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This is only the beginning: Cubs organization is in able hands and look to be good for a long, long time

Walking into the Mesa Riverview Complex is an entirely different experience to what we are feeling now with Cubs playoff baseball.  The postseason is loud, fraught with nervous energy, highs and lows, emotions so intense you can sense it right through your keyboard miles and miles away.

Here in Arizona, the atmosphere is different.  There is relative quiet.  Occasionally you will hear the crack of well-struck baseballs or coaches barking out a mix of instruction and praise or the players themselves as they engage in friendly competition.

It's just baseball without the bells and whistles.  It can seem so distant to what is happening in Chicago.

Yet there is a connection between the two seemingly polar extremes.  Everyone is buzzing about the Cubs down here.  The players get time off during the Cubs postseason games, stressing the importance of unity as well as serving as a reminder of the ultimate goal for the organization.  The viewing party for the wildcard game was loud enough to make you think you were at PNC Park, or at least enough to make you feel like you  were in Chicago watching the game somewhere.

More importantly, there is continuity between what is being preached and practiced down here and what is manifesting itself right now in the postseason at the MLB level.  Down here they are planting the seeds to perpetuate what you see today -- both on and off the field.

Tim Cossins is the Field Coordinator and runs a well-organized camp.  He deftly balances respect and approachability, able to keep it all running efficiently and purposefully while  keeping things loose at the same time.

On a surface level, players here learn the value of routine and repetition, though it is more than just that.  Every drill is applied to game situations.  The coaches are always on hand to give immediate feedback when necessary.  Physical errors aren't looked down on, they're viewed as coaching opportunities.  As a former educator, we would call those "teachable moments".  Players aren't afraid to make mistakes here.  They learn from them.  Players know exactly what they're supposed to work on -- and the instructors and coaches here keep that message consistent across the board.

I remarked to Anthony Iapoce, the Minor League Hitting Coordinator, how so much of what is done here reflects much of what I had learned both as an MAT grad student and then as a teacher/trainer/coordinator.  He responded that a good coach has to be a very good teacher.  It's not just idle words, he lives and breathes it -- from organizing instructive, yet engaging activities to keeping the players focused and motivated throughout the camp.  As anyone who has taught knows, that isn't always easy to do when you're dealing with youth.  And down  here, it seems to gets younger every year.  There are several 16 and 17 year old players on the roster this fall as the Cubs have increasingly looked to get recently signed IFAs started early.   Iapoce is up to the task.  He's a bundle of energy out there -- he can seemingly keep up with the kids all day long.

We can say the same for Infield Coordinator Jose Flores, who keeps his very young infielders engaged and focused.  He is entrusted with some important tasks this year, from coaching Ian Happ on his conversion to 2B to developing several talented, but raw shortstops, all of whom are 18 or under.  He has done a remarkable job balancing it all.  We could go on and on, but I will just say there's a great set of coordinators, instructors, and coaches here who all play an important role.  The personalities may be different, but the philosophy is the same all the way down the line.

The players seems to know when to put the work in and when they can relax and let their personalities show (as with the HR derby).  Cossins  told me this is by design.  As much as they are teaching players the basic fundamentals of the game, they also want them to fit in and find their identity within the organization.  These are talented kids and the Cubs want them feeling like they belong, like they are part of a big family.  They want them to play loose and with confidence so that their talent can manifest itself on the field.  It parallels what is happening in Chicago right now.

One player down here who has exemplified this is Eloy Jimenez.  I saw Jimenez in extended spring training and he was rather quiet.  He was one of the younger players in camp and so he tended to just do his work and go about his business.  This fall, he has taken on more of a leadership role.  Jimenez understands what it's like to be the young kid in camp, to spend his days miles away from a familiar land and culture.  And so, he has taken the latest IFA bonus babies under his wing, joking with them, cheering them on, and lending an ear for all questions.  Kwang-Min Kwon and Jonathan Sierra can seemingly always be found somewhere near Jimenez.  Iapoce remarked how much more confident and comfortable Jimenez is now even in terms of his body language, even just walking down the hallways.  He also called him a good teammate.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Jimenez seems primed to explode on the field.  The maturation process is translating to his work in the field and especially at the plate, where Jimenez has put on a show almost day in and day out.

