoyer said. The difference between playing in the minor leagues and the big leagues is enormous anywhere. But now you take it to a big market like Boston or Chicago and its really difficult the media pressures, the fan pressures.
We want these guys to be able to come up here and get used to what its like to live here, what its like to deal with the media, whats expected of them every day. Because at some point, theyre going to get called up for the first time and theyre going to be scared to death to go out and face Adam Wainwright.
We want them to focus on facing Adam Wainwright and not focus on: How much do I tip this guy? How do I get to the ballpark? (So) they can worry about playing baseball when they get here and not feel totally overwhelmed.