Ready for impact: Cubs exec Jason McLeod is on the clock

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Ready for impact: Cubs exec Jason McLeod is on the clock

Jason McLeod checked into his new office at Clark and Waveland on Opening Day, knowing that he wouldnt be back for almost two months.

McLeod was on the clock, and planned to use his San Diego home as a temporary base while scouting the country. His job is to see the future, and envision what a 17-year-old high school kid might look like at the age of 27.

When Theo Epstein introduced McLeod and general manager Jed Hoyer at a stadium club news conference last November, the Cubs president delivered a line that still sticks in your head.

Jason McLeod is the rarest commodity in the industry, Epstein said. He is an impact evaluator of baseball talent.

At the podium that day, the new Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development sat next to Epstein, literally his right-hand man.

McLeod was a lead architect of the pipeline that brought Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard to Fenway Park. This is his time of year, what he calls our Super Bowl.

The Cubs entered Day 3 of their pre-draft meetings on Wednesday. They hold the sixth overall pick and four of the first 67 selections in the amateur draft that begins June 4. They have to get it right.

McLeod sees a draft thats rich in high school talent, particularly on the pitching side. The college class features some pitching depth, but is viewed as weak in terms of position players.

The Cubs will have to target pitching, because its the organizations biggest need. Team officials believe that you need power arms to get to the playoffs, and that they tend to show up more in the postseason. But you cant force it.

Its just straight impact, McLeod said. When we look up two, three, four years down the road, whos going to make the most significant difference on this organization? Thats the priority all the time.

The Cubs expect around 40 prospects to come through Chicago for final inspections, some local college players and some who might go first round.

Its not so much for the evaluation on-field, McLeod said. Its more to sit down and really look them in the face and ask some pretty pointed questions.

McLeod and Epstein did this years ago with the Boston Red Sox. On some level, its like the intense interview process that got Dale Sveum the managers job, where they want to see how you react and how you think things through.

The Cubs are going through thick binders filled with scouting reports on performance, personal background checks and medical records. This year they also gave their scouts cameras to create a video library.

Even Sveum has become another set of eyes and watched some video on certain prospects, to break down their swing mechanics and see what will play on the next level. Its all about information, which has been organized in the new Bloomberg computer system.

Back in spring training, when a reporter wondered where you can really make a difference Everyone talks to the coach and the parents, right? Epstein fired right back.

Do you talk to the equipment manager? Epstein said. Do you talk to the guidance counselor? Do you dig deep enough to find out when the kid has struggled and (faced) adversity? What (has been) his biggest failure? How (has) he bounced back from that failure?

Theres a lot of different ways to do it. Do you have a psychologist interview the kid? Do you have him take an objective test? Do you log your entire relationship with the kid, every bit of information that you get, so everyone in the draft room can share it and gain the insight?

The Cubs will have to exploit that advantage, because they cant just write checks to players who are perceived to be difficult to sign. The new collective bargaining agreement created a cap-and-tax system that assigns an aggregate signing bonus pool to each team.

Baseball America reported that the Cubs will draw from a pool of almost 8 million. One source suggested that it wouldnt have been unrealistic to think the Cubs would have spent three or four times that amount without those restrictions.

Id be lying if I didnt say everyones looking at: Is there a loophole in there somewhere? McLeod said. But really were not focusing too much of our attention to it. The CBA is what it is.

Were just trying to line up the board to get the best players we possibly can.

Epstein has compared his ideal vision of a front office to a think tank or a boiler room that argues everything out to reach a consensus.

There are around 20 staffers in the Chicago draft room now. A leading voice will be amateur scouting director Tim Wilken, a holdover from the Jim Hendry administration who once helped the Toronto Blue Jays draft Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter.

The one thing I like to tell everyone is: Lets check our egos at the door, McLeod said. Tim Wilkens one of the most respected scouts, probably of all-time. Im going to disagree with him, even though he has 30-plus years of experience. Hell disagree with me.

Everyone should have disagreements. Thats how we feel we get the most information out of the players were talking about.

Who has the authority to make the final call?

Theo, McLeod said with a smile. Hes our boss. He trusts us to do our job, and ultimately I think Theos going to go with our recommendation.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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