Results tagged ‘ Jed Hoyer ’

ESPN’s Law ranks the Cubs’ system best in baseball

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Kris Bryant heads what Keith Law calls the best system in baseball. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

In July, ESPN prospect expert Keith Law raved about the Cubs’ system, naming it the best in the game at that point. He went so far as to say, “This has to be the most loaded the Cubs’ farm has been in at least 30 years.”

That feeling has continued to resonate with Law, who again named the Cubs’ farm system the best in baseball heading into the 2015 season.

1. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs’ draft strategy under the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime has been to grab a polished hitter in the first round and load up on arms later. That, along with the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel that netted two more top hitting prospects, has produced a system that’s full of hitting prospects but still a bit light on the pitching side. The first wave of bats reached the majors in the middle of 2014, with more coming this year, but there won’t be enough at-bats for Javier Baez and Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara and Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber and Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo … and that’s not even everyone who might end up pushing for playing time. The Cubs are in prime position to flip a young hitter for a pitcher or even to swing a bigger deal, especially if they want to try to set themselves up to win the NL Central in 2016. There are young starting pitching prospects here to like, led by 20-year-old Duane Underwood, but they’re all a few years away.

Law ranked the Cubs the No. 4 system at this time in 2014, No. 5 in 2013, and No. 20 in 2012—mere months after Epstein and Hoyer took over.

Law will unveil his top 100 prospects on Thursday and list his top 10 prospects for each club on Friday.

 

2015 Cubs Convention: Meet Cubs Baseball Management

Through a series of trades, free agent signings and the hiring of new manager Joe Maddon, this offseason has been busy for the Baseball Operations department. On Saturday morning, Cubs radio broadcaster Ron Coomer and CBS Radio personality Josh Liss met with President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, Executive Vice President/General Manager Jed Hoyer, Assistant General Manager Randy Bush and Assistant General Manager Shiraz Rehman to discuss how the offseason unfolded. Here’s what went down with the Baseball Operations department at the 2015 Cubs Convention:

Josh Liss kicks things off thanks to the new CBS partnership. Coomer talks about having total knee replacement surgery in the offseason. He looks pretty good for eight weeks out from surgery. Coomer opens by talking about the excitement of the Cubs this season. “Baseball is a better game when the Cubs are good,” Coomer says.

When asked about the team’s confidence, Epstein mentions that the team is still undefeated in 2015. He’s done tempering expectations. Cubs fans deserve to get excited after the last three years. He thinks the team will be really fun to watch this year.

“When you have players who have won the World Series and been to the top of the mountain, it provides great perspective for everyone else.,” Epstein says of signing Jon Lester. Bush talks about how experienced players can be steadying for the club.

Bush and Rehman talk about working for Epstein and Hoyer.

“It’s a pretty dynamic place to go to work every day,” Bush says. “It’s a pretty exciting group of guys from Theo all the way down. … It’s one of the most exciting places I’ve ever come to work.”

Rehman talks about the strides the team has made rebuilding the farm system. The trades they made were tough, but they were building for the future. Now that’s starting to pay off.

Bush talks about Epstein/Hoyer’s great sense of humor and how smart they are. They’re all about gathering information and accumulating as many resources as possible about players.

Hoyer and Epstein talk about their trip to a Florida RV park to land Maddon. They knew it was a great opportunity and wanted to be aggressive. Maddon was traveling the county in his RV (the Cousin Eddie). They met him in Florida and realized they hadn’t brought anything for Maddon and his wife. They quickly made a stop at Publix to get some wine. They sat and talked baseball for about six hours on plastic chairs in the sand. Epstein talks about how engaging Maddon is and how he can bring out the best in you. Players feel that too. Two days later, they were in Maddon’s agent’s office in Chicago hammering out a contract.

“When things present themselves that are such great opportunities, don’t overthink things. Just pounce,” Epstein says of Maddon’s hiring. Says he’s missed out on other opportunities/players by not being so aggressive. You deal with the ramifications later.

Hoyer talks about the challenges of playing/managing in Chicago, but says Maddon is great at finding creative solutions to bringing teams together. Won with few resources in Tampa.

