Results tagged ‘ Jaron Madison ’
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The following can be found in the Farm Report section of February’s issue of Vine Line.
Every major league team has a department dedicated to analyzing statistics that are designed to help big league managers and players gain an edge over the competition. For player development personnel, however, the potential of statistics isn’t yet clear.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Cubs farm director Jaron Madison ignores the reports he gets from the number crunchers.
“If you don’t pay attention to and use information available to you, you’re doing yourself and your club a disservice,” he said. “But you have to recognize it’s just one tool to help our players get to Wrigley Field.”
Just how valuable are stats? It depends on where a player is in the system. Numbers are less valuable to Madison and the Cubs front office when they pertain to players in the organization’s lower levels.
“Those players are still growing into themselves and making corrections,” he said. “There are still quite a few things they have to learn and work on.”
With a Single-A player, Madison said he looks for more general information, such as how that player compares with his peers. As a prospect moves up the ladder and becomes more of a finished product, statistical analysis can help determine how he can best help the Cubs at the big league level or what tweaks he must make to get there.
“By the time they reach [Triple-A] Iowa, players have already had four or five years to work on specific tools and develop into who they are,” he said.
One thing Madison doesn’t do with numbers is use them to set benchmarks. Leadoff hitters, for instance, aren’t required to walk a certain number of times, and pitchers aren’t told they’ll be promoted only if their ERAs stay under a specific number.
“Our evaluations are more comprehensive, paying attention to how guys control the zone on both sides of the ball,” Madison said. “We look at the things they can control.”
Plus, there is definitely such a thing as too much information, especially for players. Young hitters, Madison said, can put too much stock in their home run totals and batting averages, often to the detriment of their overall development.
“It’s more important for our hitters to work on the process and focus on having good at-bats,” he said. “You can square it up and hit the ball hard seven out of 10 times but hit it right at someone. Or you can go up there and get on base on six balls that don’t leave the infield.”
That means Cubs minor league coaches must convince prospects to forget about their numbers, which isn’t an easy task in such a results-oriented business. Hitters often take a while to realize that striking out but seeing 15 pitches can actually be a good thing in the long run.
The bottom line is the Cubs don’t want prospects thinking too much when they’re on the field, and statistics can definitely lead to overthinking.
“The message we send our players is to have a plan and work that plan,” Madison said. “Yes, we will tell them they need to control the zone better to get a good pitch to hit. But when they get that pitch, it’s OK to let it rip.”
Statistical analysis is yet another tool to help Madison and his staff move prospects forward in the system, but every team has access to similar information. It’s how the Cubs use all this new data—and keep players focused on their development plan—that will determine how useful the numbers really are.
The following can be found in the January issue of Vine Line.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs front office made one under-the-radar move this winter that’s no less important than signing a big free agent. With Brandon Hyde moving to the dugout to serve as bench coach for new manager Rick Renteria, the Cubs shifted scouting director Jaron Madison to the vacated farm director spot.
That makes the 38-year-old Madison the guardian of the team’s future, a role he admits comes with a great deal of pressure as the Cubs move forward with their plan to build a sustainable winner from within. But that pressure, he said, is one reason he left the Padres a year ago in a lateral move to the Cubs.
“San Diego is a great organization, but working for an organization with the history and tradition of the Cubs is a bigger challenge,” Madison said. “I know how much more it would mean to the city when we win. Chicago sports fans are some of the best sports fans in the world.”
In Madison, the Cubs have a farm director with a strong track record. Since beginning his career in scouting and player development in 2002 with the Padres, he has worked for two other teams, the Cardinals and the Pirates, that have cultivated winning big league teams from within.
The common thread among all three organizations, Madison said, is the constant, open communication that extends from the big league front office all the way down to the low minor league levels. For the farm system to produce, everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction.
And few people are more capable of keeping everyone together than Madison.
“He’s very intelligent and has a great presence,” said Hyde, whose relationship with Madison extends back to the late ’90s, when they played together at Long Beach State. “I think a key to him being a great leader is he’s a great listener.”
That was an obvious asset for him as a scout, a job that relies on relationship building with young players and their parents and coaches. But while Madison said his new job is completely different, he’ll still need to flex those relationship-building muscles.
“Everyone has to have complete buy-in, and to get there everyone needs to know what’s going on at all times,” he said. “There can’t be any whispering going on behind closed doors.”
Madison will spend the summer doing the same thing he did after the draft last year—traveling in a constant loop among Cubs affiliates to talk, listen and observe. Hyde said he thinks Madison will love it.
