Prospecting: Cubs see future in the system

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Prospecting: Cubs see future in the system

Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011
Posted 6:18 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Cubs executives insist that every dollar of profit goes right back into baseball operations. Its a great talking point, especially when they dont have to make the same public disclosures that the Tribune Co. once did.

Its what the fans want to hear. Even if Cubs ownership isnt compelled to release quarterly financial reports anymore, this message from the Ricketts family has been consistent and transparent.

Building our organization is really the key to being a consistent winner over time, chairman Tom Ricketts said last month. The way you build an organization is to draft the right players, to train them the right way in the right facilities and bring them up so that you have a steady flow of talent for your major-league team.

So while the 2011 Opening Day payroll may drop some 10 million from the approximate 145 million mark it hit the year before, club officials publicly and privately insist that the overall baseball budget will essentially remain the same.

In broad terms, that means more money is directed toward: hiring scouts; creating a deeper bonus pool for the amateur draft; expanding international operations; and building a new facility in the Dominican Republic.

We have to find players, assistant general manager Randy Bush said. If that means flying people halfway around the world, were going to do that. Some teams dont have the capability to do that or expend the monetary effort, but we feel its worthwhile.

Nuanced explanations wont always play well on talk radio or the message boards. Jim Hendry had to give first baseman Carlos Pena a signing bonus and deferred money on a one-year deal, and the general manager lucked out when Kerry Wood took an extreme discount to return home.

But there were other signs of investment this winter, from the reported agreements with two players from Cuba, to convincing Villanovas Matt Szczur to withdraw from NFL draft preparations with a 1.5 million bonus. Baseball America graded Szczur as the organizations best athlete, fastest baserunner and centerfielder of the future.
With a nice signing bonus, the Cubs convinced Matt Szczur to stop preparing for the NFL Draft and focus solely on baseball. He's already considered one of the top prospects in the organization and could be a key part of the future in center field. (AP)
The Cubs will keep hyping the system on Sunday as pitchers and catchers report to Arizona. There four pitchers from the 2008 draft class Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman, Jay Jackson and Chris Carpenter will be competing to secure jobs and position themselves for the near future.

The next wave will include outfielder Brett Jackson and pitcher Trey McNutt. MLB.com ranked Jackson, a first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley, as the games No. 46 overall prospect. After his first full year of professional baseball, McNutt has gone from the 32nd round of the 2009 draft to No. 66 on ESPN.coms top-prospect list.

Both are invited to major-league camp, and they will find a manager and a pitching coach conditioned to think about player development. Mike Quade managed 17 seasons in the minors and Mark Riggins spent the past 15 years as a minor-league pitching coordinator. Someone will open eyes across the next several weeks.

At this time last year, outfielder Tyler Colvin and pitcher James Russell werent expected to make the team. Russell surprised even himself by spending all but a few days with the major-league club in 2010. By reshaping his body last offseason, Colvin helped change the way Cubs prepare prospects.

As part of Camp Colvin, dozens of players have been working out in Mesa, where the former first-round pick made up for some of the time he lost to the Arizona Fall League, Team USA commitments and Tommy John surgery.

(Colvins) three years into his career and he really hasnt had any time to spend in the weight room and work on his agility, vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita recalled. Last year we were going to send him down to Mexico and we started talking. He says: Why dont we just go to Arizona and leave me with the strength coaches?

Lo and behold, he put on 20-25 pounds and you guys saw the results. I thoughtWow, were on to something here. It took me about 10 years to figure that one out, but its never too late.

Management envisions an athletic outfield of Colvin, Szczur and Jackson one day playing in front of the ivy. And by 2014 the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field that would be quite a narrative to sell.

But homegrown doesnt always work out that way. Its also about creating enough assets to flip to Tampa Bay for a high-end, established starter.

It cost what Baseball America judged to be three of the organizations top-10 prospects pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and outfielder Brandon Guyer to land Matt Garza. The Cubs are already on the clock.

