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albert almora kane county[Your final substantive installment from this weekend’s Cubs Convention. Previously, I discussed the financial question, the TV deal question, and the renovation/rooftop question. Don’t be deceived by the info dump format; there is a great deal of very important stuff in these posts. You are strongly advised to read them all, because they shape narratives/opinions/positions/beliefs going forward.]

While the overarching financial story – which is impacted by each of the three previous write-ups today – shaped the mood of the Convention, the players remained the stars. That is particularly true of the top prospects in attendance, who sat on their own panel to a packed house. The tension between marketing the youngsters as the future of the team (which they legitimately are) and not casting upon them the weight of “savior” was palpable. Editorial comment: for seriously, Cubs, please have a few notable veterans on the roster when these kids start coming up in waves. If there aren’t highly-visible vets on which media/fans can focus their laser gaze, the pressure on these players when they come up will be absurd.

  • … it’ll be like a profoundly more aggressive version of the attention/pressure Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson faced when they were called up in the second half of 2012 to play on a struggling team. Theo Epstein addressed the decision to call those two up when the Cubs did, given that each struggled in different ways after the call-up. On Jackson, Epstein said that the timing of the call-up was tied to Dale Sveum’s desire to work with Jackson on certain swing issues, and the timing of the Vitters call-up was about letting Vitters see some big league pitching since he’d hit so well at AAA Iowa that year. With respect to Jackson, at least, Epstein indicated it was probably a mistake to call him up when they did.
  • On those two players, Jason McLeod said they’d be in camp this year competing, and we’ll see what happens. McLeod mentioned that Vitters remains younger than most people think (24), and he’s always been able to hit. Sounds like there’s still some hope there. (Which is not necessarily to exclude Jackson.)
  • When McLeod was asked about prospects in the system that he saw as potential future impact players, he mostly begged off the question, mentioning the “Core Four” (it’s Big Four, Jason). In the process, he mentioned Arismendy Alcantara and Jeimer Candelario. He wasn’t exactly saying that they’re up there with the Big Four, but as he was going down the line, using the question as a spring board to mention additional prospects that the staff is excited about, those were the two names at the tip of his tongue.
  • McLeod also spent considerable time dolling out praise, apropos of nothing, on Christian Villanueva, whom he thinks is frequently overlooked when people discuss Cubs prospects (I said the same back in December). McLeod said Villanueva was “hands down” the best defensive third baseman in the system, and had a great year with the bat as a young guy at AA last year.
  • In an almost exasperated tone – but in a very, very good way – McLeod called Javier Baez’s 2013 season “ridiculous.” It was kind of a head-shaking, can-you-believe-he-did-what-he-did way of saying it. I got goosebumps.
  • Arodys Vizcaino isn’t quite back to 100% yet, according to McLeod, but he’s on track for this year. I’m assuming we’ll see him throwing in Spring Training, and the Cubs will evaluate where he is at that point. It seems likely that he’ll start the year in the minors and in the bullpen.
  • First baseman Dustin Geiger got some under-the-radar love from McLeod, who likes the power in the bat, and says Geiger had a great season at High-A where he was age appropriate, or maybe a touch young, for the league.
  • Albert Almora was particularly impressive at the prospect panel, willing to step in an answer questions without hesitation. Just an impressive presence for a 19-year-old in front of hundreds of anxious fans.
  • As for the big league club, don’t be surprised to hear that it wasn’t discussed all that much. Ricky Renteria (everyone called him Ricky, by the way) described last year’s Luis Valbuena/Donnie Murphy platoon at third base (with a little Cody Ransom in there, too) as very successful, so don’t be surprised if that’s the plan at third base again this year if Mike Olt doesn’t win the gig outright. It also gave me some confidence that RR will be pro-platoons – of course, with this roster, how could you not be?
  • RR said that Jose Veras will enter the year as the Cubs’ closer. It was very much a that’s that kind of thing. Given the potential for Veras to become a flip candidate if he performs well as a closer, that’s fine by me.
  • Justin Grimm told Mark Gonzales that, for now, the Cubs have told him to continue preparing as a starter. Something to keep in mind with Grimm: although he has two MLB-quality pitches and the kind of velocity that could make him an excellent late-inning reliever, it wasn’t but a year ago that he was among the Rangers’ top starting pitching prospects. Injuries forced him to the big leagues, possibly a year early, and maybe he could stand to get a little more seasoning at AAA Iowa in a starting role. If he masters a quality third pitch, Grimm still has middle-of-the-rotation upside in the bigs. You don’t pass on that until you have to. (Which, of course, is not to say that a stay in the bullpen in his younger years precludes a move back to the rotation eventually. The Rays and Cardinals have been doing that kind of thing for years.)
  • No one asked about an extension for, or the possibility of trading, Jeff Samardzija. Not that the front office would have said anything worthwhile, but color me very surprised that it didn’t come up.
  • The past players receiving the biggest ovation (besides Ernie Banks) at the Opening Ceremonies: Derek Lee, Ted Lilly, and Mark Prior. The loudest ovation among the current players was probably Anthony Rizzo, followed by Darwin Barney.
  • Diehardthefirst

    So now we know one reason Sveum was let go- he cared too much- maybe we’ve been too harsh on Sveum

    • Jason P

      Wut?