“The relationships you build with the staff members, the constant interaction with the coaches, rovers and instructors, and the process of getting your organization to be successful make it a fun job,” Hyde said.
But both Hyde and Madison understand the job is not about having fun. Not with a nation of Cubs fans anxious for a return to winning baseball.
“I read the blogs,” Madison said. “I know how much the fans want it.”
Madison, of course, is in firm agreement with the rest of the Cubs brain trust, preaching patience with the process and avoiding any firm deadlines on when the organization will turn the corner.
“I’m really excited about the guys we have in our organization,” he said. “I see a core of strong players we can build on and rely on for the foreseeable future, and I think the payoff will be a lot sooner than people may think.”
Dave Otto is doing his usual hosting duties. He opens up by introducing the panel with Smokies announcer Mick Gillespie, SVP of scouting and player development Jason McLeod, farm director Jaron Madison, and Cubs pitchers Blake Parker and Justin Grimm.
Madison talks about the 2013 draft and how happy they were to land the people they targeted (Kris Bryant, et.al.).
Otto gives a recap of the minor league system, including the Daytona team that won the Florida State League championship.
Otto talks about how there used to be only one or two guys on the farm fans could get excited about. Things are different now with guys like Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, C.J. Edwards, Corey Black, Pierce Johnson, Jen-Ho Tseng, etc.
A fan asks about the plan with Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters. McLeod says the organization still has belief in both of them, especially Vitters, who has hit wherever he’s been and is still only 24. But both had rough seasons last year and were hampered by injuries.
Both Parker and Grimm talk about how rewarding it is to finally break into the majors and the belief they have in their ability. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth the grind.
Gillespie talks about how hard Parker worked back when he was with the Smokies in Double-A, and how much he enjoys seeing the players in their developmental phases. He remembers being the first guy to interview Darwin Barney after he got called up to the big leagues.
McLeod talks about the “Core Four” and how good they can be, but that the organization is much deeper than just them. Generally, you feel pretty good if you feel you have two guys who could become stars. He says the Cubs have multiple guys who could get there. Some won’t make it, but that’s why volume is important. Guys like Jeimer Candelario and Arismendy Alcantara could really make an impact.
McLeod talks about how he drafted Grimm out of high school and brought him up to Boston, but Grimm decided to go to the University of Georgia instead. McLoed jokes that Grimm just wanted a free trip to Boston. McLeod and Epstein went to see Grimm pitch in the SEC tourney the following year, and Grimm was pumping 97 mph fastballs. Epstein joked that he was going to fire McLeod for not signing Grimm. McLeod thanks Grimm for almost getting him fired.
Asked about routines and superstitions, both Grimm and Parker defer. Grimm does say he check through some pitching checkpoints on his iPad before games. It’s just stuff that helps him stay focused on his mechanics, etc.
One fan asks about the potential of Dustin Geiger. McLeod talks about how Geiger has been very solid but has been overshadowed by guys like Soler and Baez. He’s a big guy, so they are working with him on flexibility at first base. The front office doesn’t think he’s under the radar, but he doesn’t tend to get a lot of press. Geiger hit .281/.365/.458 at High-A Daytona last season.
McLeod talks about breaking the curse in Boston and how it’s better than he ever imagined. He also talks about the 2007 World Series team and how it was built with guys they drafted and developed. That’s what gets them excited and what they live for.
Parker explains the tradition of the youngest pitcher taking the pink backpack out to the bullpen. It’s just filled with supplies—gum, candy, etc. The guy with the least service time has to carry it out every game. It’s light rookie hazing.
McLeod talks about Arodys Vizcaino, who the club acquired from Atlanta in 2012. He had a setback after Tommy John surgery last year. He’s throwing well now but is not 100 percent yet. He was in the rookie development program this week and was really popping the glove (note: we were there, and he was). They are being conservative with his rehab to try to get him back into form.
McLeod responds to a question about the lack of system depth at the catcher position, and he says it’s definitely a concern. They have some young guys coming up, but they’re not quite ready yet. That puts some pressure on Welington Castillo this season.
Gillespie talks about how many guys there were at Tennessee who just need to take a step and they’ll be knocking on the door—guys like Matt Szczur and Christian Villanueva. Gillespie raves about Villanueva’s defense at third base, saying he’s better than most major leaguers. McLeod seconds how well Villanueva is progressing. The 22-year-old had 41 doubles, 19 home runs and 72 RBI last season at Double-A. He hit .261.
