Thursday, January 16, 2014
Cubs prospects learning professional life
By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO -- It might just be a coincidence that the Chicago Cubs instituted a prospect development program at about the same time they started a massive youth movement, but the timing couldn't be better.
Albert Almora is one of 15 Cubs prospects in town this week for a development program.
This year, 15 prospects, some very highly touted, were brought to Chicago for a week of workouts, bonding and learning about what they'll encounter if and when they make it to the major leagues.
"We want to expose them to the market [and] to the city," said Cubs director of scouting Jason McLeod, who created the same program in San Diego and Boston previously. "We want them to see what the fans are like here and what a great sports town it is."
In Cubs nation, they are considered the saviors even though only two -- Junior Lake and Mike Olt -- have seen any time in the major leagues. Nonetheless, the Cubs have stockpiled plenty of talent through trades and the draft, and some are finally on the verge of making it to Wrigley Field.
"It prepares us for what's coming," said 2012 first-round pick Albert Almora. "It's teaching us what to get ready for and what to expect and what they expect of us. We're taking it to heart, taking notes. We're in this for the long run, so we're having a good time."
The group has heard from Cubs brass, their new manager Rick Renteria and former Cub Rick Sutcliffe was scheduled to talk Thursday. On Friday, a mental skill coach will address the players.
The Cubs are leaving no stone unturned in their development, both on and off the field.
"We feel really good about the impact potential of this group," McLeod said.
He was quick to point out that organizations tend to rave about their prospects, so the Cubs are still being careful. No one gets a shortcut to the majors. Every player is given a plan he needs to follow in order to move up. It's one thing being discussed this week as well.
"When you can turn those weaknesses into strengths, that's when you're going to move," McLeod said.
As for the players, they are well aware of how the Cubs fan base views them. And that's another thing they are learning: how to manage expectations.
"We hear it," said Kris Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2013 draft. "[But] we're not the only ones here that can help the team win."
Pitcher Kyle Hendricks, acquired for Ryan Dempster in 2012, was a little more direct: "We've been talking about that this week too," he said. "We're trying to institute a winning way here. Obviously, it hasn't been that in the past, and it's going to be up to me and these guys coming up to change what's been going on.
"We've learned a lot the last few days. They're definitely making us more aware of what it's going to be like when we come up here. It makes the transition much easier for sure."
As for that exposure to the city and fans, they'll get an idea at the Cubs Convention this weekend, but there's probably no better advertisement for fan excitement these days than a Blackhawks game. The group attended Tuesday's contest against the Colorado Avalanche.
"That was absolutely incredible," Bryant said. "I've never been to a hockey game before, and the national anthem there was amazing. I had the time of my life."
That sentiment was echoed by nearly every prospect. It's a taste of what Wrigley Field could look like when populated by these players. For now, it's about getting to know one another and learning to be a professional.
"That's what it's all about, being great teammates to one another," Hendricks said. "The closer we can get and become like brothers, that's going to help us win."
Maybe No. 1 prospect and the Cubs' top pick of 2011 put it best about what he's learned this week.
"Care about the team before caring about yourself," shortstop Javier Baez said.
That attitude, to go along with the talent among the prospects at the development program this week, is what team president Theo Epstein is counting on. It's the crux of the whole rebuilding effort.