Live from the Theo Epstein panel
Vine Line’s live blog from Theo Epstein’s Q&A session with Cubs fans at the 27th annual Cubs Convention will get started shortly. Feel free to leave questions or comments by clicking on the post title and filling out the form at bottom.
9:57 – Last question, and a groan comes from the crowd.
A young fan asks about a minor leaguer Epstein thinks fans should look forward to. He cites Jeff Beliveau, a lefty reliever who just played for Team USA. He likens him to Brian Fuentes who may not have the hardest stuff but was able to get batters to swing and miss because of deception.
9:54 – Advice for people who want to get into scouting: Talk to older scouts. It’s about creating a database in your mind, making hundreds of comparisons in your head about a player’s swing path or arm action.
9:51 – Asked about the team’s plan and what to expect in the near future, Epstein says that he promises the team will always be “transparent” about it’s plan. They may not always be able to share details, but he emphasizes that they will be clear about their expectation to have the team playing hard this year — seeing where it takes them by the middle of the season — and that they will be building an organization the right way from the bottom up so that the Cubs can be a good team for a long time. “We’re going to look for players with upside, players we can control for a while, and we’ll buy low on some players.”
Photo from team photographer Stephen Green’s camera.
9:45 – Epstein disputes the impression that he isn’t happy with the farm system. He says that he’s actually been surprised by the depth and that with another year of development, the draft and international signings, he feels they can be in the top third of systems.
He showers praise on Oneri Fleita for the team’s Latin American scouting and development — they’re playing more fundamental baseball than at any academy I’ve been at, he says.
He does the same for Tim Wilken’s scouting in the draft. He adds that he hopes to improve what the team uses to evaluate players. “We have to evaluate the right way,” saying the team will incorporate more statistical and medical information going forward under Wilken’s scouting direction.
9:42 – Starlin Castro’s proven abilities at his age or something you can’t teach and is hugely valuable and promising for the team. But he explains how he’ll continue to learn to be patient, to drive the ball consistently and thus instill fear in pitchers. “This kid’s ceiling is immensely high.”
9:39 – A fan asks Epstein about changes to the ballpark. He replies that he’s going to be focused on the baseball side primarily. Still, he describes how the changes he witnessed at Fenway made it “a beautiful ballpark with all the amenities you could want, but you couldn’t tell” because they were done gracefully. He called it a win for the baseball side as well because of the facilities improvements as well as the opportunity to pour some of the revenues back into the ball club. He hopes the same can happen in Chicago for the team and the local economy.
9:35 – “The way I see it is that if you’re going to have strikeouts, you have to be taking walks or hitting the ball out of the ballpark.” He says there’s only one Albert Pujols — gladly not in the NL Central anymore — but that every player can work themselves into favorable counts, in which case strikeouts can be accepted.
9:31 – Vine Line gets a shout-out from a fan for its graphic on walk percentage and how David DeJesus and Ian Stewart could impact that. Epstein explains that taking pitches is not an end in itself but that they want the players to be patient enough to get into hitters’ counts. “We’ll know we’re getting to where we want to be when we’re among the league leaders in on-base percentage, pitches per plate appearance … ”
Earlier he said that players should see their at-bats not as their own but rather the team’s. Getting on base, whether by hit or walk, will be valued.
9:28 – Epstein answers a fan question about player nightlife by explaining that the Cubs have always had a standard for players but haven’t yet sufficiently established or articulated what they expect their players to uphold. They’ll bring in consultants that will help players understand how to prepare to be a big leaguer.
9:24 – The fan questions start off about player development with some praise for the Cubs developing a unified instruction, the Cubs Way.
Epstein talks about the strategy of stockpiling draft picks by letting free agents walk, that “tilted the odds in their favor” with the Red Sox, won’t work anymore under the new collective bargaining agreement. He says now the team has to treat all other 29 teams as direct competition in the draft and has to strive to out-scout and out-develop them. He says Cubs scouts will pay attention to what an amateur player is like warming up before the game, on the field and how they are after a win or loss. It’s all about finding any edge to stock the farm system.
9:21 – The Cubs won’t overemphasize the small sample sizes (at Arizona elevation) of spring training. Cubs scouts even will be told to find the worst three or four players in each organization so that the team can consider inquiring with panicking GMs.
9:18 – Epstein is explaining how fans will love manager Dale Sveum as a guy who is the best of both worlds. Players respect him, but he also will emphasize discipline. “I guarantee every player is going to run hard the 90 feet to first base,” he says to applause.
9:16 – The new partnership with Bloomberg Sports will help the Cubs get their information database — housing statistics, scouting reports, medical information — up and running in three weeks instead of three years, as it took coding it from scratch in Boston. Now teams just don’t have that time. This system will allow decision-makers to access information quickly and from multiple perspectives without having to search for it.
9:13 – Two of the people Epstein relied on the most in Boston were Bill Lajoie and Bill James. When the two agreed from scouting and statistical perspective, he knew he had a robust evaluation.
9:12 – “We hope as opposed to old school or new school, you characterize us as thorough.”
9:08 – Epstein explains how he walked in wanting 25 Sean Marshalls on the field and in the clubhouse. But he explained how the trade of the lefty reliever for Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torreyes was a matter of trading one year for hopefully 17.
9:05 – He says that he will remember the Wood announcement — and it’s incredible response — for a long time. He doesn’t feel he’s deserved the response yet but hopes to eventually.
9:03 – “Why did you decide to come to the Cubs?” “Well, this, first of all,” Epstein said to nice applause. He’s also talking about how it is an opportunity to recreate the impact on generations of fans that Boston had after the World Series wins.
9:02 – Epstein talks about how he got started with the Orioles as an 18-year-old. He said he quickly realized he couldn’t play and focused on what he needed to do outside it. The draft was his first passion, and he started out by helping out on that.
9:00 – Epstein arrives right on time along with TV broadcaster Len Kasper, welcomed by a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.
Kasper says he’s used to being older than Cubs players but not executives. Epstein replies, “It’s not my fault you’re getting old.”