Theo Epstein on Jorge Soler, Minor League Affiliations, and Player Development

With the formal announcement of the Chicago Cubs’ re-affiliation at the Low-A level, switching from the Peoria Chiefs to the Kane County Cougars, team President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein spoke on a range of related topics. Among his thoughts (for which you can find exemplary source quotes here, here, and here):

  • On aligning with the Kane County Cougars, who play just 45 miles west of Chicago: “I’m a big fan of having as many affiliates as possible close by to the city. It creates a lot of efficiencies with rehabs. It allows front office and staff to see the team play a little more often. It also gives our players a feel for the market. Before there’s too much pressure on them, they get an understanding of how important baseball is and get to know the fans a little bit. It’s obviously good for the affiliate with a link to the hometown team. I hope it can be a win-win …. Just from my own experience in Boston when we had Pawtucket, Portland and Lowell nearby, I think there’s no replacing proximity.It’s an outstanding feature to have if you can have a number of affiliates close by.”
  • On leaving Peoria in favor of Kane County: “It’s never easy but [you] just try to handle things professionally. If you look, almost the whole Midwest League turned over and it’s par for the course these days.”
  • Theo added that, while the Cubs aren’t currently planning on having Kane County change its mascot from the “Cougars” to the “Cubs,” it is a possibility down the road, depending on how the teams want to market things.
  • On Jorge Soler participating in instructional ball rather than the Arizona Fall League: “We feel like he’s at a point in his development where he needs a lot of instruction. He hasn’t played a ton of quote-unquote ‘organized baseball’ and hasn’t gone through a Spring Training with the club yet. It’s not a question of talent. But there’s a lot about ‘The Cubs Way’ that we want to teach him. It’s a good chance to get one-on-one instruction. There are some small mechanical adjustments we want him to make in his swing with his stride direction [and] where he starts [and] loads his hands. Those types of adjustments are better made under the club’s supervision and in a one-on-one environment in instructional league, where you can use video day after day after day. It’s just a better environment for him to develop.” That just sounds so … smart. Yes. That. Do that.
  • On making minor league roster decisions: “[The decision] really happens in Spring Training but it depends on each player’s individual player development plan. There’s criteria for advancement and when they satisfy that criteria they move up. During Spring Training we have meetings where we get together and decide, fill out the rosters. It’s primarily what the right step is for each player’s development and then obviously sort of at the end of the roster you fill in other players to balance out the rosters as best you can.” If you think about it, that’s gotta be a really complicated process – you need to have a complete roster, but you also want certain guys at certain levels … but you’ve also got to make sure there are at bats/innings for them … but you’ve also got to make sure the right position is available for them … and on and on.
  • Relatedly, Theo added that we can expect to see a number of Boise’s top prospects – guys like Albert Almora, Dan Vogelbach, Gioskar Amaya, and on – start the year at Kane County, because that’s the next logical step up the ladder.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

26 responses to “Theo Epstein on Jorge Soler, Minor League Affiliations, and Player Development”

  1. Ash

    It’s going to be a fun year in Geneva! Time to start thinking about season tix…

  2. BD

    That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear about KC- looking forward to seeing the roster next spring!

    Is it OK for me to be more excited about next year’s Low-A team than I am about the big club?

    1. ssckelley

      Yes it is ok, that minor league team is the key to the Cubs future success.

    2. Dave H

      I’m trying to get a group together to buy season tickets. Gonna be a great year out in the burbs of Chicago next year!

    3. Kyle

      More or less exciting than the 1999 Lansing Lugnuts?

      That team featured the No. 16 overall prospect in all of baseball (who would move up to No. 3 after that season), Corey Patterson. (A recent high draft pick and epic CF prospect)

      Hee Seop Choi (an international free agent with major power potential)

      David Kelton (a recent 2nd-round pick with an intriguing bat and only 19)

      Jeff Goldbach (okay, we’re out of parallels, I don’t think we have a teenage catching prospect like him). Nate Frese was an intriguing middle infield guy, like every team has a bunch of then and now.

      That’s not quite as many hitting prospects as Kane County will have, but the quality was there. Plus, that team actually had pitching prospects. It included future MLBers Zambrano and Wuertz, plus Bruback was considered a pretty interesting draft-and-follow guy.

      1. The Dude Abides

        WOW – looks like a lot high draft picks. Funny I don’t remember any of those guys leaving a big footprint in the majors, except Big Z and to a certain degree Patterson. I thought all high draft and rated minor leagures made it big?

        1. hansman1982

          Remember…every player in the big leagues right now was a prospect at some point.

          1. DarthHater

            Every player in the big leagues was also an embryo at some point. Not sure that tells us a whole lot.