Maddon understands that players need to have a life away from the ballpark, Hoyer says. You need to keep players fresh and keep things interesting. He has days when players don’t have to show up early for batting practice, themed trips, etc.

Hoyer talks about the new coaches. Calls Dave Martinez a future manager. Talks about Mallee’s work in Houston with guys like Jose Altuve and Cris Carter. Plus, he has had success with right-handed power hitters (which the Cubs have a lot of).

Epstein says Eric Hinske will be a nice complement to Mallee as asst. hitting coach. Very different personalities. Also talks about the guys who are coming back, Borzello, Strode, Jones, Bosio, etc.

Borzello and Bosio work amazingly hard breaking down hitters and going over scouting reports. Epstein says every time he goes into coaching room, those guys are watching video, breaking down opposing hitters. Rehman says he and Borzello had an hour-long conversation last night after midnight about pitch-framing. That’s the kind of passion these guys have for the game, he says.

Now we’re on Jon Lester. Epstein talks about how Lester could have gone a lot of places given his career, character, track-record, but he was up for the challenge of coming to Chicago. At dinner after the initial meeting, Lester kept saying, “They’re going to burn this city down again when we win the World Series.”

They really tailored the pitch to Lester because they knew him. Felt like they were cheating because they knew so much about Lester and his family. But, ultimately, Lester simply wanted to come here.

Epstein talks about Lester’s pitch mix and his experience pitching at Fenway. It has forced him to get creative and be adaptable. He should be able to handle pitching at Wrigley Field. He doesn’t just rely on one thing/pitch to get guys out.

Hoyer talks about the catching situation and what they have in Miguel Montero. He’s a great pitch-framer, great defensive catcher and a guy who really relates well to pitchers. Many people have told Hoyer David Ross is one of the best teammates in the game and an excellent clubhouse leader. These are the kinds of guys who can be mentors to a young team. They still like Welington Castillo a great deal, but Ross was just too good to pass up.

They knew they needed to add leadership this offseason to help build a winning culture. They feel really good about what they’ve added. Coaches can’t do everything. You also need teammates who can pull guys aside and correct bad behaviors or help guys who are struggling.

Young players are mainly thinking about staying in the big leagues/survival. There’s a necessary selfishness there, Bush says. We need guys who can help foster a team concept and make those guys more comfortable. That’s why they liked hearing Rizzo’a comments about wining the NL Central.

Next comes the question-and-answer session with fans:

  • The first question is about the draft and how they choose players. Epstein talks about how the track record for the best college bat is usually very good. They have a predisposition to that type of player with high picks. They tend to return about twice as much value as a pitcher at the top of the draft. You get your pitching through volume. You have to hammer it throughout the course of the draft.
  • How do you determine how young guys get at-bats? Javy Baez got a lot even though he struck out. Olt and Lake had a shorter leash. Hoyer said they wanted Javy to learn through his at-bats. They felt he needed that to get his feet under him in the major leagues. They wanted to bring him up and let him play. Lake and Olt lost time because other guys, like Chris Coghlan and Luis Valbuena, had strong seasons.
  • Here’s a question about when Kris Bryant is going to come up, especially if he hits in Spring Training. Epstein says it’s a balance of factors. It’s not just protecting the service clock. He uses Baez and Soler as an example. They’re trying to do the right thing for Bryant’s development and for the team.
  • The next question is about where the offensive production is going to come from. Epstein says there’s a good chance for improved production behind the plate with Montero/Ross/Castillo. But if the Cubs are going to be really good, it’s because young players are going to take big steps forward. They still really like Luis Valbuena at third, and Bryant will likely be up this year. But guys like Baez and Soler will have to step up. Alcantara can beat you with power and speed. There’s a lot of young talent on this team, but they need to take steps forward.
  • There’s a question about the development of the minor league pitchers like C.J. Edwards and Carson Sands. Rehman says Duane Underwood took some real steps forward last year. Jen-Ho Tseng has a four-pitch mix and throws up to 95. Really just a teenager. Edwards and Hendricks are more known commodities. Pitchers tend to surprise you more than hitters.

