I have returned home after a long, Cubs-packed weekend at the 2013 Cubs Convention. More on that later – by which I mean the “meta” version of the visit – but I want to catch you up on the substantive bits from yesterday’s ‘Down on the Farm’ panel, featuring Scouting and Player Development Chief Jason McLeod, Farm Director Brandon Hyde, Director of Pro Scouting Joe Bohringer, Josh Vitters, and Chris Rusin. It’s perennially one of the best panels, and this year’s was no exception.
Among the substantive information discussed …
- Hyde talked about this past week’s Rookie Development Camp, and said the primary focus was helping the young players understand what it is going to be like when they make it to the big leagues. So, again, the inclusion of Javier Baez says a lot about how quickly they expect him to rise through the ranks. McLeod added that Kerry Wood and Mark Prior addressed the youngsters about the transition to the big leagues (about which we heard last week), which he thought was the perfect duo to speak about pressure, hype, and performing.
- McLeod described the ‘Player Plan’ that each minor league player has – it sounded a lot like a corporate employee file – which documents his strengths, weaknesses, things he needs to focus on, etc. The plan is shared with the player so they know what the development guys think they need to be doing.
- Bohringer described the four things a prospect generally needs to have to be considered a starting pitcher long-term: at least three quality pitches, a repeatable delivery, the ability to throw strikes with consistency, and a starting pitcher’s frame.
- Hyde said something I’ve been saying for years: you don’t move a prospect off of a higher defensive position (SS and CF are the two main ones that come up) until it becomes absolutely necessary, because you want to preserve that prospect’s value (which, yes, includes trade value). If you’re a quality shortstop or center fielder by trade, moving to a lesser defensive position (say, 3B or LF, respectively) can be accomplished in a relatively short time. See, for example, Manny Machado taking over at third base immediately for the Orioles after not having really played it much in the minors.
- McLeod says the leap between High-A and AA is the biggest in the minors, and it’s where some guys really get separated (because “at that point, you’re really just a phone call away from the big leagues”).
- Hyde couldn’t say enough good things about the Baez/Almora/Soler trio, saying they have off the charts tools, etc. He also said they’ve been working out in Miami (though obviously Baez was in Chicago for the last week), and all are in great shape.
- Hyde also defended Vitters, saying he was great in AAA at a young age in 2012, and his call-up actually helped him learn some things (speaking of preserving value … ).
- McLeod said that new Pitching Coordinator Derek Johnson is a proponent of long toss, but he isn’t married to it. Johnson recognizes that long toss isn’t for every pitcher, and the program has to be tailored to the individual.
- Bohringer said that, if Arodys Vizcaino comes back to where he was pre-Tommy John surgery, he’s going to be a huge part of the Cubs going forward.
- Hyde says that Dan Vogelbach has been in Arizona, working on his body. But he noted that Vogelbach is actually a very athletic young man, who could wind up being a good one defensively. He mentioned the possibility of a move off of first base (though no position was mentioned, you’d have to assume the only other plausible option is left field (again, I think this was more about preserving value than an actual belief that Vogelbach can become a passable left fielder or a quality first baseman)).
- Hyde suggested that the Cubs don’t have any kind of hardline position on the age at which a prospect is called up, but he emphasized that the big leagues are very challenging physically. A player tends to tell you by his performance when he’s ready, Hyde said.
- The inclusion of Vitters and Rusin on the panel was interesting, given their relative (perceived) status in the organization. Was it a reflection of them being better thought-of than we have been led to believe? Was it merely a matter of scheduling convenience? Probably something on that end of the spectrum. Each said he was working on his core strength, by the way, to last longer in the season.