One fan asks about where Baez will play and if there is a path to the majors this year with Starlin Castro in the fold. McLeod says they’ll look at him in Spring Training and probably have him play multiple positions. But he will be the starting shortstop at Triple-A Iowa this year, and they see him playing short for the foreseeable future. He’s developing well at the position and has great instincts.
We get the obligatory question about Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka and about how his numbers will translate in the majors. McLeod says he’s incredibly talented, and they’ve been scouting him for years. The evaluation process is complete, and they met with him last week in LA. They’ll find out soon where he chooses. But any team will be happy to get him.
Madison says they generally want each player to “dominate” the level they’re at before they move up. They don’t want to rush players if they don’t have to because that can be damaging. It’s a lot of decisions to make about who goes where and when guys move forward, but there’s an entire staff in place to handle it.
Gillespie and McLeod talk about how complicated it is to put guys in a position to succeed. Roster management with the minor league system can be tough. Games are going on all over the country, and each roster only gets 25 guys. If one guys moves up, another guy needs to take his place, and keeping it all in order is tricky.
McLeod runs down the 2013 draft. The team was definitely looking to stockpile pitching. In 2012, they focused on high school arms. Last year, they focused on more mature college arms. In players’ first years, the organization really limits innings. Most of the new guys only go about 20-30 innings. But they did draft a lot of big-bodied, high-velocity pitchers.
McLeod talks about Mike Olt’s struggles last year with vision problems and concussion after being hit by a ball. He was untouchable at Texas a few years ago when they were looking to deal Ryan Dempster. Olt’s been meeting with specialists and is feeling very good. His swing looks strong, direct and fast. All the talent is still there, but he needs to start facing live pitching.
That’s it for Vine Line at the 2014 Cubs Convention. We’ll see you next year. Thanks for following along.
Pitching coach Chris Bosio will be back for his third season with the club. (Photo by Stephen Green)
With the Rick Renteria era now two weeks old, the Cubs officially named the majority of their major league coaching staff Friday.
Pitching coach Chris Bosio, bullpen coach Lester Strode and staff assistant Franklin Font all return to the organization. Mike Borzello will also be back, but with an expanded role as the club’s catching and strategy coach.
Joining the field staff in 2014 will be Brandon Hyde (bench coach), Gary Jones (third base/infield coach), Bill Mueller (hitting coach), Mike Brumley (assistant hitting coach) and Jose Castro (quality assurance coach). Jaron Madison will replace Hyde as the director of player development.
Bosio, 50, returns to the club for his third season. This is his third stint as a pitching coach (previously with the Devil Rays and Brewers). He spent 11 years playing in the majors, most notably with the Mariners.
Strode, 55, returns for his eighth season as the bullpen coach and his 26th with the organization. Before his current role, he spent 11 seasons as a minor league pitching coordinator.
Font, 36, returns for his third season at the major league level and 20th overall with the organization. Prior to joining the big league staff, Font spent three years as the minor league infield coordinator. He also played within the organization before becoming a staff assistant at Single-A Daytona in 2001.
Borzello, 43, is now in his third season with the Cubs. He was previously with the Dodgers from 2008-11 as a bullpen catcher and also served that role with the Yankees from 1996-2007.
Hyde, 40, enters his third season with the Cubs and will begin his second stint as a major league bench coach, previously working under Jack McKeon with the Marlins for 1.5 years. Hyde joined the Cubs in December 2011 as the minor league field coordinator and was named director of player development in August 2012.
Jones, 53, spent the previous 11 years in the Padres organization, including the last seven as the minor league infield coordinator. He was a first base coach with the Athletics in 1998. Jones managed for 15 seasons in the minors, acquiring four minor league manager of the year awards.
Mueller, 42, has spent the last six seasons as a special assistant in the Dodgers front office. The 2003 AL batting champ also served as an interim hitting coach for the Dodgers in 2007. He spent 11 years in the majors playing with the Giants, Cubs, Red Sox and Dodgers, finishing with a .293 career average.
Brumley, 51, spent the last four seasons as an assistant hitting coach with the Mariners. From 1997-2009, he served as a minor league manager, field coordinator and instructor with Seattle. He spent seven years playing in the majors from 1987-94.
Castro, 55, spent 25 years as a minor league hitting coordinator or hitting coach for the Royals, Mariners, Marlins, Padres and Expos. He was also an interim hitting coach in 2008 for the Mariners.
The Cubs have not announced a first base coach.