That’s it. Maddon and his Staff are next on the schedule. Stay tuned for more. We’ll be blogging all day today and tomorrow.

Cubs agree to terms with RHPs Hammel, McDonald

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The Cubs added RHP Jason Hammel to the rotation today. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty)

At their first press conference at new Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz., Cubs president Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer announced they have signed right-handed pitchers Jason Hammel and James McDonald to 2014 contracts.

Hammel, 31, is 49-59 with four saves and a 4.80 ERA in 215 major league appearances (158 starts) with Tampa Bay (2006-08), Colorado (2009-11) and Baltimore (2012-13). He has pitched primarily as a starter in the last five years and is 42-43 with a 4.60 ERA in 130 starts during that span. Hammel also has a pair of 10-win seasons to his credit (2009-10) and has made 20 or more starts in each of the last five seasons, including two years with 30 or more starts.

In his first season with Baltimore in 2012, 6-foot-6, 225-pound pitcher went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts to help the Orioles to their first postseason appearance in 15 years, earning starts in Game 1 and Game 5 of the American League Division Series vs. the New York Yankees (0-1, 3.18 ERA). Hammel was also a finalist in the MLB Fan Vote for the last spot on the American League All-Star team. He followed up by going 7-8 with one save and a 4.97 ERA in 26 appearances, all but three as a starter, with Baltimore in 2013.

McDonald, 29, is 32-30 with a 4.20 ERA in 131 major league appearances (82 starts) with the Los Angeles Dodgers (2008-10) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2010-13). In his most recent full major league season in 2012, McDonald went 12-8 with a 4.21 ERA in 30 appearances (29 starts), setting a career high in wins a year after making a career-high 31 starts in 2011. He was limited to only six starts last year (2-2, 5.76 ERA) due to right shoulder discomfort.

The 6-foot-5, 205-pound McDonald broke into the big leagues with the Dodgers in 2008 at the age of 23 and split the next three seasons between the majors and minors before enjoying his first full big league campaign in 2011. He was the Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2007 and 2008.

This pair of moves gives the team added rotation depth, which will come in handy early in the season. The team also announced that starter Jake Arrieta has experienced minor shoulder discomfort and is unlikely to start the year on the roster.

Live at CubsCon: Front office panel

In front of a nearly full ballroom, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Shiraz Rehman, Randy Bush and Rick Renteria took the stage Saturday morning. The first set of questions were pointed at Epstein and Hoyer, discussing the current state of the organization and the hope for playoff baseball.

“The only way to make [the fans] happy is by playing October baseball on a regular basis, and that’s the plan,” Epstein said.

Hoyer continued that idea by saying World Series are won with sustained success, reaching the post season more times than not over the period of a decade, and that history has shown you don’t get there by spending a ton of money one season and hoping to get lucky.

“You don’t win a World Series with the lightning in the bottle, you win because you get there a lot and catch some good breaks,” Hoyer said.

New manager Renteria made some early believers of fans, demonstrating his appreciation for the team, even as it stands right now. He says he used to look over to the other dugout during his time in San Diego and think “I’ll take this team right now, and I know what’s coming behind them.”

“My personality is suited to young players, I’ve been raising young kids my whole life, they’re my kids now,” Renteria said.

Not a ton of new information regarding Japanese pitching phenom Masahiro Tanaka, as expected, as they don’t discuss the progress of signing situations.

Though Epstein said they weren’t going to spend for the sake of spending, he did say that if money wasn’t fully utilized this offseason, that it would be used at some point.

Epstein is also adamant that the Ricketts are in it for the long haul and not wavered by the criticism they’ve received thus far.

Finally, when asked about bringing up former top prospect Brett Jackson, Epstein admits it might have been a mistake to bring him up. At the same time, former manager Dale Sveum wanted to work exclusively with him on his swing.

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

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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 the final installment of a three-part conversation we had with the Cubs GM. For the entire conversation or more Cubs information, be sure to check out the November issue of Vine Line.