      2. Chris

        I would say more exciting than that Lugnuts team. Now if Bobby Hill was on the Lugnuts back then… Choi and Bruback were used to acquire guys like Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee. While not successful major leaguers, they played a significant role in the playoff appearances of 2003, 2007, and 2008. Patterson had a good first half in 2003, before his injury, so he contributed to one playoff run. Kelton might still be lingering as a 4A player somewhere for all I know. Goldbach didn’t make it much past AA, if I recollect. Obviously, Zambrano was a key player in all the recent playoff runs. Wuertz was a servicable relief pitcher with an out pitch. Without knowing ho’ll be in KC, it’s hard to say for certain. But I think Almora, Vogelbach, Amaya, Candelaria, Paniagua, Hernandez, Bruno, Johnson, and a few of the other pitchers might be a little more exciting. Really what’s more exciting is KC is 15 minutes from where I live, so I’ll be able to attend games frequently.

    4. DarthHater

      Is it OK for me to be more excited about next year’s Low-A team than I am about the big club?

      Yes , because the Low-A team is likely to be better than the big club.

  3. AB

    Brett, fangraphs has nice blurb today on top Cub prospects in the NWL

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/prospect-reports-boise-hawks/

  4. Timmy

    “We’re not going to try for two years, but hey pay $50 for a ticket and $7 for a beer anyway; I’ll watch the game from my expensive club box and go back to my million dollar condo while you waste your hard earned money.”

    1. Chris

      Who are you quoting? We don’t have to go to games. In fact, I haven’t gone to any games this season. I watch them on TV, if I’m not busy. But I’m not paying the prices for those tickets. I’m still a fan, and I believe in what they are doing, but the expense is too costly even when they’re winning to go to Wrigley these days.

    2. Hee Seop Chode

      I go. I have fun. Too expensive? Don’t go.

      1. Timmy

        I won’t.

  5. Timmy

    Paraphrase of Epstein’s approach. There’s plenty of money in the organization. If they’re not spending it to win, the owners are merely pocketing it. And it’s a guarantee it’s not going to go to future seasons or ticket price reductions. I see no reason not to pick up a few good free agents while building the farm system. No other big-market team with dignity would sabotage all future seasons for the discernable future for the possibility of someday competing.

    1. Cubbie Blues

      Actually they already have said the budget rolls over to the next year.

  6. Ben (BG2383)

    I know it is too early to really know, but do you guys expect Soler to start next season in Daytona? I wish he was ready for TN, but that seems like quite a jump.

    1. Drew7

      Thought I read a tweet earlier saying Epstein thought he’d start back in A-Ball (Kane-County).

      I think I’d have to agree with him -Soler only logged 88 PA’s there. No sense in giving the guy whip-lash going through system.

      1. Ben (BG2383)

        Thank you….You are probably right, I guess I was hoping for him to be a level higher. There is no sense in rushing him though.

    2. Chris

      I would guess Soler will probably start in Daytona, but it will depend on what his progress is by the Spring. I head the full quote from Theo and he didn’t specify where Soler would be. Someone asked the question and he said it isn’t a guarantee that Soler would be in KC, that those decisions are made in the spring. Then he went on to talk about how many of the guys from the team in Boise would be in KC, so that team should be pretty good. I’d love to see Soler in Daytona with Baez to start 2013. While I live near KC, the little I saw of Soler while with Peoria told me he might be ready to move on from the Midwest league. I think Theo/Jed want players to have a certain # of AAA at bats, but that rule is probably enforced more as a way to extend control on a player for an extra season, Rizzo being the example.

      1. Drew7

        “the little I saw of Soler while with Peoria told me he might be ready to move on from the Midwest league.”

        You could be right, but the little I saw of him told me he he’d probably benefit from staying in the Midwest League. Baez was a man-among-boys at Peoria, and he also had nearly twice the PA’s when he was promoted.

        That said, Brett’s right – the big factor in that decision is probably going to be how he looks in instructionals and in the Spring. If it were mid-season right now, I don’t think there’s any way he’d be ready.

        1. Chris

          That’s kind of what I said too, exactly one minute before Brett weighed in… My first sentence referenced what happens in the spring. Let me put it another way… I predict he’ll play in Daytona to start 2013. That will require some growth during instructionals on his part, but that’s my prediction. And he and Baez will be awesome…

  7. someday...2015?

    Oh I can’t wait for next year! I live right next to the Cougars stadium and can’t wait to go see all the young Cubbie minor leaguers. I hope Soler starts off at KC so I can see him play in person, but I have a feeling he starts off at Daytona next year. Almora, Vogelbach, and Soler would be an awesome 3,4,5 for KC.