Cubs front office believes the foundation has been laid

Cubs front office believes the foundation has been laid
October 4, 2013, 11:15 pm
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Tony Andracki

You can't put a price on convenience.

Especially when that convenience allows Cubs fans the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the future.

As the big-league club marched toward a 96-loss season, fans in the Chicagoland area could turn their attention to the prospects playing for the Kane County Cougars just 40 miles from Wrigley Field.

[The Foundation: Rock Shoulders is a name to remember]

As an organization, the Cubs have not had a minor-league affiliate that close to Chicago. Prior to the 2013 season, the closest place fans could catch a glimpse of Cubs prospects was 160 miles south, in Peoria, Ill.

"It was some of what we expected," said Jason McLeod, Cubs director of scouting and player development. "It's always really beneficial and convenient, of course, to have an affiliate right down the road.

"We had that somewhat in San Diego, where we had one of our teams an hour north. In Boston, we had three teams within two hours. The ability to hop out of the office to get down there to an affiliate, whether it's just to see a game or deal with something going on in the clubhouse, a player move, the rehab aspect of it when Scott Baker was down there, it's a real convenience.

"And then on top of that, you got the relationships we're building with the people in Kane County. It makes it exciting. And then the fans. Seeing a lot of Cougars and Cubs jerseys out in the crowd was great."

The Cougars didn't fare much better than their parent club with a 55-80 record, but fans got to see names such as Albert Almora, Dan Vogelbach and Pierce Johnson play at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva.

[The Foundation: Vogelbach leaves his mark on Kane County Cougars]

It was beneficial for the players, too, as they got to experience this Cubs market firsthand, dealing with expectations and the full weight of a fanbase itching for a championship amidst a 105-year drought.

"I think it was great for those guys this year -- especially for the 'prospect' guys that are getting more of the attention -- to see it somewhat and to have the media so close," McLeod said.

"IIt was a great learning tool for those players that are going to be up here in the next few years. They've at least gotten to experience the market. They've gotten to watch the local newscasts and media and gotten to watch most of our games on WGN or CSN.

"It has been a training tool of sorts for them, and they can understand what we talk about in the offseason with the rookie program or what we discussed in spring training. I think it's been really good."

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It wasn't just high-profile prospects donning the Cougars/Cubs hybrid logo. Fans got a chance to witness MLB veterans like Baker, Ryan Sweeney and Luis Valbuena make rehab stints in Kane County as well as 2013 Draft selections like infielder Giuseppe Papccio (18th round) and pitchers Rob Zastryzny (second round) and Tyler Skulina (fourth round).

Kris Bryant, the No. 2 overall selection in June, bypassed the Cougars and went straight to High-A Daytona, where he joined forces with Vogelbach in the middle of a powerful lineup during a thrilling championship run.

When Vogelbach was promoted in August, Trevor Gretzky took his spot on the Cougars roster and brought with him some star power when his father, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, showed up in Geneva for the last series of the season.

[The Foundation: Trevor Gretzky paves his own way]

Next year, Almora will likely join Johnson and Vogelbach in the higher ranks of the Cubs' system, but 2013 third-round pick Jacob Hannemann could be roaming center field in Kane County with Zastryzny, Skulina and Trey Masek (fifth round) leading the pitching staff as the Cubs continue to try to build waves and waves of talent.