It is important to remember that this is an organizational-wide endeavor.  Everyone is on the same page. Cossins lauded the scouting department's ability  to not just find good players, but also good people -- kids who are easy to coach, willing to work hard, and are good teammates.

That is not to say there is anything cookie cutter about the kids they bring in.  These are not the Stepford Cubs.  The personalities range from one end of the spectrum to the other, from the fun-loving passion of Andruw Monasterio to the quietly competitive Kwon to the energetic, confident DJ Wilson to the intensely competitive and passionate Happ -- yet they all have the fundamental makeup elements -- the coachability, the work ethic,  the personality to be a good teammate.  It's encouraging to see Happ seek out Iapoce after a BP session or to see Monasterio intently listen to Ty Wright's instruction at the end of one day -- and then seamlessly apply those adjustments on the next.

The coaches and instructors, in turn, easily transition from one player to the next.  There is an impressive interpersonal intelligence that is common to the staff here.  Each player is different.  Each learns differently and the coaches seem to understand and respect that.  Moreover, they're genuinely invested in the success of these players.  Cossins almost sounds like a proud papa as he talked about how much Jason Vosler improved as a player last season.  The instructors take pride in how highly regarded the Cubs farm system is while also looking ahead to the challenges ahead to maintain that level of success.

Right now, I'm feeling very good about where the Cubs are now and just as importantly, where they are headed.  They are good.  And it looks like it could stay that way for a long time.

 

 

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  • Are they being taught how to curtain call and barrel role slide into second base? Just want to make sure it's all done the right way.

  • In reply to Joshnk24:

    No Chase Utleys here.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    They're still developing, John. They aren't finished products. They are a long way from where they will be when some of them reach the majors. It is most important that they follow the process and learn to barrel roll properly. LOL (I'm kidding).

    It is good to hear that they are all being coached consistently and individually.

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    It sounds like the Cubs are becoming a very well run and thoughtful organization and that the older (ha) players are taking the younger ones under their wing. That shows maturity and responsibility and respect for the organization.
    John, do the players in AZ go home for the winter or are they there all year round, and anything more on EJM? I thought it was a coup that the Cubs signed him and would hate to lose him now. thanks for another great insight into what's happening in AZ.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Yep and Eloy not the only one. See a lot of guys do it.

    I am assuming they will all just go home except for the rehabbers. Some will play winter ball. Important to get rest too, even for the young!

    As for EJM, I really don't know. It's been an odd process and nobody seems to fully understand what's going on.

  • They teach you learn. Sounds so simply. Our future rest in these
    great teachers. It's going to be a slow process, but so what!

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    They always knew how to get talent -- now they know how to develop it too.

  • Being an out-of-state Cubs fan, I get a lot of blank stares when the subject of baseball is discussed. It is discussed often, since no one entering my office has any doubt about my loyalties. Everyone seems knowledgeable about the curse, the goat, and the "lovable losers," but none of them ever connect solid baseball fundamentals or sustained success with the Cubs.The team simply isn't respected.
    Watching those attitudes change will be one of the most gratifying things about being a Cubs fan. What's happening in Mesa is more evidence that it's coming, and soon. Thanks, John!

  • It is nice that this team / organization has made it a priority to build it's farm system to the point of having waves of prospects that keep coming. In the past when the Cubs had a good year, they immediately were bad again. This team should be good / in contention for a while.

  • Just watched game 1 again on the DVR. I know this has been brought up but I didn't realize how obvious and clear it was that John Lackey was collecting sweat off of his arms and licking his hands right before pitching the ball? This is obviously against the rules. Why have the Cubs not made a bigger stink about this? Anyone have any thoughts?