      • Diehardthefirst

        He stuck his neck out trying to help Jackson when he didn’t have to- that counts for a lot

  • http://www.ehanauer.com clark addison

    After some of the trash that was thrown at Prior on the internet, i’t good to see the fans finally appreciating him. It took big cojones for him to come back so soon after two arm injuries, and that’s what ruined his career.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Sadly, the Chicago sports media probably will never collectively apologize for effectively slandering and libeling him for all of those seasons.

      • Voice of Reason

        Its a two way street. Mark prior wasn’t a nice person.

        There are a lot of baseball players to stick up for when you think they’re not or were not treated fairly.

        Mark prior is not one of those guys.

        • Edwin

          How so? I’ve got to say I’ve never really heard that about Mark. What did he do?

    • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

      Was my favorite Cub growing up and I’ll always have a soft spot for him

  • mjhurdle

    “McLeod also spend considerable time dolling out praise, apropos of nothing, on Christian Villanueva, whom he thinks is frequently overlooked when people discuss Cubs prospects (I said the same back in December).”

    #HumbleBrag :)

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Definitely. It would have been better if I didn’t have the typo, though.

    • Cornish Heat

      Brett’s very good at doing that ;)

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    Well here we have Candelario getting high praise. I can see how he would be attrctive to this FO since he is a switch hitter and seems to have a good approach at the plate. And then McLeod goes onto say that Villanueva is the best fielder at that position in the system. Holy crap do we have an over load of third base talent! Add Baez, Bryant and Olt to that mix and we have 5 quality third base prospects in the system assuming thay Olt doesn’t fizzle. Considering that FA’s at that position have been scarce as hens teeth, we are in a great position to possibly convert some of that to a frontline starter. Add to that Alcantara and it makes me wonder where Bryant and Baez will be playing. My guess is that Castro is the odd man out. Don’t be surprised to se him shopped before the allstar break. There was already talk of teams being interested this winter. I think that maybe tomorrow we might hear some news on Tanaka.. Some are saying that he will have to under go an extensive physical for whatever team he chose on wednesday so that thursday they an ink the contract. Whether or not he comes to Chicago or not, I am pleased by the reports that ownership really made a huge effort to get this guy. It also explains why little was done during the winter meetings too. My fear is that the yankees will match or better our offer. But if Tanaka is smart he will realize that they are an over the hill club with no prospects in their system. Let’s get it over already.

  • Cubsin

    I thought he was holding up Barbies with the players’ names on them or something.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    Adding to my last post I would say that Castro along with Villanueva or Candelario would do wonders for a team with a weakness on the left side of the infield and a surplus of major league pitching prospects. We could give up Castro and one of those other two guys and not miss a beat on the rebuild.

  • Cubsin

    I actually prefer “Core Four” over “Big Four.” Even better, add Rizzo, Castro and Castillo and call them the “Core Seven.” Then let Olt and Alcantara battle it out for the eighth spot and add Vogelbach when the DH rule comes to the NL.

    • http://BleacherNation blewett

      I like “Core Four”, too. I was there in the front row when he said it! The things that surprised me at that panel were:
      1) The praise of Dustin Geiger (who I had never heard of)
      2) The praise of Christian Villanueva (who I previously thought was a fairly mediocre prospect) and
      3) The statement that Justin Grimm was throwing 97 MPH in College!

      I was a little disappointed noone asked about our international prospects (Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres, etc.) and noone brought up the upcoming 2014 draft, in which we have the #4 overall pick.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        As for Dustin Geiger, he went through the Prospects Progress treatment last month.

        http://www.bleachernation.com/2013/12/10/prospects-progress-dustin-geiger/

        Villanueva has not been Progressed this year, and probably won’t be to be honest, but he’s been covered pretty extensively in the Daily during the season. I had him at #22 (I think) in the farm system at mid-season, but I think he’ll come up from that when I redo the rankings in a few weeks.

        It really is too early to start talking about the 2013 international free agents or the 2014 draft. In the first case, there’s not a lot to say other than that the Cubs liked the guys (which is sort of obvious from the fact that the Cubs signed them), and in the later case a lot is going to change before draft day.