Jed Hoyer Q&A, Part I
Jed Hoyer Q&A, Part II

VL: You mentioned some of the young guys who are putting up good offensive numbers in the minor leagues. Javier Baez hit 37 home runs this year. Kris Bryant hit 31 home runs in college and continued to hit in the minor leagues. How difficult is it for you to be patient with those guys, especially when you need help at the major league level?

JH: There’s no question it’s fun to look at our minor league box scores now, and it’s great that those guys are performing. But they’re not finished products, and they need to keep developing. I always think the easiest way to remain patient is to look at the careers of other really good players and realize that being rushed, giving up all those developmental minor league at-bats [can be harmful]. You have to learn how to hit in professional baseball. You have to learn how to pitch in professional baseball. Rushing a guy through, at some point, the lack of development is going to catch up with him. We want to teach these guys how to play the right way in the minor leagues, so when they come up here, they’re as ready as possible.

VL: High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee had good postseason runs. You moved both Bryant and Dan Vogelbach up to High-A to get them some playoff action. How important is it for young players to experience high-pressure baseball and to learn to win together at the lower levels?

JH: That’s the biggest focus and what you really want. We were going to send [Albert] Almora there also before he got hurt. You want them to have that experience of bonding together, playing in a playoff environment when every run is really important, every defensive play is really important. Playoff baseball is so much more focused than the games over the course of the whole season. When a player can experience playoff baseball, I think it helps them not only in future playoff games, but also in how they prepare for regular season games in the future. I think it’s really important, and hopefully we’ll have some really good minor league teams in the next couple of years so more players can get that experience.

VL: During the two years you’ve been here, the Cubs have gone from being ranked as one of the weaker minor league systems to one of the top three, according to most experts. How difficult is it to turn a system around quickly given some of the restrictions imposed by the new collective bargaining agreement?

JH: It’s certainly more challenging than it had been. There was no question what our playbook was going to be coming in here. We were going to do exactly what we did in Boston and what I was doing in San Diego, which is really emphasizing spending on scouting and player development. You try to spend as much money on young players as possible. There’s so much more impact to your dollars when you’re spending them at that level, because if you’re successful with those players, they can give you exponential value. There was no doubt we were planning to do that, and obviously the CBA restricts us. So as I said before, within the rules that have been given to us, we’ve been as aggressive as possible, and we’ll continue to be.

VL: After losing clubhouse leaders like Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus, do you worry that there will be a leadership void in the clubhouse, or do you feel like you have guys ready to step up and assume that role?

JH: It’s something that we’re focused on. We need to add some guys who can help teach our young players the right way to do things. No coach can do what a player can do. Player-to-player teaching, player-to-player coaching is so valuable. When you have really good veteran players who can take these guys under their wing and show these guys what they’ve done—as hard as coaches work, it’s difficult for them to have that same sort of relationship. So we know we have to add some leadership to the clubhouse, and certainly that will be a priority.

VL: If you could get one message out to the fans about where this organization is going or what to expect in the coming seasons, what would it be?

JH: From where I sit, I think we’re about to enter an incredibly exciting time for the Cubs. We have a new Spring Training home this year. We’re going to have a renovated Wrigley. The fans who follow us closely can see how much young talent we’ve added and how much we’ll continue to add. I think all of those things are going to come together at roughly the same time, and when they do come together—when that baseball plan and that business plan come together at the same time—I think we have a chance to stay on top and be a really competitive team that has a chance to go to the playoffs every year for quite a while.

That’s something Cubs fans haven’t had in a really long time is a young, talented team that is competitive every year. That’s what we’re trying to build. We feel really good about where we’re going. We’ve asked for a lot of patience. We’ll probably still ask for some more. But I think everything is going to come together really nicely at the same time, and when it does, it’s not going to be a one-year type situation where you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. I think it’s going to be the kind of thing where we can have that sustained success that everyone is looking for.

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

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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 Two of a three-part conversation we had with the Cubs GM. The final segment will be posted later this week. For the entire conversation or more Cubs information, be sure to check out the November issue of Vine Line.

