2016 Cubs Convention: Down on the Farm
The Cubs’ minor league system continues to be viewed as one of the best in baseball. The organization churned out several stars in 2015, including Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber. Who will make an impact in 2016? Hear from Director of Player Development Jaron Madison, Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod, and players Jeimer Candelario, Carl Edwards Jr., Eric Jokisch and Dan Vogelbach as they dive into the Cubs’ current farm system. This panel is hosted by Tennessee Smokies broadcaster Mick Gillispie.
Mick Gillespie kicks off the last panel of the 2016 Cubs Convention by talking about how many superstars have sat in this same Down on the Farm panel over the last few years.
McLeod talks about why he wants to stay with the Cubs even though he is often rumored to be up for GM jobs. He says he looks forward to the challenge here. He remembers what it was like when he was with the Red Sox and they won that first championship. Now he wants to be part of the greatest challenge in sports in Chicago. He talks about how rewarding it was to stand on the field with Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell after a postseason series win. He remembers drafting those guys and is impressed with their quick development since then.
Madison talks about how the makeup of a player is the separator for them in the draft and trades. Players need to have the work ethic and desire to work their way to the big leagues and also have to be up for the grind of the minor leagues. They look for guys who are mature, focused and team-oriented.
Edwards talks about the transition from a starter to a reliever. He says he took the same mentality to the mound as a reliever so the transition wasn’t that hard. He was able to just let it go and try to blow it by people as a reliever. The trick was finding his routine. That’s much easier to do as a guy who pitches every five days.
Jokisch jokes about how he was listed as an infielder during the opening ceremonies. He says he’s really had to work hard to get people’s attention because he doesn’t throw that hard. But he feels like the work the club does in the minors really prepares Cubs prospects for life in the majors—and for success in the majors.
Vogelbach, who is lauded for his plate approach, talks about how he prides himself on not striking out. His goal is to get on base and let the guy behind him drive him in. He just wants to stick to his plan and not let the pitcher take him out of that.
Next up is the question and answer session:
- McLeod talks about the loss of Tim Wilken, who drafted most of the guys on the stage today. Wilken has moved on to Arizona. When teams have success, other teams want to poach those good employees. McLeod says if there is ever a scouting Hall of Fame, Wilken deserves to be in it.
- McLeod talks about the advantages of picking high in the draft. It’s not just about the pick; it’s about the pool money teams get that allow them to sign more quality guys. The goal is to acquire as much young talent as possible. The more money you have available, the easier that is.
- McLeod talks a bit about the team’s draft strategy this year. They don’t have a pick until late this year because of the Lackey and Heyward signings, plus the success they had on the field. But the process is still the same. It’s to look for quality guys with quality makeup. You don’t always need to have a high pick to find high-quality guys. He mentions selecting Dustin Pedroia in Boston.
- McLeod and Madison talk about three under-the-radar players: Bard Markey, Chesny Young and Eddy Julio Martinez. Markey really opened some eyes this year at Myrtle Beach. He started as a reliever but got moved into the rotation because of an injury to someone else. He was so good, they could never move him back. Young has a great approach at the plate and doesn’t deviate from it. He’s a very mature hitter who really knows his strengths. Martinez is a very toosly Cuban player who they are still learning about. They’re very excited about his talent, but need to see more of him on the field.
- McLeod talks about where Edwards will be in the long term. He says you have to balance the short term and the long term. As a team that expected to have success last year, the Cubs felt Edwards could really help them more out of the bullpen. How can you help this team now versus what the team will need in the future? They haven’t ruled out putting him back in the rotation, but there is a need in the pen now. Edwards says he’s happy in either role as long as he’s helping the team.
- Madison talks about the Cubs’ preference for positional versatility. A lot of that came from organizational talks with Joe Maddon. It’s something he likes. They now try to challenge all the minor leaguers to try a different position. The team maps this out for the players. The goal is to make guys more useful at the major league level.
- McLeod talks about international signings and how tricky they are. That’s mostly about volume because those players are drafted so young, generally at 16 or 17 years old. It’s hard to know what you have when players are that young. They are so far away from the major leagues. Even Gleyber Torres is still a long way away at just 19 years old this year.
- Jokisch says “rehab is awful.” He’s never really dealt with an injury before the oblique injury he had last June. He thought he had a shot at the big leagues last year, but he spent much of the year rehabbing. He’s healthy now and ready to go, but it was bad timing last season with the injury.
- McLeod talks about how much information is out there now. The Cubs have a research and development department. They know what they think is important, and they try to incorporate that into how they develop guys. But they shield players from some of that info because it can handicap them. Paralysis by analysis. Jokisch says he likes to have as much information as he can get. He likes to know how his stuff works and how other similar pitchers get outs. He says he looks at guys like Dallas Keuchel who have similar stuff to him. Vogelbach doesn’t dive too far into the numbers but does analyze other players’ at-bats and approach.
- McLeod talks about the development of Arismendy Alcantara. The player had a bad setback in terms of confidence last year. He got off to a tough start and never could get out of it. He could always hit the fastball, but he lost some confidence and worried too much about offspeed stuff, so he got behind on the heater.
- McLeod says most of the impact pitchers in the system, No. 1 types, are still in the lower levels. But they have a lot of more polished guys like Jokisch who could help out sooner.
- Vogelbach talks about how he’s really worked to stay in shape. He came into the organization overweight. He says he could get away with that in high school. The organization told him he didn’t have a choice, so he took that to heart. He wants to do whatever he can to play. He changed his eating habits and started working out a lot more. He says it’s helped him in every aspect of his game.
- Madison talks about some names to watch. They were lucky to have Schwarber, Bryant and Russell last year. Those are exceptional players. He also talks about Willson Contreras and how good his bat was last year. He likes Jeimer Candelario, Duane Underwood, Billy McKinney, Mark Zagunis and some younger guys—Ian Happ, Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez. Then there are the young pitchers—Dylan Cease, Carson Sands, Justin Steele and Oscar de la Cruz. He thinks a lot of these guys will take a big step forward this year. They also really like 2015 draftee DJ Wilson. He’s young, athletic and has great tools.
- Edwards jokes about his one at-bat last year against Aroldis Chapman. It was exciting but scary at the time. He didn’t swing at the first two. By the time he swung at the third, he had already heard the ball hit the mitt.
- Jokisch says his confidence comes from preparation. He prepares like crazy. He wants to know he’s studied more than the guy he’s facing in the box. Vogelbach says he simply doesn’t like to lose. There are plenty of little games inside every big game. Every time he faces a pitcher, it’s a game between him and the pitcher. He hates to lose and is naturally a pretty confident guy. He’s not big into video because it makes him overthink things. He just wants to win each little game. If he doesn’t, he’s confident he’ll win the next one.
- There’s a lot of talk about the development of catchers and how demanding that position is. The catchers really have to learn and listen and take their lumps. Jokisch talks about how demanding he is with his catchers. Guys like him and Hendricks are so prepared, they want their catchers to be just as prepared and know what it is they want to throw. Jokisch will tell catchers where to set up, how he likes them to set up, sequencing, etc. It’s a give and take, but catcher is the most demanding position to learn and be good at. Catchers need to be really selfless to succeed.
- McLeod talks about Dylan Cease’s development plan. Cease had Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2014. He got back on the mound in the instructional league last year. He’s very far away, but they sky is the limit. He’s 20, throws hard and has worked really hard on his delivery. He looks like he’s playing catch at 96-97 mph. He also has a solid curve. He’s upside is tremendous, but he has a long way to go.