Results tagged ‘ Jason McLeod ’

Live at CubsCon: Down on the Farm

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.

Prospectus Preview: 2012 Draft, Pierce Johnson

12-Johnson03

Other Prospectus Previews: 

• Down the Pipeline / Jeimer Candelario

Close to the Majors / Nick Struck

2012 International / Jorge Soler

2012 Trades and Claims / Barret Loux


One year after the Cubs stocked up by paying a premium for impact talent, the game changed. New leaguewide spending restrictions implemented prior to the 2012 draft now mean the only option is to out-scout and out-draft other teams.

“We’re very fortunate here in that I think we have such great evaluators,” said Jason McLeod, Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We just changed some processes of how we were acquiring information.”

New scouting responsibilities included video capture for biomechanical analysis and deeper background work. Albert Almora became “the guy” early in the year, with the team sold on his innate two-way abilities and passion for the game.

But after that sixth-overall pick, the Cubs went all-in on arms with their next seven selections. It’s a haul that falls to new pitching coordinator Derek Johnson, who tutored his share of first-round picks—including Cy Young winner David Price—as Vanderbilt’s pitching coach.

“It’s the area where we feel, if we’re going to be a good organization and get to where we want to go, has to be a point of emphasis,” McLeod said.

Pierce Johnson is one of the high-ceiling pitchers the Cubs selected last June. He is also one of more than 60 players covered in Vine Line’s annual Minor League Prospectus. The issue hits newsstands in February, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. Get up to speed on the Cubs’ 2012 draft class and the rest of the minor leagues for Spring Training and beyond.

P | PIERCE JOHNSON
Ht./Wt.: 6-3/170
B/T: R/R
Born: 5/10/91 in Arvada, Colo.
Acquired: 2012 Draft (1s)
Tools: Velocity, Fastball, Curveball
2012 STATS (R): 0.00 ERA, 3.0 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 2 K; (SS): 4.50 ERA, 8.0 IP, 10 H, 3 BB, 12 K

Johnson, the first pitcher chosen by the Cubs in the June draft, fell to the 43rd pick only because of a minor elbow strain he suffered last spring. His power arsenal includes a low-90s fastball and a power curveball that may have been the draft’s best. He pitches with competitiveness and from a good, high angle, and has the stuff to miss bats as he climbs through the minors. His frame is tall but very lean, so the focus will be on adding strength and weight while he develops his change-up. This season, the goal is to log innings and show his potential as a future mid-rotation horse.


Other players featured in this section: Infielder Stephen Bruno, outfielder Albert Almora, and pitchers Paul Blackburn and Duane Underwood.

Plus, tidbits on IF Tim Saunders, RHP Ryan McNeil, RHP Josh Conway and LHP Michael Heesch.

Sean Ahmed

Cubs Convention kicks off next Friday

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Ready to get the 2013 baseball season started? The Cubs campaign kicks off next weekend, Jan. 18-20, at the 28th Annual Cubs Convention, held for the first time at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in downtown Chicago. The event will feature more than 75 current, past and future Cubs players and coaches, and will offer more than 100 photo and autograph opportunities.

The Opening Ceremony begins on Friday, Jan. 18, at 5 p.m., and will feature player and alumni introductions on a red carpet runway that will offer special VIP access to children 16 and under. Following the Opening Ceremony, guests will find some of their favorite Cubs throughout the hotel for an exciting Autograph Hunt Game. The evening will conclude with longtime Cubs Convention favorite Cubs Bingo, led by Wayne Messmer, as well as a live radio broadcast of WGN Sports Night.

Saturday’s program continues the gaming fun with the return of Cubs Jeopardy, which pits alumni pitchers Milt Pappas, Scott Sanderson, Lee Smith and Rick Sutcliffe against alumni position players Jose Cardenal, Jody Davis, Randy Hundley and Todd Walker. Cubs Family Feud makes its Cubs Convention debut Saturday afternoon, as Cubs alumni Bobby Dernier, Jon Lieber, Gary Matthews and Billy Williams take on current Cubs Michael Bowden, Shawn Camp, Brett Jackson and Ian Stewart.

Fans can meet many of the club’s offseason acquisitions—including pitchers Scott Baker, Scott Feldman and Edwin Jackson; catcher Dioner Navarro; and outfielder Nate Schierholtz—at the Meet the New Cubs session hosted by new television analyst Jim Deshaies and play-by-play broadcaster Len Kasper.