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    In reply to MoneyBall:

    I haven't seen any stink about this and I doubt that the Cubs would have let it slide if they thought the ball was doing anything unnatural. Maddon isn't going to give the Cardinals a pass on ANYTHING.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Yea, I agree with that. They are more invested than us fans so you would think they would be on top of it. It just looked pretty bad on replay in the early innings in game 1.

  • John,

    An thoughts on this roster move ? Is one of the catchers more banged up than the team is letting on ? Seems odd at this time of year.

    The Cubs announced that they have designated Tsuyoshi Wada for assignment, as Carrie Muskat of MLB.com tweets. The move will help create room for Taylor Teagarden on the 40-man roster.

  • As a current (CC Adjunct Prof.) educator as a 'break' where I actually still get to do some teaching of 'kids' (anywhere from 17-70 over the years) I have a strong appreciation for what it takes to be both a good teacher,.... and what it takes to be a good student.

    And if you put the two halves of that interaction together - some very cool things can happen.

    The crux of this article hits right home,.... and as this whole culture continues to take hold,.... the future does indeed look bright and sustainable for our Cubs.

    Good article John - thanks again for the insights.

  • John, I appreciate your insight into literally the ground floor. Ever since the Dallas Green plan was derailed I've shouted to whoever would listen that the organization needed structure and common goals from the ground floor all the way up to MLB. in 2004 I met an old friend for a beer, I don't think we had spoken for 10 years but he came into where I worked and we made plans to catch up. We had played high school ball together and while I gave it up my junior year he made into professional ball bouncing around the Expos, Pirates and Angels systems having a few cups of coffee in the bigs. By 2004 he had worked in baseball often on and off as a scout and minor league instructor. He had just given that up to take over his family's business. His last stop was the Cubs organization the two years prior. He described a disorganized system that focused on different things on different levels and teams. He told me of hitting prospects that had to learn everything new depending on the manager he was playing for. He described a mess. I've worked for a lot of companies over the years and the best ones teach the same things to entry level hires all the way up to executives. The worst ones don't. My friend described a team that was unlikely to win anything. Like a lot of bad organizations outside of sports they occasionally threw money at the problem. That's always a band aid at best.

    Anyway sorry for the long winded explanation but I wanted to explain in order to get to this; without teaching a consistent message no one moves forward, not really. What you describe are people in the right positions for their jobs, kids who are selected based on a model of the types of players and people the organization wants and a system that focuses on players who mentor the kids coming up after them. You describe the keys to success. As a joke I used to describe myself, when conversation turned to baseball, as "one of the most pitiful of all creatures, a Cubs fan". Yeah, I don't do that anymore. I'm proud to have watched this grow and evolve and when they get to the promised land I will celebrate the process as much as the achievement. Thanks for sharing what you know of that process with us.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Thanks, TC. I can say it wasn't always this way. It is a fundamental change in how things are done and probably not something the average fan thinks about. But it could well be the key to long term success.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Isn't this the way StL runs their org and why they always have "unknowns" step up and perform at the MLB level?

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    I was thinking the same thing, Norway.

    The Cubs are fresh from a complete bottom up rebuild and had a lot of top draft picks to work with. Their focus was on acquiring young, impact talent via draft, trades, IFA and by all accounts, they've done a very good job. But soon, they won't have the benefit of top 5 picks (or top 25 for that matter, hopefully).

    The Cubs have a marvelous opportunity this year to load up on IFA talent (they've already acquired some good ones but the best may be yet to come), but an IFA draft seems like an eventuality so even that strategy will be changing.

    These changes will make scouting and, more so, development even more important. As you rightly pointed out, the Cardinals have been good at developing talent for a long time now. They've acquired their top talent via trade (Holliday, Wainwright, Heyward, Lackey, etc.) but mostly what they traded away was young, homegrown major league and minor league talent.

    They got Holliday for Clayton Mortensen (1st rounder), Shane Peterson (2nd rounder) and Brett Wallace (1st rounder), Heyward (and Jordan Walden) for Tyrell Jenkins (1st round comp pick) and Shelby Miller (1st rounder). None of those picks were top 10 selections. They smartly bundled lesser players for proven elite ones. They got the talent of a top 5 draft pick without the risk of them being a bust. This allowed them to fill in around them with well-taught, lower-round role players.