Jed Hoyer Q&A, Part I

VL: You’ve said you and [Theo] Epstein had some pretty frank discussions with former manager Dale Sveum at the All-Star break. It seemed like momentum to replace him really picked up in the last few weeks of the season. How hard of a decision was it to let Sveum go after just two years, and what qualities are you hoping the new manager can bring to the team?

JH: For both Theo and for me, it was a very difficult decision. We’ve both known Dale since 2004. He’s an incredibly hard worker. I think he wore a lot of losses in a really impressive way. He was very stoic about it. That’s a difficult thing. You have to talk to the media twice a day. You have to talk to the team every day. When you’re losing, keeping your chin up like that is really impressive. He did a great job of dealing with adversity. So it was very difficult.

I feel like when you list off some of the things we’re looking for in the next manager, one of the problems is people right away say, “Oh, those are all things Dale didn’t have.” And that’s simply not true. I think Dale can go on to be a really good manager. Theo used the analogy in the press conference. When we hired Terry Francona in Boston, he had, I think it was, four losing seasons with the Phillies and had really struggled there. He went to the Red Sox, and now he’s a potential Hall of Fame manager. I think Dale certainly has a lot of the characteristics of a very good manager, and I certainly hope he gets the chance to do it again because I think he’ll be successful.

VL: You’re just finishing your second year with the team. How would you grade your performance so far?

JH: Like I said at the beginning, any answer that doesn’t involve the wins and losses at the major league level is problematic. We’ve really tried to be as transparent as we possibly can. When we got here, we felt like there was a really big talent deficit, especially when you consider the other teams in our division. We’ve done everything we can under the new rules to try to make sure we can close that gap. In that regard, I think we’ve done a really good job. We’re a lot closer today to playing in and winning a World Series than we were two years ago. And we just have to keep on pushing like that. But there’s no question it’s difficult.

Two years in a row, we’ve traded 40 percent of our rotation at the deadline. August and September of both years were real struggles, especially when in both years we actually played pretty well in July and had things going in a good direction. But we made all those decisions for the same reason, which is that we have to stockpile as much talent as possible to compete with teams in our division that have been doing that for a long time. We’ve tried to be transparent about what our goals are. Our goal is to build a team that can come into Spring Training year in and year out and have a chance to win, and we’ve been really focused on achieving that. In a lot of ways, we’ve been really successful in that, but we’re nowhere close to our goal.

VL: How different has it been for you working in Chicago versus working in Boston or San Diego?

JH: One of the things I really like about being in Chicago and being with the Cubs is we have the same goal as the other 29 teams, but, in some ways, it’s a bigger goal because it hasn’t been done in so long. And I think we know just how much that means to the city.

When Theo and I started talking about this in October of 2011, a big part of why we were so excited to come here and be part of this was that we lived through 2004 [in Boston], and we saw just how much it impacted the city, just how incredible the entire thing was. Really, there’s only one place in all of baseball that we have a chance to relive that. You don’t ever need more motivation in this job because it’s so obvious what your goal is, and winning is such a great thing. But here, if possible, it’s even bigger because of what it means to the city and what it means to the fan base.

VL: How important is the impending stadium restoration to the organization? As beautiful as Wrigley Field is from a fan perspective, does it hinder the baseball side that the players are dealing with inferior facilities compared to most other major league teams?

JH: It’s really important for us to get this done successfully—and hopefully sooner rather than later. We’re not going to have the kind of revenues that a team in a city like Chicago needs to have until the renovations get going. We need to be able to have more signage. We need to be able to have a scoreboard so we can sell advertising. People don’t realize how important that is to the organization. Those are the dollars that flow right back into the team. We should be a financial monster sitting here in the city of Chicago with a team that’s unbelievably popular, but we can’t be that until the stadium gets renovated.

And from a player standpoint, we do have inferior facilities. We don’t have a really functional weight room. We have a batting cage that’s out in left field. The layout of the clubhouse I don’t think is conducive to the kind of oneness you want from a major league clubhouse. That’s a really big factor, and I think when we do have the renovations here and we can give our players first-class facilities, it will be a huge plus in not only improving our current players, but also in improving players going forward.

