Hot Off the Press: The February issue featuring the minor league prospectus

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It’s nice to see Chicago back at the center of the baseball universe. Though the Cubs were a national sensation throughout most of the early 2000s, they’ve more or less fallen off a cliff publicity-wise since their last postseason appearance in 2008.

Things have changed in that regard heading into the 2015 season. Baseball insiders started seeing the Cubs as a sleeping giant a while back, and it’s easy to understand why. They have two of the sport’s smartest organizational architects, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, leading the charge, untapped big-market resources at their ready disposal and a player development machine that’s churning out bats at a time when offense is down around the game.

Prospect experts and scouts have been raving about the collection of young players speeding their way through the Cubs system for years, but things hit critical mass in 2014. Suddenly there was All-Star-caliber talent at the major league level to complement what many were already calling the best farm system in the game.

Just before the 2014 season, Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus (full disclosure: now a Cubs employee) wrote: “Through the amateur draft, trades and the international market, the Cubs have built one of the strongest systems in baseball, with high-impact talent that everybody knows and better depth than people might realize.”

Rany Jazayerli wrote in Grantland last August: “If they do sign a Max Scherzer or a Jon Lester this offseason, the Cubs won’t just be a sexy pick to make the playoffs in 2015—they might be a smart one. This franchise is a whole lot closer to being a contender than most people realize.”

Under the auspicious title “Next Year Really Might Be the Year, Cubs Fans,” Dave Cameron of Fangraphs wrote: “The Cubs have so much young talent that people are actually stressing out over whether the team will actually have room for all of the youngsters on the roster at the same time.”

The Cubs will likely enter the 2015 season as a playoff dark horse. That’s a lot of movement from a year ago when the team finished 73-89. The way the club has accomplished this quick turnaround—because, despite the pain of the last several seasons, changing the outlook of an entire organization in just three years is quick—is not exactly a secret. They have built primarily through the amateur draft, the international free-agent market and by trading proven veterans for young talent.

Of course, the big reason the Cubs have been making news lately will be standing on the mound before a national TV audience during ESPN’s Opening Night festivities on April 5. This month, we look at how the Cubs were able to land free-agent ace Jon Lester, a playoff-tested veteran many are hoping can lead the North Siders to the promised land. Despite Lester’s $155 million price tag, this deal was about much more than money.

“After Jon gave us his decision at the winter meetings, when we went back to the suite, we had a big part of our baseball front office there and a lot of our scouts and our player development people,” Epstein said. “I thanked them and told them that I think from our perspective, Jon’s decision in part was a tribute to the work that they had done over the last three years.”

We also examine the fruits of the organization’s labor in our annual minor league prospectus. Despite graduating players like Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Kyle Hendricks to the big leagues, the Cubs are still seen as arguably the top farm system in the game. Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma takes us deep into the weeds to break down the guys you’ve been waiting for (e.g., Kris Bryant, Addison Russell) and a few you may not have heard of yet (e.g., Charcer Burks, Mark Zagunis). As the month goes on, we’ll unveil some of the player profiles here on the Vine Line blog.

Finally, we talk to perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the Lester signing: Chris Bosio, who has firmly established himself as one of the better pitching coaches in the game.

If you’re anything like us, you can’t wait for the 2015 season to get underway. We’ll be there when things kick off in Mesa later this month, so make sure you’re also following us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

Let’s get ready to make some headlines.

—Gary Cohen

1 Comment

Optimism is a contagious disease. I’ve been don this road for 69 seasons. This is by far the most optimistic I have felt in any of them..

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