Last year, after a swirl of injuries in the infield, the Chicago Cubs called up hot-hitting infielder DJ LeMahieu. At the time, his was among the hottest bats in the Minor Leagues, and his future with the Cubs looked modestly bright. Coming up at that time and snagging some starts while they were available made some sense for a kid who might be the future at third or second base down the road. So the Cubs called him up.

And Mike Quade parked him on the bench.

LeMahieu was with the big club on May 30, and didn’t start regularly until June 19. Until then, he got a whopping 17 plate appearances, and just three starts. It was frustrating, confusing, and ultimately fruitless, as LeMahieu’s cooled bat had no success from June 19 to 27, when he was sent back down to the minors. After being sent down to AAA, LeMahieu hit just .286/.328/.366 in the hitting-friendly PCL.

I’m not saying there’s a causal element there (LeMahieu may have struggled anyway, the Cubs may have looked to move him anyway, etc.). I’m just pointing out that it was an incredibly frustrating time for those of us who want to see Cubs prospects playing every day.

Why am I telling the LeMahieu/Quade story? Because it sounds like new manager Dale Sveum has a slightly better appreciation for playing prospects regularly.

When asked about top prospect Brett Jackson making the team out of Spring Training, Sveum knocked it out of the park.

“I don’t think you’re ever going to have a kid like [Jackson] not play,” Sveum said. “He hasn’t played a full year in AAA. He’s either going to make the team and play every day, or he’s going to be in AAA.”

Boom. Nice. That is exactly what I wanted to hear.

For good measure, Sveum added that Jackson wouldn’t even be a great fit as a reserve, because “we have a heck of bench. With [Blake] DeWitt and Reed Johnson and [Jeff] Baker, we’ve probably got as good a bench as there is in the National League.”

I’ll allow you a moment to hesitate on Sveum’s mention of DeWitt as already on the bench (if asked, I doubt he’d confirm that – I think he was just speaking quickly from the top of his head, as he did when he listed potential starting pitchers. I don’t think he’s saying DeWitt is definitely on the team at this point.), before returning to the overall point.

This is good news. This is a manager who understands organizational priorities over his own, personal quest for marginal improvement in April. Sure, the team is ever-so-slightly better with Jackson on the bench than, say, Dave Sappelt. But, in the long-term, the organization could be much worse off, not only because it could stunt Jackson’s development, but also because it could cost the Cubs a year of control of Jackson. Absent a trade, then, Jackson is almost certain to start the year at AAA.

Well done, Dale.

(I know that the difference in prospect-dom between Jackson and LeMahieu is significant. But, at the time of his promotion, many saw LeMahieu as a future starter for the Cubs. That’s the point here. I’m not comparing the two.)

  • MichiganGoat

    Damn you just had to remind us of how bad Q-ball was as a manager. Geez thanks.

    • Brian

      Make the flashbacks stop, please!!

    • SouthernCub

      Not as bad as Crusty………( ring a bell?!

  • elephanthole

    That made me so mad last year at the end of the season when Quade played his regulars instead of the young guys that the Cubs brought up. That’s what a losing season is for, to see what your prospects can do. Don’t you think Hendry or Ricketts could have stepped in and said “Hey dumb-ass play some prospects”?

  • Edwin

    I guess when it comes to the Cubs, I’m less concerned with keeping that extra 1 year of control, and more concerned with prospect development. If Brett Jackson still has skills that can be developed in the minor leagues, then fine. I have no problem with him starting at AAA to work on things. But if he’s the best outfielder on the team (which he very well could be), and there’s nothing left to learn by keeping him in the minors, I’d rather he be on the big league team. The sooner he starts playing in the bigs, the sooner we find out what kind of player he is.

    • hansman1982

      Then it comes down to who do you sit while Jackson plays every day and would having Jackson in the Majors for 30 days this season be more beneficial than an extra year of control and the millions that might represent?

      For the first part of my question you could either sit a guy that you just recently signed as a free agent, or two guys you REALLY want to trade in about 4 months. If you stick Byrd on the bench you are royally screwing yourself in terms of getting anything out of him at the deadline. If you stick Soriano on the bench, you have just resigned yourself to either releasing him or having him as a bench player for the next 3 years.

      To my second part, even if we were able to move Byrd in Spring Training, I would MUCH rather see Jackson be sent down for at least 30 days to get that extra year or even wait until his super two eligibility runs out and see what a Dave Sappelt could do with full-time duties, maybe he lights it up and you can move him at the deadline for something. If he plays poorly, well no harm no foul in what looks to be a non-contention year.

      • Edwin

        I agree with your reasoning, I just think we disagree on values. I don’t see the Cubs getting much for Byrd, so I wouldn’t mind the Cubs platooning him with DeJesus. It might hurt Byrd’s trade potential, but the Cubs probably won’t get much for him anyways. For that matter, Soriano’s value is low enough that it might make more sense to release him and put Byrd in LF.

    • JB88

      I understand what you are writing, but that isn’t the way I’d want a business run if I were a shareholder. I want to maximize my assets at the points they should be best managed. As a fan I understand that we all want ownership to spend big dollars, and it should when practical, but why waste a year of control on Jackson when that could cost you substantial dollars (read millions) later? Especially when those millions could be reinvested in other players?

