From the Pages of Vine Line: Q&A with GM Jed Hoyer (Part 2)
(Photo by Stephen Green)
For the April issue of Vine Line, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat sat down with Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer to talk about the 2013 Cubs, the differences between this season and last, and what to look for as the organization moves forward.
In the second part of our three-part interview, Hoyer talks about the organization’s young prospects, including slugging Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler and highly touted shortstop Javier Baez. So far this season, both Daytona Cubs players have shown promise at the plate. After just two games, Soler recorded a .333 batting average in nine at-bats, and Baez held a .250 average with one double, one home run and three RBI.
Vine Line: Fans were eager to see prospects like Jorge Soler and Javier Baez this spring. How excited were you to get a closer look at them?
Jed Hoyer: I’ll be honest, I look forward to the sixth through ninth innings [in Spring Training] more than I look forward to the first five innings. We’ll watch the veteran guys all year. Watching [Jeff] Samardzija the other day, he was clearly working on his off-speed stuff. The results weren’t the most important thing to him. When you get a chance to see Baez and Soler now, it’s nice. During the season, we’ll have to go to different minor league cities to see those guys, but getting a chance to see the young players up close is something we cherish, because we can’t do that all season.
VL: How important was it to have these kids in big league Spring Training camp?
JH: You want to see those guys learn. Seeing Baez standing next to Dale [Sveum] during the game, seeing Soler following Castro around—it’s really important that they see what it’s all about. They’re going to go off to the minor leagues this year, and they’re too busy to have a chance to watch many of our games. Now they get to see how we do things. We kind of joke about slowing things down just because there’s a lot of development left with all these guys. When they get up to the big leagues, they’ll have their struggles as well. It doesn’t mean they’re not really good prospects. Their time is not now. We have to temper ourselves all the time. As a result, we encourage the fans and media to do the same thing. It is a long process.
VL: Cubs fans have seen other highly touted prospects like Félix Pié and Corey Patterson fail to live up to the hype. How are Baez and Soler different?
JH: The truth of the matter is, there is an attrition rate with prospects. There’s no question our goal is to build up a ton of them. I’m glad we’re talking about multiple names now and not just one. I think when you start talking about just one, there’s a lot of danger. I hope this isn’t the best farm system we have. We want to be really deep, so when there is that natural attrition, some guys will outperform expectations and some guys will underperform expectations. I certainly hope not, but it’s the reality.
You grab a top 100 list from Baseball America and flip through it five years later, and there are guys who miss. I don’t think anyone is immune to that. That’s why we want to build up a lot of depth. That’s why having good drafts and doing well internationally is important. You need depth to make sure you get the best nine guys on the field, the best five starting pitchers.
VL: Everyone wants to know when guys like Baez, Soler and Albert Almora will get to the big leagues. Do you have a timetable for them?
JH: The players will determine that, not us. I want nothing more than for these guys to pound the door down and make it clear they’re ready. I think the worst thing we can do is speed up their development for the sake of some arbitrary timetable. They need to go level to level. They need to show they can control the strike zone. They need to show they’re ready. When they are, certainly, we want them here. At the same time, I don’t think we should look at it that we’re controlling it; they control it.
VL: At the Winter Meetings, you talked about how some players can’t use youth as an excuse anymore. What did you mean by that?
JH: Until you’re a true veteran player, you’ll learn new things and make mistakes. … But at some point, you’re not a young player anymore. I think Starlin [Castro] is getting close to that point. He’s probably not quite there yet. A guy [Ian} Stewart’s age, youth isn’t something you can use. [Anthony] Rizzo isn’t quite there either. He’ll probably still have some ups and downs.
You want to get to that point where you have young veterans—that’s your ideal. If you look at the history of the game, the best players break in young, they have their ups and downs, and they start to establish themselves when they’re 24 or 25 years old. That’s what we want to build is that young group that’s been around for a while. I know it sounds like a contradiction, but the younger these guys break in, the more they can make their mistakes early and be ready in their mid-20s. That was a big part of us extending Castro’s [contract] as far as we did. He’s a 23-year-old guy who is going into his fourth season, and that’s a great thing for us.