It's Opening Day at Wrigley Field, but that didn't stop Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts from fielding questions on the organization's top prospects.
In his pregame media session, Hoyer spent almost half his time talking about the minor leagues, providing updates on Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler.
These players are still months — or even years — away from Wrigley Field, but the focus in this market is on the future and the young guys coming up through the system. As he maneuvers the Wrigley renovation project and the potential sale of minority shares, Ricketts said he reads the organization's minor-league reports every day (which he admitted have been more interesting of late).
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Baez is the closest to the big leagues, kicking off his 2014 season with Triple-A Iowa Thursday night. Coming off a dominating 2013 campaign with 37 homers and 111 RBI in 130 games, the 2011 first-round pick once again turned heads during spring training.
But the Cubs are sticking to their guns and plan to keep Baez in the minors until at least mid-summer.
"I don't see us really wavering on that one," Hoyer said. "He does have that development left. We told him, 'Go dominate Iowa. If you dominate Iowa and you dominate Triple-A, you put the pressure on us.'
"[Anthony] Rizzo did that a couple years ago, where he just went down there and crushed the league and we called him up...I look forward to seeing [Baez] do that."
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The Cubs acquired Rizzo from the San Diego Padres before the 2012 season and the slugger tore up Triple-A to the tune of a 1.101 OPS before a mid-season call-up. The Cubs hope Baez will do the same thing, and aren't worried about him getting complacent in the minors.
"You've got a game every night. That would not be a good trait to get bored," Hoyer said. "For him, he's got a competition against the pitcher every night. I'd like to think his focus is going out and beating the opposing pitcher and making it hard on us.
"If he doesn't perform down there, then that's not going to make it hard on us. He's got to go compete."
Bryant, drafted two years after Baez, is on the fast track to the big leagues and the cries for the 2013 No. 2 pick to make his debut in Chicago this season only got louder after he drilled a two-run homer in his first Double-A at-bat Thursday. The shot was even more noteworthy given that it came off Reds starter Mat Latos, who was rehabbing with Pensacola.
"It's nice to see him do it against a big-leaguer," Hoyer said. "Sometimes in the minor leagues, you wonder who a guy is performing against. That was impressive and hopefully he'll keep it going.
There's almost no chance Bryant will be playing at Wrigley Field before 2015, but the Cubs are impressed with the way he's dominated at each level. After debuting at Arizona and a stint with short-season Boise, Bryant helped Advanced Class-A Daytona win a championship and then went on to take home the Arizona Fall League MVP Award.
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Soler, meanwhile, would like to forget his 2013 season. He played in just 55 games, suffering through injury, an incident where he grabbed a bat and charged the opposing dugout and a short stint on the bench after failing to hustle out a ground ball.
Hitting behind Bryant, Soler doubled in his first at-bat off Latos Thursday, but re-aggravated a hamstring injury and had to be removed from the game after the first inning. He was scheduled for an MRI Friday and was placed on the 7-day disabled list.
"Maybe he rushed back early to get to Opening Day or maybe it was just unfortunate that he did the same thing," Hoyer said.
"It's a shame because he hits a double in the gap off Latos to start his season. Hopefully we'll...get him back on the field soon."
Pitching prospect Pierce Johnson is also dealing with a hamstring issue and is expected to join Soler and Bryant in Double-A Tennessee when healthy.
Hoyer spoke about the optimism within the organization that the day is coming where the big-league club is the main focus, especially on the day of home opener.
But until then, the prospects will still be center stage.