    These are the ones that seem to come out of nowhere to contribute to championship quality teams. Matt Carpenter was selected in the 13th round out of TCU. He came up to stay when he was 26. Tommy Pham was a 16th round pick out of high school in 2006. They never gave up on him. He has "come out of nowhere" to hit .268/.347/.477 as a 27-year-old. David Frese (9th round), Matt Adams (23rd) and Allen Craig (8th) all have similar stories. They'll bring up the higher end picks like Grichuk and Wong when they're younger, but they always seem to have guys who come up just as they're entering their prime and contribute right away without having to finish their development in the bigs or adjust to the league. That's speaks to the quality of their preparation and instruction.

    The young talent John has so excellently chronicled for us will likely sustain the organization for a while, especially now that the Cubs have a top-of-the-line developmental staff and philosophy. And I will always get excited about the 18, 19 and 20 year olds, but I'll be looking for the Cubs to take lower college picks and develop them into complementary starters down the line. We might already be seeing this with players like Ryan Williams, Chesny Young, Brad Markey and others.

    It used to be if you weren't highly touted or really good and at an upper level by the time you were 21, maybe 22, I'd stop paying attention. But now that the Cubs have a cohesive developmental philosophy, I'll be paying attention to the older, complementary prospects and not giving up on the longshot high schoolers who are 22 and still learning in A-ball now as well...

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    In reply to Quedub:

    To me the prototypical Cardinals "come-out-of-nowhere" prospect would be someone like John Andreoli. He is not going to show up on many Top-100 lists if all of baseball is included. There isn't much for those interested in "tools" to talk about. But he does 1 thing really well: get on base. They would pull him up and have him for minimum wage for his entire "prime" and use him as a pinch hitter/back-up player. I think sometimes we want our prospects to turn into All-Stars or MVP candidates and brush off the role player prospects. The John Andreoli, Stephen Bruno type players.

    John does a nice job of trying to keep us up to date on these guys but they are easy to overlook.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Hey, Quedub, thanks for the positive reply.

    The sustained, long-term competitiveness of our team will depend on depth from well-developed minor leaguers outside of the traditional high-level prospects. There will be years when the injury bug bites, and it will be key to have replacements available at Iowa, who will be unfazed at the MLB level.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    We may not have the luxury of those top 5 picks anymore. But, what we do have is a FO with a track record of drafting & developing impact talent with later picks. I'll take that over the old regime any day! Some of the more notable ones include:

    Lester (57th overall)
    Rizzo (204th overall)
    Pedroia (64th overall)
    Buckholtz (42nd overall)
    Masterson (71st overall)
    Papelbon (114th)
    Reddick (523rd)
    Ellsbury (23rd overall)

    They can find impact bats and arms anywhere in the draft.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    The CBA has changed the way drafts can be done since then. All of those guys were drafted under the old CBA that didn't have slot values attached to picks and guys might fall to the richer teams if they had high money demands.

    But I'm right there with you, this FO has a track record of success when it comes to scouting and development even if you only go back as far as Bryant, Soler, Torres, Schwarber, etc.

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    In reply to TC154:

    That's a very interesting point of view TC. I wonder if your friend looked at the Cubs now how different he thought it was. Now it seems like every level is being taught the same thing.
    I read that John Wooden kept the same routines in his practices every year, i.e. you could have played for him in the 60's, come back in the 80's and stepped right in to do the drills. He even started on how to tie the laces on your shoes--as silly as that might sound, if your shoes aren't on right you won't move correctly or might injure your foot. That attention to detail is one reason he was successful.
    I'm glad to see the Cubs attempting the same strategy with their organization.

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    The Wooden thing is a good example. I don't think it was just "You have to tie your shoes correctly" but a pedagogical thing: "I am going to re-teach you EVERYTHING you need to know and teach you right. No stone unturned" kind of thing.

