While the Cubs wait for a conclusion to the Masahiro Tanaka situation and Jeff Samardzija trade rumors/extension talks wage on, fans mobbed the team's top prospects at the Cubs Convention.
After 197 losses in the first two years of Theo Epstein's tenure in Chicago, the fanbase is looking for some sign of hope, and the organization's farm system is a natural place to look.
But like all prospects, the Cubs' top players come with plenty of question marks. With Starlin Castro currently at shortstop, will Javier Baez eventually move off the position? How are international players like Jorge Soler adjusting to life in the U.S.? Will Arodys Vizcaino bounce back after losing two straight seasons to injury?
These are the burning questions on the minds of Cubs fans and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod took the time to address each query Sunday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.
As the Cubs head into Year 3 under Theo Epstein's front office, the organization's top prospects have dominated the headlines. Leading into spring training, CSNChicago.com will look toward the future and run down the potential impact players in the system.
[Prospect Watch: Cubs see big things for Vogelbach]
Castro has struggled in the field at times in his four-year career, but lowered his error total to 22 in 2013 while playing more than 1,400 innings. Baez has shown a penchant for highlight-reel plays in the minor leagues, but has struggled with the routine plays, committing 44 errors in just 123 games between Advanced Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee last year.
For now, the Cubs plan to keep Baez at shortstop, a position he will play for Triple-A Iowa in 2014.
"That's something we have to sit down and discuss if we want to see what he looks like at second base or another position," McLeod said. "Our hope is that he plays shortstop as long as he possibly can. We think he can for a while. He certainly has some things to clean up with the errors that were made last year."
If Baez continues to progress and eventually cracks the big-league lineup, something will have to give.
"It's a good problem to have, if it comes to that," McLeod said. "If he goes out and is having a very good year and the defense is tightened up and he gets better on his approach every day, then that will be a decision to make down the road.
"And I'm sure once we get to spring training, we'll sit down with [president Theo Epstein], [general manager Jed Hoyer] and the rest of the staff and see what the best way is to go about it."
While Baez had a breakthrough year, hitting 37 homers and emerging as one of the top power prospects in the game, Soler endured a tough 2013 season, getting benched in late April for not hustling and then suffering a leg injury in late June. But it was Soler's suspension in April that created a stir after he grabbed a bat and had to be restrained during a bench-clearing incident in Advanced Class-A.
2013 was the first full year in America for Soler, a big-bodied kid (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) from Cuba who is still trying to adapt to life in the states.
"We have what we like to call a Latin American cultural assimilation program that's overseen by a coordinator," McLeod said. "That touches on different aspects from mental skills on field, but primarily off-field and assimilating to the United States and how to make different types of decisions and choices.
"A lot of it has to do with communication and English language classes. An incident like that -- that's an isolated incident -- certainly, we took a lot of time with him and tried to communicate as much as possible because obviously he knew right away that wasn't the right thing to do. At the same time, we have to understand where he comes from and a lot of the way they play in Cuba with fire and passion and intensity, that's a different style.
"We're trying to share information and say 'this culture, the way the game is played and the way you conduct yourself, this is how you act as professionals here. It's a constant education and not just for him."
Vizcaino came to the Cubs organization around the same time as Soler -- in late July 2012 -- but has yet to make an impact. The 23-year-old right-hander hasn't pitched professionally since 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012 and dealing with complications in his elbow last season.
McLeod says the former top prospect is back on track after two years on the sidelines.
"We're taking it conservative with the rehab and he's still only 23," McLeod said. "When he's right and healthy, he has electric stuff and hopefully that stuff will return."