VL: Pitching was the main priority last offseason. What are the main things you’re focusing on going into 2014?

JH: You’re always going to be looking for pitching. The teams that have pitching depth are able to survive the marathon of the season so much better, so I think you’re always going to be looking for pitching every offseason. But our biggest focus—and it will be for quite some time—is improving our offense. We’ve got to get on base more. We have to have better quality at-bats. There’s no way around it. Our current offense isn’t good enough to be competitive. Obviously, we have a lot of young offensive talent coming in the minor leagues, but we need to add on top of that and really make our approach at the plate and getting on base a huge priority. Until we do that, we’re not going to be as successful as we need to be.

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.

Hot Off the Presses: November Vine Line featuring GM Jed Hoyer

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How do you evaluate a 96-loss season? It depends on how you look at it.

Are you evaluating just the major league team or the organization as a whole? Your answers would likely be very different.

On the surface, things don’t look too good. For the second straight year, the Cubs languished in the basement of a stacked NL Central that sent three teams to the 2013 postseason. The offense consistently struggled to put runs on the board, the bullpen faltered early in the season, several key players failed to develop as expected, and manager Dale Sveum was released after two seasons at the helm. To hear General Manager Jed Hoyer tell it, that’s simply not going to cut it.

“One of the things about this job is that your report card is in the paper every morning,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, that report card tells us we’re not good enough. We’re not talented enough at the major league level, and we have to improve that.”

Despite the struggles in Chicago—and both President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and Hoyer are quick to admit they’re disappointed by the win-loss total—the front office has never wavered from its initial blueprint for building a consistent winner.

When Epstein and Hoyer took over in October 2011, there was a severe talent deficit in the minor league system, and the major league team was saddled with expensive, aging players. The goal was to stockpile as much young talent as possible as quickly as possible and create payroll flexibility to ensure that the next time the team is competitive, it has a chance to remain competitive for years to come.

On that front, things don’t look bad at all. In 2009, Baseball America ranked the Cubs 27th in its annual organizational talent rankings. By the start of 2013, they had moved up to 12th. Thanks to shrewd trades, some aggressive international signings and a strong 2013 draft, headlined by overall No. 2 pick Kris Bryant, most experts agree the Cubs system is firmly in the top five heading into 2014. And 11 of the organization’s top 20 prospects, according to MLB.com, were acquired since the new front office took over in 2011. That’s a lot of progress in a few short years.

This month, we sat down with the Cubs’ GM for a frank conversation about the state of the organization. There is great reason for optimism, but the wave of young standouts developing in the farm system has yet to crest at Wrigley Field. Until that top-notch talent arrives, it’s imperative the Cubs find a way to improve their bullpen and generate more quality at-bats.

“The amount of talent and the athleticism we have [in the system] is a long, long way from where it was when we first got here, and we’re excited about that,” Hoyer said. “But all those things don’t hide the fact that the goal is to get better at the major league level, and we need to improve on what we’ve done in 2012 and 2013.”

We also talked to one of the key pieces Hoyer acquired last offseason that fits this new organizational philosophy—outfielder Nate Schierholtz. The 29-year-old veteran finally got a chance to play regularly in 2013, and he had a breakout season, with career highs in plate appearances, home runs and RBI. Everybody, from the front office to his teammates, says the same thing about Schierholtz: He’s a professional ballplayer who fights for every at-bat and brings his best effort every day.

Finally, despite the win-loss total, there were plenty of positive developments at the major league level. The Cubs strengthened their pitching depth behind the emergence of lefty Travis Wood, ace Jeff Samardzija continued to miss bats with the best of them, Junior Lake made a surprisingly successful major league debut, and the left side of the infield was as strong defensively as any in baseball. We examine several impressive stats from the 2013 campaign that should bode well for the organization’s near future.