Additional Saturday sessions include:

  • Ricketts Family Forum—Tom, Laura, Pete and Todd Ricketts speak with Len Kasper and fans about their experience as team owners over the past three years.
  • Meet Cubs Baseball Management—President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, Executive Vice President/General Manager Jed Hoyer, Assistant General Manager Randy Bush, Assistant General Manager Shiraz Rehman and manager Dale Sveum speak about the club’s recent moves and what lies ahead for the 2013 season.
  • From Draft Day to the Big Leagues—Cubs minor league prospects Dallas Beeler, Matt Szczur, Robert Whitenack and Tony Zych discuss what it’s like to get drafted by the Chicago Cubs and advance through the minor leagues.
  • Dale Sveum and the Coaching Staff—The Cubs manager, bench coach Jamie Quirk, hitting coach James Rowson, assistant hitting coach Rob Deer, bullpen boach Lester Strode, first base coach Dave McKay and third base coach David Bell speak with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies about what’s in store during the staff’s second year.
  • For Kids Only Press Conference, presented by Advocate Health Care—A unique Q&A session where kids ask the questions to Darwin Barney, David DeJesus, Brooks Raley, Anthony Rizzo and Chris Rusin.
  • Renew Wrigley Field—Cubs executives discuss ideas to preserve and renew iconic Wrigley Field based on input from Cubs fans, season ticket holders and the community.
  • Not for Women Only—Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza, James Russell, and Travis Wood discuss their personal sides and lives off the field.
  • WGN Radio’s Sports Central—This live broadcast with WGN Radio’s Jim Memolo and Glen Kozlowski will feature segments with David DeJesus and Matt Garza; Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija; Tony Campana and Starlin Castro; and Brett Jackson, Edwin Jackson and Anthony Rizzo.

Sunday’s program features two panel sessions to close out the Convention:

  • Down on the Farm—Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod, Director of Pro Scouting Joe Bohringer and Director of Player Development Brandon Hyde will be joined by Cubs farmhands Chris Rusin and Josh Vitters to give a breakdown of the Cubs minor league teams from Iowa down to Mesa. Hosted by Vine Line editor Gary Cohen and broadcaster Dave Otto.
  • Stat Sundays—Broadcasters Jim Deshaies, Len Kasper and WGN’s Bob Vorwald offer insight into the statistics they analyze and feature during Stat Sundays throughout the season.

In addition to the sessions highlighted above, the Convention includes many new and returning activities throughout the weekend for fans:

Rookie of the Year Movie Night, presented by the Cubs Kids Club, makes its Cubs Convention debut. Fans can eat popcorn and relax with family and friends Saturday evening while watching the popular film, Rookie of the Year.

Walgreens Field is a new miniature turf diamond that gives kids a fun place to take practice batting, play pick-up wiffle ball games or participate in professional instructional clinics as part of the Baseball Interactive Zone. Cubs players and coaches will pair up with Illinois Baseball Academy instructors to conduct a series of training opportunities for fans of all ages throughout the weekend.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago is giving fans the chance to test their play-by-play broadcasting skills in a custom-built fantasy broadcasting booth. Guests will call a pre-recorded play in the booth, then download a recorded copy of their work for keeps.

MLB Network’s Strike Zone allows fans to test their arm speed and win prizes at an inflatable speed pitch.

The Sony PlayStation Gaming Zone gives attendees a chance to take a break from the action to play MLB 12 The Show at one of several Sony PS3 kiosks.

The LEGOLAND® Discovery Center returns with an area dedicated for families to exercise their creativity with the small building blocks.

American Girl’s Activity Area features activities inspired by American Girl dolls and the chance to win a new doll and book.

The Chicago Sun-Times Photo Kiosk lets fans have their picture taken for the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times with customizable headlines that make for a memorable souvenir.

Fans can learn about or contribute to the history of the Cubs franchise in collaboration with team archivists. Historical pieces of memorabilia will be on hand for viewing, and guests can receive professional tips on how to preserve their own valuable keepsakes. Attendees are invited to share their personal stories with a video crew, and they may be used in future promotions or publications.

