Back in the dog days of the rebuild, Cubs Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod’s name came up quite a bit in passing. In fact, I always conceptualized the top of the Cubs front office as a pyramid hierarchy, with Theo Epstein as the point and Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod making up the base.
Lately, we haven’t heard too much from or about McLeod – except any time a GM opening reveals itself, then he’s all the rage – as the fan focus has shifted, understandably, away from the minors and onto the big league team. But McLeod remains a critical Cubs executive, and he deserves a ton of credit for that 2016 World Series. He also deserves attention when he speaks, and that’s just what he did with David Kaplan on ESPN 1000.
You can catch the full interview right here, I’ll cover some of the highlights below.
- To begin, Kaplan asked McLeod point-blank: which prospects should fans be excited about? And before I get to his answer, I just want to point out that it was a pretty sobering question when you think about it. Obviously (OBVIOUSLY) the Cubs’ weak farm system has a very good explanation for its dragging – the World Series banner and loads of young cost-controlled talent in the big leagues – but there was never a time when we didn’t even know which guys we’re supposed to be excited about.
- According to McLeod, though, that’s understandable. In addition to all the graduations, the trades of Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, Jeimer Candelario, and Isaac Paredes put a hole in the Cubs top *upper level* prospects, who tend to be more visible and familiar to fans. But while those losses all sting, there are still names to keep an eye on. Three, as discussed by McLeod:
- Miguel Amaya, C, had a “phenomenal first half,” according to McLeod, and only slowed down as the length of the season got to him. McLeod had plenty of nice things to say, including their love for what they see defensively at a premium position like catcher. As well as their belief that he will “absolutely … be able to hit, control the zone, and hit for some power.”
- Brailan Marquez, LHP, is extremely young and extremely projectable. And according to McLeod, he has the sort of physical stuff (a big projectable frame and a 98 MPH fastball from the left side of the plate), the Cubs haven’t really had in their system over the years. He’s still working on fine tuning his delivery and improving his secondary offerings, but McLeod insisted that we’d be hearing his name a lot next season.
- Adbert Alzolay, RHP, was the final name mentioned by McLeod, who’s hoping for a bounce back in 2019. From the sound of it, the Cubs expected big things from Alzolay last season – including making it to the big leagues – but it just didn’t happen for him because of the lat injury, and now he’s got a big season ahead of us.
- With all of that laid out, McLeod mentioned that he does believe the Cubs will finally get some starter depth out of the organization over the next 12 months, but Kaplan used that as an opening to press him on the lack of MiLB starting depth in the Cubs system already.
- In response, McLeod mentioned that while it’s certainly no excuse, it’s worth noting that before 2017, this Cubs front office never took any arms in the first round. “A majority of the starting rotations you look at, I wanna say, almost half of the starting pitchers that came out of the draft came out of the first round.” Of course, McLeod admits that they took plenty of pitchers just after that and they clearly need to do better on that front. The Cubs have gotten some cups of coffee here or there, but definitely haven’t hit on any guys yet.
- McLeod also mentioned that they’ve traded some arms over the years (Zack Godley, Rollie Lacey, Ricky Thomas, Dylan Cease), but … that’s not doing anything for me. Get us a pitcher, dude!
- According to McLeod, Kyle Schwarber is probably frustrated with both of his last two seasons, not just 2017, despite the huge steps forward in 2018. Why? Expectations (for himself and from the front office). When the Cubs first took Schwarber, McLeod recalls, they thought that they had a “hitter” first, who just so happened to have tremendous power – he could barrel the ball in all locations of the zone and to all fields with both strength and power. But since then, things have changed.
- Specifically, McLeod has noticed that his approach has shifted at the plate, and he’s even had some different stances (he used to be a low crouch guy, but we’ve seen him more upright at times). I get the sense that McLeod thinks the best is yet to come for him.
- And the same goes for some other younger guys like Schwarber, who got here so quickly it seems like they’re “almost trying to finish their development,” in the big leagues and that’s very difficult in general, let alone in a big market like Chicago in the middle of a competitive window.
- McLeod doesn’t think that front offices around baseball are pulling all the strings and managers are just “following scripts.” It’s a manager’s job to get all the information possible to make the best decision and it just so happens that some front offices have huge analytics departments with a lot of info to share. The Cubs always welcome communication, conversation, and debate. I think that might sound like a canned answer, but I really do believe that Joe Maddon and the front office have had a good, balanced, working relationship, regardless of what comes next.
- McLeod reminisces about his time in San Diego and what he thought about Javy Baez, when the Cubs drafted him – the Padres picked one spot behind the Cubs that year.
- And finally, McLeod is always happy to be thought of as GM candidate every time a gig opens up, but he did sound content with the Cubs and focused on this organization.