[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.