If you want to get to know the future of the organization now, follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline. All winter long, we’ll be following the Cubs’ top prospects in the fall and winter leagues. And pick up the November issue of Vine Line today.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Q&A with GM Jed Hoyer (Part 3)

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(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 final part of our three-part interview, Hoyer discusses the foundation for the club’s future success. With rebuilt staff, new players and minor league acquisitions, the Cubs aim to make significant progress from a year ago. The club established a more of a core this offseason, with the hopes of getting big results from those players while maintaining a level of success throughout the system.

To read the entire interview, pick up the April issue or subscribe to Vine Line today. Check out part one of our interview here and part two of our interview here.

Vine Line: You and Theo Epstein talk about sticking to a plan in building the Cubs. Do you feel you’re making progress?

Jed Hoyer: I think there’s been a lot of progress. There’s a lot more talent in that clubhouse than there was a year ago. But the only way there’s real progress is if we say the same thing next year and the year after that and keep building on that. There’s no way you can speed the hands of the clock. We have to let these guys develop. There’s only one draft a year, there’s only one trade deadline a year, and there’s only one area for free agency. We know it’s going to take some cycles of that. To do it every year, we have to come in here and say, “Whoa, we have a lot more talent.” If we keep doing that, eventually we’ll get to that critical mass when you say, “Hey, this is a really good team.”

VL: Some of your minor league additions—such as field coordinator Tim Cossins, pitching coordinator Derek Johnson and hitting coordinator Anthony Iapoce—didn’t make headlines, but they were key acquisitions.

JH: No question. A lot of the things that happen that the fans don’t see are just as important as what they do see. The tip of the iceberg is the major league team, and that’s the most important thing. We added a lot to the minor league system. Certainly, there are first-round guys who are brimming with talent, but there are organizations who continually find guys below the radar who people say come out of nowhere. A lot of that is good teaching in the minor leagues, and all of a sudden, these guys really develop. That’s what we’re looking for, and I think we have really good teachers leading that, and we have a lot of good coaches below them.

Every year, we want to feel better and better about the continuity—the best organizations have a lot of continuity. We want to develop that. We’re not there yet. We’re still making changes, but we want to get to the point where everyone knows how the Cubs teach and who’s teaching it.

VL: What’s your feeling on Dale Sveum heading into his second season as manager?

JH: The 101 losses [last year] are on Theo and me. We felt like Dale kept the clubhouse together. We had a 101-loss team with no brush fires at all. Guys really respect him. They play hard for him. Our goal is to make sure we have a really talented team that’s playing hard for him. I think Dale has done a great job. He’s a really good teacher, he’s well respected, and we’re looking forward to year two with him.

VL: Sveum doesn’t want players to limit themselves and be content with a .500 season. Do you have a winning percentage you want to see this year?

JH: I don’t really put a number on it. The biggest thing for me, and the thing that probably frustrated me the most a year ago, and the thing we have to change before we’re a good team, is we didn’t control the strike zone very well. We walked too many guys pitching-wise, and we didn’t get on base enough offensively. That to me is what really has to change. Hopefully, there are guys on our team who can change that, or we’re going to have to change personnel in order to do it.

VL: You did improve the pitching, but looking at the projected lineup, there haven’t been many changes. Why should fans watch the 2013 Cubs?

JH: I think the fans are starting to see what we’re trying to build—at first base with [Anthony] Rizzo, at shortstop with [Starlin] Castro, and certainly [Jeff] Samardzija. We’re hoping some more guys push their way into that group, whether it’s Welington Castillo or Nate Schierholtz. We like the addition of Nate and think he’s a guy who will benefit from a change of scenery. Darwin Barney had a fantastic year, and we think he can build on it offensively. We have a deeper pitching staff than we did a year ago.

We’ve been really honest to the fans, and I don’t think at any point we’ve misled them on what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to build something that every year they know is a playoff-quality team. That’s the goal. It doesn’t happen overnight, and we’ve been really honest about that. But I do think fans deserve to start seeing the fruits of our labor, and I think you’re going to start to see that coming together now.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Q&A with GM Jed Hoyer (Part 2)

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(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.

To read the entire interview, pick up the April issue or subscribe to Vine Line today. And check out part one of our interview here.

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.

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