  • JulioZuleta

    “loudest ovation among the current players was probably Anthony Rizzo, followed by Darwin Barney”

    As Cubs fans, we have a tendency to worship the worst hitter on the team…it’s odd. Augie Ojeda, Tony Campana, Darwin Barney… Don’t get me wrong, all three of those guys seem to be pretty cool dudes and seemed to be well-liked by teammates, it’s just strange.

  • DarthHater

    Here’s what Jed Hoyer had to say at the time of the Jackson call-up (as reported by BN):

    “GM Jed Hoyer isn’t concerned with the further development of Jackson and Vitters being an issue with these promotions. ‘I think it’ll be a good experience for both of these guys,’ Hoyer said. ‘They get a chance to come up and get a taste of the big leagues. They can help us win for sure and they also can figure out what they need to do up here to have success. If they have success, wonderful, and if they struggle a little bit, hopefully they’ll learn from those struggles and spend the offseason learning from those things. I don’t see a downside for either of those guys as far as their development goes in coming up here and experiencing what the big leagues is about.’

    Hoyer added a nice parable from his experience with Anthony Rizzo in San Diego. ‘We had that with Rizzo in San Diego,’ Hoyer explained. ‘He came up and struggled and spent the whole winter working on [those] things and it’s obviously really helped him this time around.’ We’ll have to keep that in mind if we see either or both of Jackson and Vitters scuffling this year.”

    Sounds like Theo should consider getting rid of that Hoyer guy. :-P

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      And then Vitters spent most of 2013 on the DL (although he put up some quite good numbers when he did play), and Jackson went on to have a terrible season.

      I think Hoyer could stand by what he originally said per Vitters. Nothing about that major league callup caused the injuries.

      But, yeah, Jackson’s call up really looks bad about now.

      • Napercal

        It could be that Jackson is not a good player.

  • jeff1969

    I’ve been surprised at how Grimm had been largely dismissed by the Cubs fans. He was good-bad for Texas last year as a starter, the game I saw him he was pretty good, struck out 9 White Sox in 6.2, gave up 6 hits, 4 walks, and in his first 50 + innings as a starter he did fairly well, especially considering he had been rushed up to the Rangers rotation after being their #4 or 5 prospect coming into 2013 and hadn’t cracked AAA yet coming in. He sucked for the Rangers the rest of the way, but he’s a decent lottery ticket as is Neil Ramirez who came in the same trade. He struggled in the minors every other year, but is also still a very intriguing prospect. The Cubs entire return for Garza is a huge gamble, but it’s one that could really pay off huge. That’s worth a dozen late season starts out of Matt Garza.

  • SenorGato

    I almost expect Villanueva to pass Opt this spring. I like Villanueva a lot and wonder how much super sub potential he has…They will be needing one for the future winning Cubs.

    • Scotti

      If Olt is healthy then he’s the guy who gets the MLB AB this year. At least until Bryant comes along (IMO, NOT in 2014 in any meaningful way). Is Olt really establishes himself (not a given even with good health) then he pushes Bryant to OF and Soler and Bryant can figure out who’s in RF and who’s in LF.

      • http://benjaminlaw.com Kevin

        I agree with that completely

      • SenorGato

        Olt needs to be more than healthy. If he and the Cubs can get him hitting then he’ll get a ML job. He wasnt a slam dunk at his best in 2012 so he needs to get something going. Id take .240/.310/.400 if he can can get it.

  • http://BN Sacko

    What I remember about Vitters/Jackson got a lot of opportunities to start and then came off the bench. They looked very bad in both situations. Why didn’t they get sent back down even if Sveum thought he could he could fix them?

    • Scotti

      No more MiLB in September. And Jackson did have a really good looking two-week stretch in there.

  • JM

    If he starts hitting home runs, can we call it the “Geiger Counter”?

    • ClevelandCubsFan

      Yes. We. Can. In fact that’s so awesome it doesn’t really matter what stat we use. We can track hia errors for all I care. I just want a Geiger Counter at Wrigley Field.

    • baldtaxguy

      Absolutely, well done.

  • Napercal

    I appreciate your comment about the Cubs having notable veterans on the team. That is why I would have liked to see them sign someone like Curtis Granderson this off-season. He’s a solid guy who plays the right way. He’s played for winning teams. He (or someone like him) would be a good guy to have around when the young guys come up. It will cost the Cubs some money to sign a guy like that, but the payroll is so low right now and these young guys will be paid close to the minimum when they come up that the Cubs can absorb the cost. They can ease these young guys into their roles.

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