We know what we have in front of us, scouting director Tim Wilken said. We lost four or five pretty good prospects. We can replenish the supply between our international and amateur departments. It does make a little bit of a hole, but we got some good prospects left in the system. And I think the future really bodes well.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with Jed Hoyer

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with Jed Hoyer

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Luke Stuckmeyer talk about the first week of spring training. 

The two discuss ace contracts, leadoff intimidation and give their thoughts on the Sammy Sosa saga. 

Plus CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with general manager Jed Hoyer. 

Listen to the Cubs Talk Podcast below. 

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

MESA, Ariz. — Cactus League stats are supposed to be irrelevant, especially for the guy with the biggest contract in franchise history. Jason Heyward already built up a reservoir of goodwill as a former All Star, three-time Gold Glove defender and World Series champion. The intangibles got Heyward $184 million guaranteed, and the Cubs are hoping a new comfort level will lead to a Jon Lester effect in Year 2 of that megadeal.

But Heyward will still be one of the most scrutinized players in Mesa after an offseason overhaul that tried to recapture the rhythm and timing he felt with the 2012 Braves (27 homers) and break some of the bad habits that had slowly crept into his high-maintenance left-handed swing.

"If there's ever any doubt," Heyward said, "then you probably shouldn't be here."

Heyward will be batting leadoff and starting in right field on Saturday afternoon when the Cubs open their exhibition schedule with a split-squad game against the A's at Sloan Park. If Heyward has anything to prove this spring, it's "probably to himself, not to us," general manager Jed Hoyer said, backing a player who does the little things so well and commands respect throughout the clubhouse.

"There's going to be growing pains with making adjustments," Hoyer said. "He'll probably have some good days and some bad days. But I think the most important thing is that he feels comfortable and uses these five weeks to lock in and get ready for the Cardinals."

The Cubs are betting on Heyward's age (27), track record (three seasons where he showed up in the National League MVP voting), understanding of the strike zone (.346 career on-base percentage) and willingness to break down his swing this winter at the team's Arizona complex.

At the same time, Heyward realizes "it's just the offseason" and "a never-ending process in baseball." There are no sweeping conclusions to be made when the opposing starting pitcher showers, talks to the media and leaves the stadium before the game ends.

"I'm not sitting here telling you: 'Oh, I know for sure what's going to happen,'" Heyward said. "I don't know how it's going to go. But I know I did a damn good job of preparing for it."

[MORE CUBS: No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension]

Manager Joe Maddon — who gave Heyward nearly 600 plate appearances to figure it out during the regular season (.631 OPS) before turning him into a part-time outfielder in the playoffs (5-for-48) — usually thinks batting practice is overrated or a waste of time. But at 6-foot-5 — and with so much riding on an offensive resurgence — Heyward is hard to miss.

"I can see it's a lot freer and the ball's coming off hotter," Maddon said. "But it's all about game. I'm really eager for him, because everybody just talks about all the work he's done all winter.

"Conversationally with him, I sense or feel like he feels good about it and that he's kind of at a nice peaceful moment with himself. So it will be really fun to watch."

A 103-win season, an American League-style lineup that scored 808 runs, a new appreciation for defensive metrics and a professional attitude helped provide cover for Heyward, who largely escaped the wrath of Cubs fans with little patience for big-ticket free agents.

"Baseball is a game that's going to humble you every day," Heyward said. "You're going to fail more times than you succeed, so it's all about how you handle it, as an individual and as a group. We handled it the best out of anyone last year as a team. And that's why we were able to win the World Series.

"There's always things you feel like you need to work on. You can ask guys who had the best years — there's always something they're trying to improve on and something they don't feel great about at a certain point in time during the year.

"I just happened to have a little bit more breaking down to do. A lot of things allowed me to just kind of pause (and) look forward and not really think about trying to compete and win a game. Let's just get some work done."