Limited individual weekend passes for the 2013 Cubs Convention are still available for $60 per pass plus convenience fees. Visit www.cubs.com/convention or call 1-800-THE-CUBS. A percentage of the proceeds from the Cubs Convention benefits Chicago Cubs Charities. To date, Cubs Convention has raised approximately $4 million for Chicago Cubs Charities.

1000 Words: Jorge Soler at Wrigley

(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs brass got a glimpse of the future on Saturday, as Cuban import Jorge Soler paid his first visit to Wrigley Field. As it turns out, it was actually the power hitting outfielder’s first visit to any major league stadium. Soler signed a $30 million deal with the Cubs in June and finished the season at Single-A Peoria, where he hit .338 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 20 games.

Northwest League Playoffs Preview: Boise hosts Yakima in Game 1

Albert Amora, Gioskar Amaya, Jeimer Calendario, Dan Vogelbach and Pierce Johnson—if you’re a Vine Line reader, you know these are some of the Cubs organization’s newest and most promising players. They may be years away from the big leagues, but they’ve already earned a playoff appearance on their developmental path to Chicago.

The Boise Hawks host the Yakima Bears (Diamondbacks) in Game 1 of the Northwest League Division Playoffs, beginning at 7:45 p.m. Central Time tonight. The game will be shown on MiLB.tv thanks to the excellent production work out in Boise, and we’ll recap the games this week. Here are some notes to get you ready for tonight’s matchup, the first of a best-of-three series.

Season Recap: The Hawks rebounded from a poor first half (13-25) to take the Northwest League East Division with a 24-14 second half.

Roster Breakdown: The Hawks dugout currently features 11 players from the 2012 draft, seven from 2011, three from 2010 and 10 international signings.

Tonight’s Starting Pitchers: Pierce Johnson starts for the Hawks, though it will effectively be a bullpen-by-committee night. The 43rd overall pick of the 2012 draft, Johnson was selected out of Missouri State and battled some minor injury issues earlier in the spring. The Cubs have been keeping him on a strict pitch count, which has resulted in just two-inning starts each time out.

Watching video of his two home starts for Boise (August 11 and 28), Johnson features a hard fastball with good run, a power curveball that moves away from right-handed hitters thanks to his three-quarters arm slot, and an occasional straight change. His fastball sits in the 93-96 mph range, and he was able to locate his curveball well for strikes. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds, he’s tall and lean and looks very projectable. As the second player drafted in the Theo Epstein/Jason McLeod era, he’ll definitely be one to watch.

Last time around, Johnson was followed by Jose Arias, who had previously started all 13 of his appearances. He throws a fastball with some sink, a slider-type breaking ball that he can bury and a change-up. We’ll see if those two form a tandem again in the postseason.

Blake Perry, Arizona’s sixth-round pick in 2010, takes the hill for Yakima. He threw four shutout innings against Boise earlier this season.

Hitters to Watch: First baseman Dan Vogelbach was Boise’s best hitter for the season, powering his way to a .324/.427/.619 line with 10 home runs in 36 games. He was Chicago’s supplemental-round pick in 2012 and is just 19 years old.

There is no shortage of positional talent on this squad, so it’s quite impressive that infielder Stephen Bruno has been able to stand out as much as he has. He led the Northwest League with a .361 average and rides a 22-game hitting streak into tonight’s game. A product of the University of Virginia, Bruno was the Cubs’ seventh-round pick this June. Not only has he shown a mature approach at the plate, but he’s also made several nice defensive plays around the diamond.

Now Playing: Anthony Rizzo Safe at Home

Since his June 26 call-up to the big leagues, Anthony Rizzo has certainly lived up Cubs fans’ expectations. In just 57 games, his highlights include driving in the game-winning RBI in three of his first five games, hitting a dramatic walk-off home run against the Cardinals and capping an improbable rally last night with a key ninth inning double to tie the game 11-11 with Milwaukee.

Rizzo’s early success with the Cubs made us wonder about the goals he set for himself heading into the season. Vine Line looked back at our Spring Training conversation with the slugging first baseman in which he talked about coming to the Cubs, saying goodbye to the minor leagues and playing at Wrigley Field.

Red Sox Nation storms into Wrigley

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For just the second time ever during the regular season and first time since 2005, the Red Sox will take to the Wrigley Field grass this weekend. The all-time regular-season series is knotted at 3-all, but the Cubs took two of three at the Friendly Confines back in 2005.