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    This is good to read. I have been spoiled by rapid rises so now that the first wave, the one we have been discussing for a while now has arrived it is easy to think that the farm system is depleted. But it is not. It is being replenished. If this is the case we could very well be scary good for several years or maybe even more. We are also starting to develop post-season veterans who have been through all of this before. For years that has been the Cardinals biggest advantage. They haven't had the most talented organization. They had an organization full of guys who knew how to do things in the post-season and they taught the young kids how to win.

    It reminds me of Keith Law's comment the other day that EJM being a likely #1 overall pick and the Cubs may have gotten him for $3M. If we lose Fowler it is highly likely we would get a 1st round pick as compensation. If that is the case wouldn't that be like getting 3 first round picks (EJM, Our 2016 pick + a compensation pick)? How much fun do you see Hoyer/Epstein having with the extra pick, and the slot money to go with it?

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    OT: Let's say that the Cubs win tomorrow behind Arrieta (not an unlikely scenario). Do you throw Lester on short rest and try to end it all in 4 games OR do you throw Hammel and hope for the best and then go with Lester in the "winner-take-all" game 5 if we don't win game 4? If the Cardinals pitch Lackey on short rest does that change your strategy any? If the Cards decide to keep Lackey for Game 5 does that affect your strategy?

    For me I would be conservative and try to throw Hammel+bullpen on a short leash in Game 4 and then know I have Lester in my back pocket for Game 5. But I am suspicious that Maddon will try to go for the kill and pitch Lester in Game 4 and try to not have to go back to STL. I am just hesitant to bring Lester back on short rest, but he knows the situation a great deal better than I do.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Thought I saw something that indicated the Cubs won't bring Lester back until game #5.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I've been thinking about this too. I think you have save Lester for a potential game 5. They'll have to have their best guy for a shot there. Conversely, in that scenario, I think the Cardinals have to start Lackey on short rest to stave off elimination. With Lynn pitching yesterday the other choice is Tyler Lyons who you wouldn't think they'd trust to win a do or die game on the road. For all those reasons I don't see the decisions linked to each other.

  • In reply to TC154:

    On the Cards website,Lynn says that since he threw only 24 pitches, it was like a bullpen session to prepare for his Tuesday start. Matheny seems to agree, but doesn't exactly sound thrilled about starting him, and brings up Lyons. Then the author of the article raises the idea of starting Lackey, who's had some postseason success on short rest. Bottom line: who knows? Let's win tomorrow first, and then we can worry about game 4.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I would think that if the Cubs win game 3 Hammel will start game 4 on a short leash much like Hendricks. I have more faith in Wood and Cahill than Hammel so a bullpen game might not be a bad thing. Hoping that they win games 3 and 4 and line up Lester and Arrieta for the NLCS.

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    In reply to lets go cubs:

    this. I would absolutely not start Lester on short rest. This strategy fails way more often than it succeeds over the years. I'd rather take my chances with Hammel/bullpen, and save Lester to be at full strength in game 5. If they don't need him, then we are sitting pretty for the next series.

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    Going to Pioneer League (short season rookie) games here in Montana I get a good look at young players a lot. Of course it's a little more active than at the rookie complexes. Still a lot of raw players and sloppy baseball. But it's interesting to see the difference. The Reds don't appear as good as the current Cubs regime at grooming talent. But it's fun to see stuff on the ground floor.

  • John, now that the instructs are over, who are your choices as the breakout players from the instructional camp?

  • In reply to AZBobbop:

    I may want to do an article along those lines. I will say that Eloy would be one choice.

  • Really enjoyable read! Thanks, John! Great to have you out there to keep an eye on things! An insight we otherwise wouldn't get. Love it.

  • In reply to Missed Signal:

    Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Off topic, but I'm watching the Toronto-Texas game right now (in order to see if the start time for the Cubs game will be 3pm or 5pm) and it is excruciating. Harold Reynolds will not shut up. I've had to mute the TV for almost half the game, and when I un-mute it, he's still talking. If we didn't have Pat Hughes and the radio broadcast, the World Series would be awful to listen to when we make it.

