Giancarlo Stanton had a big smile and a bro hug for Brandon Hyde when the Cubs farm director approached the Miami Marlins star on Tuesday at Wrigley Field.
Hyde chatted with Logan Morrison during batting practice and shook Andre Dawson’s hand by the cage, reconnecting with some old friends in the Marlins organization.
Hyde remembered Morrison and Stanton anchoring the middle of his lineup when he managed Double-A Jacksonville to the 2009 Southern League championship. They beat a Cubs affiliate that included Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Andrew Cashner – “The Three Cs” several marketing campaigns ago – and Welington Castillo.
It’s harder to see when the Cubs and $52 million pitcher Edwin Jackson lose 6-2 to the worst team in the National League. But Stanton is one of many dots you can start connecting if you believe Theo Epstein is going to build a scouting and player development machine.
Stanton was only 20 years old and went by “Mike” when he made his big-league debut in 2010. But at least he didn’t play for a franchise that hadn’t won a World Series in 100-plus years. And there wasn’t the same weight of expectations playing in a football stadium off the Florida Turnpike.
It won’t be like that for Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, if/when they make it to the North Side.
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“There’s definitely a difference in the exposure,” Hyde said, laughing. “(It’s) the amount of Cubs blogs and our fans know our players from rookie ball to the big leagues. That’s great for them, because once they get here, now they’re kind of used to it.
“That’s why a Kane County is a real cool deal to have, because our players are dealing with Chicago media at a very early time in their career and they get a taste of what it’s going to be like here when everything’s a little (inside) the fishbowl.”
Cubs fans have pretty much tuned out the big-league product, with an announced crowd of 30,024 being maybe half that on Tuesday night. Jackson needed 104 pitches to get through five innings and fell to 7-15 with a 4.91 ERA. He could have used a double play in the three-run fifth, but Castro watched the ball pop out of his glove and committed his 17th error.
“It’s definitely been a disappointing season,” Jackson said. “But every lesson is a lesson learned. Like I say, you either accept it and be complacent with it or you find ways to keep working hard and get ready to bounce back.
“I’m going to have three more years here, hopefully. And when you have a season like this, it definitely makes you look forward to coming back and bouncing back for the next three years.”
Cubs fans used to hearing wait until next year have focused their attention on the minor-league system. Hyde joined the Cubs in December 2011 after working as a coordinator, minor-league manager and major-league bench coach with the Marlins.
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No one trusts the owner. On Opening Day, Bloomberg Businessweek ran this headline: “Why is the Marlins’ Jeffrey Loria the Most Hated Man in Baseball?” But the franchise does have a good track record of developing young talent (and two World Series titles).
At Epstein’s first Wrigley Field press conference in October 2011, he talked about recruiting “the best and the brightest” from other organizations. He didn’t want to simply recreate “The Boston Show.”
That’s why you saw first-year pitching coordinator Derek Johnson on Tuesday at Wrigley Field. Johnson had mentored future Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price at Vanderbilt University and resisted other opportunities in professional baseball before receiving an offer he couldn’t refuse.
It’s been a little more than a year since Hyde got promoted to farm director, enough time to absorb another draft class and another haul from the trade deadline.
“I’m upbeat about our system right now,” Hyde said. “We have three teams right now in the playoffs. Our prospects really, really improved over the course of the year. (Look at) where Baez came from the start to the finish.”
Baez generated 20 homers with 54 RBI in 54 games with Double-A Tennessee, running his season total to 37 and 111 with 98 runs scored and 20 stolen bases. There’s also the 40-plus errors at shortstop.
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“He’s got every tool possible to play there,” Hyde said. “Where that fits on our major-league club – I think that’s to be determined. That’ll be a later discussion. But Javy’s special talent-wise and still only 20 years old.
“There’s still some room to grow defensively and he’ll continue to improve with games played, more innings out there. But he’s got every tool possible to play shortstop, for sure.”
The Cubs placed five players on the Southern League’s end-of-season All-Star team, including Futures Game infielder Arismendy Alcantara and third baseman Christian Villanueva and pitcher Kyle Hendricks, two pieces from last summer’s Ryan Dempster deal with the Texas Rangers.
That’s with Soler and Almora missing months and months of development time while recovering from injuries before they play in the Arizona Fall League.
“You add those two into the mix of really interesting players,” Hyde said. “We’ve come a long way in a year.”
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Sooner or later, there will be enough chips to where the Cubs can make a run at a star like a Stanton or a Price and go all-in trying to swing the next Matt Garza deal. Because there are only so many Septembers where you can be 58-80 and talking about prospects.