The series marks a reunion of sorts for Cubs baseball president Theo Epstein. Epstein acted as the Red Sox’s general manager from 2002-11 before taking his position with the North Siders and is largely responsible for the current makeup of Boston’s lineup. GM Jed Hoyer and senior vice president Jason McLeod also spent time over the last decade in Sox upper management.

While both squads currently sit at the bottom of their respective divisions, there’s no shortage of excitement when these historic teams get together.

Cubs select Almora sixth overall in 2012 draft

As the Cubs brain trust will tell you, draft day is the most important day of the year.

The Chicago Cubs made three selections in the opening rounds of Monday’s 2012 Major League First-Year Player Draft, taking high school outfielder Albert Almora with the sixth overall pick. The team also selected two right-handed pitchers in the compensation round: 21-year-old Pierce Johnson with the 43rd pick (compensation for Aramis Ramirez) and 18-year-old Paul Blackburn with the 56th pick (compensation for Carlos Peña).

The Cubs’ interest in Almora, an 18-year-old out of Mater Academy Charter in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., might have been the worst-kept secret in the draft. Most experts expected the Cubs to take the high-ceiling outfielder, whom Baseball America named the best defensive player, second-best outfielder and the third-best high school player in the 2012 draft class

The six-foot-two, 180-pound Almora hit .603 (44-for-73) with 13 doubles, five triples, six home runs and 34 RBI in 25 games for Mater Academy last season. His 14 walks compared to just three strikeouts in 87 plate appearances helped him to a robust .677 on-base percentage.

The 2011 USA Baseball Athlete of the Year has also been part of six USA national teams and earned five gold medals. He is committed to the University of Miami.

“We scouted Albert extensively throughout his career, and he fit the criteria we were looking for,” said Jason McLeod, Cubs vice president of scouting and player development. “He has multiple tools across the board and an incredible work ethic. We are looking forward to seeing him start his career.”

Johnson, a right-hander out of  Missouri State University, led the Missouri Valley Conference with 119 strikeouts in 99.2 innings pitched  this past season. He was named the conference’s Pitcher of the Week twice, helping lead the Bears to their first NCAA Regional appearance in nine years.

Blackburn went 8-3 with a 1.27 ERA and notched 87 strikeouts in 77.1 innings of work for Heritage High School in Brentwood, Calif. He recorded his first career no-hitter this past May, striking out eight and walking two. Blackburn is committed to Arizona State University.

Hot off the presses: Vine Line on the farm

It’s February and that means baseball is back! Well … almost. Cubs pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Ariz., Feb. 18, and the first Cactus League game is March 4. Cubs management has spent the entire offseason strengthening the team, and now we get to see how they look in the hot Arizona sun.

They say the youth shall lead us, so Vine Line kicks off the Cactus League season with our annual Minor League Prospectus issue. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have pledged to make the team younger and more athletic, and that all starts on the farm. We profile the names you need to know in the Cubs minor league system, from top draft picks like Brett Jackson and Javier Baez to flamethrowers Dillon Maples and Tony Zych.

We also go in-depth with Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod to discuss his experience in Boston and San Diego, his shared history with Epstein and Hoyer, and how he will construct a top-notch farm system here in Chicago. He already helped build a World Series winner in Boston, and he’s working hard to create the same foundation on the North Side.

“It comes back to who your scouts are, how good they are at evaluating players, how good your system and processes are on cultivating that information, and using it to make the best decisions you can,” McLeod said. “That is what our focus is going to be on.”

Finally, if December was about adding bats, last month was all about the arms race. Cubs beat writer Bruce Miles looks at the many additions to the pitching staff and how they’ll benefit the team this season.

If you live in the Chicago area, you can grab the February issue at select Barnes and Noble, Jewel, Walgreens and Meier locations. Or subscribe to Vine Line today. We’ll see you in Mesa!

Now Playing: 2012 Cubs Convention

From Jan. 13-15, Cubs fans of all ages gathered at the Hilton Chicago to warm up the winter and mingle with more than 70 Cubs players, coaches and front office personnel at the sold-out 27th annual Cubs Convention. Vine Line was there the whole weekend to document all the happenings, including Kerry Wood’s triumphant return, the Ron Santo Hall of Fame Panel and all the new Wrigley Field news. Get ready for the season and check out the sights and sounds of the 2012 Cubs Convention.

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