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Friday, September 20, 2013
Theo: Cubs have one of top farm systems

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO -- The major league team may not have performed well on the field, but the Chicago Cubs believe their farm system is one of the best in the game and will turn them into a winner someday.

"If you look at where our system is now it took a huge step forward," team President Theo Epstein said Friday morning. "There's still room for growth but as far as the progress that we're making, we're right where we want to be. Who knows how other people see it, but we think we have one of the top farm systems in the game and we couldn't more excited about our future."

That future should include 2011 top draft pick Javier Baez, the poster child for the Cubs revival.

"I don't think any of us could envision he would go out and hit 37 home runs and drive in 100-plus runs," scouting director Jason McLeod said. "I don't want to say it was one for the ages but there are very few 20-year-olds that did what he did this year."

But Cubs brass truly believes there's a lot more than just Baez on the way. They're especially excited with the developments on the mound. When Epstein took over the Cubs he believed the cupboard was bare in pitching. Not anymore.

"We've had about as good a year as we could ever have expected in terms of player development and to a certain extent talent acquisition too," Epstein said.

He's referring to his pitchers that helped the organization win a championship at the Single-A level. C.J. Edwards, Corey Black and Ivan Pineyro were instrumental in Daytona throwing an incredible four shutouts in six playoff games en route to winning the Florida State League title. All three were mid-year pick-ups this season but still need to climb the minor league ladder.

Closer to making the team is minor league pitcher of the year Kyle Hendricks. He vaulted to the top of the prospect list behind a combined 13-4 season at Double-A and Triple-A. He might be the lone starter on the horizon, although McLeod said he'll start the year back in Iowa.

"It's safe to assume that," McLeod said. "I wouldn't put that (making the Cubs) on him. ... (He's) kind of like a Scott Feldman but with a better fastball."

Hendricks also came in a trade, in 2012 for Ryan Dempster. Then there's promising right-hander Jake Arrieta who's already pitching for the Cubs. He just dominated the Milwaukee Brewers with elite stuff on Thursday and was acquired for Feldman this July.

• McLeod indicated 2013's top pick, Kris Bryant, will open the season at Single-A Daytona or Double-A Tennessee. In between he'll "move around the outfield" in the Arizona Fall League but expect him to return to third base next year.

• Baez will visit the Cubs facilities in Mesa, Ariz., twice this offseason after electing not to play in the Fall League. He'll work with coaches there before and after the winter holidays. The next time he'll see game action will be spring training.

• McLeod indicated Triple-A Iowa likely will have Christian Villanueva, Baez and possibly Arismendy Alcantara as its third baseman, shortstop and second baseman to open next season.