From the Pages of Vine Line: Jed Hoyer Q&A, Part I

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

You don’t have to tell General Manager Jed Hoyer how difficult the Cubs’ 2013 season was. He was there for every pitch, hit and out. And no one in the organization—from the groundskeepers to the players to the men in charge—is happy with 96 losses.

But the GM also knows the organization has made a great deal of progress since he took the helm. The plan was clear from the get-go: Hire the best player development team in the business, stockpile as much high-ceiling talent as possible as quickly as possible, and develop a young, talented team that has the ability to compete year in and year out.

For the November issue, Vine Line caught up with the head man to discuss the 2013 season, improvements in the organization, changes within the club and what to look forward to in 2014. This is Part One of a three-part conversation we had with the Cubs GM. The other segments will be posted next week. For the entire conversation or more Cubs information, be sure to check out the November issue of Vine Line.

VL: What positives do you take from a season like this?

JH: In a year like this, you have to focus on individual positives. Obviously, we’re very happy with the way Travis Wood developed this year. He’s worked really hard over the last two years with [pitching coach] Chris Bosio, [bullpen coach] Lester Strode and [staff assistant] Mike Borzello. He made huge strides as a pitcher, and that was really exciting to see. He was really consistent throughout the year, and his ability to use both sides of the plate helped him. You have to give him credit for working on it. And Welington Castillo really improved over the course of the year. He had a fantastic second half. He showed an ability to get on base. He’s a good defensive catcher, and I think he’ll continue to improve.

So I think you always look at individual positives in a year like this, and there are some. But obviously if there were a ton of individual positives, you’d have a better record.

VL: There were some positive developments this year. The pitching staff is much deeper than it was a year ago, and the infield defense—especially on the right side—was as good as anybody’s.

JH: Our right side of the infield was excellent. I do think we played better defense this year. Obviously, we struggled in the bullpen early in the year, but I felt like we tightened up some of those holes later in the year. We acquired some power arms over the course of the summer that will really help our bullpen in the future. We’ve really tried to acquire as many power arms as we can because that was a weakness coming in, and we’re starting to show some improvements in the bullpen with those guys.

The pitching staff in general, given the number of quality starts we had—especially before we traded [Scott] Feldman and [Matt] Garza—our starting pitching was good enough to compete. When you look at our offense, our relief pitching and our starting pitching, I would say the starting pitching was good enough to be a solid team. The other two areas are areas we definitely have to improve.

VL: Some of the key guys on the roster—mainly Rizzo and Castro—didn’t develop like you expected in 2013. What can you do to reverse that trend heading into next season?

JH: That’s certainly a major focus for us. I don’t think either guy had the numbers they were expecting coming into Spring Training. There’s no doubt both guys would say that. But both guys are hard workers. They’re certainly committed to coming into 2014 and putting that behind them. Certainly in the case with Anthony, there’s a guy that ended the year [sixth] in the National League in walks. He was [fifth] in extra-base hits. On a lot of defensive metrics, he was the best first baseman. So with Anthony, there are some silver linings. Obviously, his batting average wasn’t where he probably hoped, but there were a number of positives in his year. If he can build on that—and certainly he has the ability to—with that many extra-base hits and that kind of patience, that’s pretty exciting for a 23-year-old.

With Starlin, the beauty of Starlin is he’s done it. He did it at age 20 and 21, and there’s no question he can get back to that. A lot of great players have had a down year at the beginning of their careers and bounced back. For us to get where we need to go, those guys need to keep improving, but there’s no doubt they’re going to work hard this winter to get back to where they need to be.

VL: Do you think the emphasis on Castro trying to be more patient at the plate might have hamstrung his development a little bit this year?

JH: I personally think that line of thought is a little bit overblown. Every young player can improve. He had a great two seasons when he first came up, but I still think for the power that he has to come out, he’s going to have to be able to hit in better counts. To say, “Just keep your hands off him, and don’t try to improve him,” we’re not going to be a championship organization if guys don’t continue to get better and better. Whether he tried to do some things that confused him during the course of the year or not—and he might have—we want all our guys to focus on getting a pitch in the strike zone and looking to drive it. That’s how you become a really good offense. … We’re not going to shy away from trying to develop players that way.

VL: You and Theo Epstein have talked a lot about building the core of this team. Have guys like Castillo and Wood put themselves in the category of players you want to grow with?

JH: Yeah, both of those guys really proved they can make improvements and keep getting better. And I think both of those guys are winning players, and that’s what you’re looking for is guys who will continue to improve, guys who are winning players. The more guys like that in their prime years we can acquire and have on our team, that’s what the best teams have. We’re excited to have both those guys.

VL: You called Castillo and Wood “winning players.” What’s your definition of a winning player?

JH: I think everyone has a different definition of it. Obviously, you have to be talented to be a winning player, but also someone who does all the little things necessary to win, whether that’s making a productive out, being heads up on the bases, being clutch on defense, being into the game all the time or making your teammates better. Those are all characteristics of players who are on championship teams. Whenever I think of winning players, I think of someone that is a part of every play and someone that really makes everyone around them better. Certainly Welington, with the way he played in the second half, was that kind of player.

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