  • Cubs will start at 5:07 CT tomorrow.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I like that better than the 3 pm start. Just means I got to get dinner ready early this evening.

    Did you happen to catch Underwood's last start? Any concern there?

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    According to weather.com, at game time tomorrow, the wind will be blowing out at a fairly strong clip, directly to right field. I think that bodes well for the Cubs' sluggers, and Jake doesn't really give up hard contact. Also makes me think Schwarber will be in the lineup.

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    In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    I would put Schwarber in the line-up to break up the string of RH bats that are likely to be out there. And Schwarber has been red hot. Put Soler in RF until they can get him out at least 1x.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Schwarber and Soler have looked as good or better than anyone else on the team. I think they both have to start. The infield should be the regulars. Castro and Rizzo clobber Wacha in a decent sample size.

  • Nice read, John. This was really where you could see the changes coming for the Cubs. But it was hard to have patience when the cubs at the major league level seemed in such a state of flux. Ricketts deserves a lot of credit for sticking with the development that's taking place.

  • In reply to pricewriter:

    I don't know. Maybe I was odd in this respect but I didn't find it hard to have patience at all. I was just so excited to have people with an organizational plan in place that I resigned myself to losing for several years with the knowledge that it would be better than it ever had been when they came out of it. Ricketts, on the other hand, needs to be commended for his patience. Part of that was that this was nearly 100% owned by his family so even if there were disparate voices they were from people who at least had some level of trust in him as chairman.

    When they started this thing I thought it would take until 2017 for it to really click and I wondered about the fanbase. With the anti-Theo agenda by the Sun Times and others it really did get murky. I've supported this from the beginning but I was called naive, an idiot and a moron for believing in this process and those were just from fairly good friends. John created this place though where there were disagreements sure, but most everyone understood what they were doing and that it would get better.

    Even before this year it was starting to look better. The FO was transparent in what they were doing and the "Cubs Way" that they talked about in October 2011 looked to be in place. Now it gets fun. Now you have an MLB club competing with the big boys and organization designed to find, sign and develop players from wherever they come. They've also done this through several changes to the process. Theo and company adapt. Three words fun-to-watch.

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    Thank you for the enjoyable read as usual... How are the young arms doing this fall... I know Eloy and a few other positional players have been a bright spot but how have Sands and Steele and any other young pitchers doing?

  • a couple of personal favorite arrieta splits to sleep on:
    Jake's record when Cubs score 3 or more runs - 17-0.
    Opposing batters' slash lines when Jake pitches on regular (4 days) rest: .157/ .201/.190 (.392 OPS)
    Sleep tight, Cardinal fans. I know that I will.

  • Great article John! Thanks.

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    John,
    Loved the story, glad things are finally getting down the correct at, starting at the bottom. My question is, why did it take so long? I know Dallas tried to institute some changes when he was here, but this staff made it a priority from the start to revamp everything from top to bottom. I just do not understand why it took this long. I loved reading Tommy Lasorda's book, and how the Dodger organization developed their players-it has a lot of similarities. Like I said, glad thy are doing it, but what the hell took so long?

  • In reply to Curley Q Link:

    Theo said it would take 4 to 5 years to turn the organization around. They did it in 4 years. I think it went on the quick side. But we had the advantage of reading here at Cubs Den which made the wait not too hard to endure. We saw what was really happening.

  • In reply to Curley Q Link:

    It costs money to organize the entire system. Prior ownership wasn't interested in spending money where the fans would not see it. "Better" to market Wrigley as an experience and occasionally put out bucks for free agents to keep the hope alive.

    There was no curse, just a history of owners who did not care.

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    "There was no curse, just a history of owners who did not care."

    Bingo! Give the man a kewpie doll. No goats,cats or poor schlubs in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just inept ownership and middle management types who didn't know or care about baseball.

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    Truly enjoy these AZ pieces, John & the photos are great!

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