      To draw an analogy, a football writer on ESPN was bemoaning the Saints’ use of the franchise tag on Drew Brees. Basically, the writer was saying it was a bad move, because the Saints had all the incentive and time to sign Brees, but couldn’t and now had to use the franchise tag on him versus on Colston or Nicks. The point was that now the Saints, because of poor management, were going to lose 2 stars when all they needed to lose, potentially, was one.

      Same deal with Jackson, in my mind. Why lose a year of his service and the resources that go into that as well as the player (or players) you could sign with the spare dollars NOT spent on Jackson if you lose that year of service time? I know most want to know what the Cubs have, but that is not down-the-road thinking IMO. Hendry’s live-for-the-moment approach really didn’t serve the Cubs well in the long run and it is not the most efficient way to maximize resources on a baseball team IMO.

      • CubFan Paul

        if Jackson is the player we think he will be, then service time will Not matter. same for Castro who will be signed to an extension before the season or next winter instead of over paying year to year

    • Michael

      Glad to see Edwin gets it. Since we’re rebuilding, and Jed loves young players, give him CF. We have nothing to lose. Even if he struggles, keep playing him. Keeping Rizzo and Jackson in AAA only delays being competitive.

  • Ryan

    Do you think part of it had to do with the fact that Quade knew he was on a short leash anyway? I mean, by the end, it seemed like he was playing veterans in order to win more games so he could keep his job. Unfortunately, that may have screwed up LeMahieu in the process.

    • Brett

      It absolutely had to do with that. In fact, it may have entirely been that.

      • JB88

        Ironically, I think if Quade had gotten “it” and played the prospects versus trying to win more games, there was a much better chance of him at least receiving an interview to hang onto his job than the very substantial boot he got instead.

        • Brett

          Ha. Yeah.

        • DocWimsey

          Probably not. Quade wasn’t the type of manager that Theo would hire: Quade was very old-school in his approach. In short, his idea of “fundamentals” and Epstein’s idea of “fundamentals” are quite different.

          I think that Ryan has the right of it. Quade’s mandate last year was (like Hendry’s) pretty simple: win now or go home. Sveum’s mandate is completely different: help develop a team to win in 2014. Giving Sveum security gives him the freedom to do things that are worse for the Cubs now in the hopes that they lead to better things for the Cubs later.

          As for LeMaheiu, he wasn’t “screwed up” by the process: baseball players take longer breaks for injuries and winter than he took. He’s a guy with very low isoD and isoP, which means his BA will fluctuate substantially over short periods of time due to luck and fielding. Like Quade, DJ is not a Theo-type of baseball material: no pop and low OBP’s barely better than his BA.

        • farmerjon

          I was just wondering if that was a question that theo asked Q when he visited him in Florida, “mike, why didn’t you play the kids?”.

    • EQ76

      Agreed… I don’t think Quade is an idiot at all, I think he was coaching for himself, not the organization.. he was trying to win games, as many as possible in that pathetic season, to save his future.. starting vets was his best bet to do that even though starting the young guys was what was best for the organization.

      If only we could have moved Pena & Ramirez last year, we could have got some prospects back and had a better idea of what we had with guys like LaHair.. too bad. Either way, we’re on the right track now!

    • King Jeff

      That is absolutely the reason. There is a huge difference between the attitude that Quade brought to the table and the way Svuem is handling things. I think part of that is just from the regime change, but the most outstanding part of it is that this version of the Cubs seems to have a long term plan and is worried more about teaching, learning from mistakes, and sustained organizational success than they are about saving their jobs and making incumbent veterans happy.

  • cccubfan

    So far Sveum has really impressed me with the way he is handling things. Yes, he gets it…I still think we are in for some surprises in 2012 and I can’t wait…

  • BD

    Well played, Mr. Sveum.

  • Chaz

    Let’s not get on Dale’s nuts too much this early. He has yet to coach a regular season game for us and in Quades defense, do you think it was him who called up DJ last year? Probably not and at that time Barney was hitting quite well.
    I don’t care for Quade as much as the next guy but let’s not go overboard here.

    • Brett

      Dale’s nickname is “Nuts.” I know that’s totally unresponsive to your comment, but you said Dale and nuts. So I thought of his nickname. And his nuts.

    • King Jeff

      Barney was hitting less than quite well when DJ was called up. He was pretty worn down by the end of the year and giving LeMahieu a few starts in early June would have helped a lot and gotten a young guy some consistent plate appearances.

  • Spencer

    I really don’t have a problem with DeWitt having a place on the roster (as a bench player), unless someone else really comes out and wows everyone. He’s had a good spring so far, albeit just three games in.

  • Troy

    So glad Quade is gone. I was happy he got the job at first, but he really blew it. How he has spent this much time in baseball and not seemed to learn a thing is beyond me.

    • DocWimsey

      Nobody could have turned the 2011 Cubs into even a 0.500 team, never mind a competitive one. The Cubs trademark last year was to fall behind immediately (only 3 teams gave up more 1st inning runs) and then struggle to come back with no OBP and low slugging.

  • Chris

    Great article, great point, and I also agree entirely.

    Also, see Tyler Colvin (former half of 2011 season, at least)

    • djriz

      so true, plus with colvin we got the chance to see steve stone do a ‘smackdown’ on lou!

  • die hard

    Appears Sveum favors veterans? Didnt Quade have the same fault? If Quade is listening then his ears must be burning.