Heady, composed, brash.
These are just a few of the adjectives that have been used to describe some of the top Cubs prospects and their mental makeup.
You regularly hear the chorus of doubt from the oft-burned Cubs fans and skeptical media. Many have trouble being convinced this group won't fail as many (top Cubs prospects) have before. However, there is something different about Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, and Javy Baez that makes you feel just a little better about their chances.
The mental makeup.
I have mentioned on many occasions my level of concern regarding the mental pressure the future of the Cubs are going to have to endure. Oh, who will think of the children? Yet, most every time I talk about this group to a scout or hear from an analyst, you get similar things.
These kids are hungry; they respect the game and they are eager to learn.
When it comes to Almora, he is already getting names like Derek Jeter or the Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews associated with him. What does a hockey captain have in common with Almora?
They both demonstrated obvious leadership qualities at an astoundingly young age (20 in April). Gordon Wittenmyer (yes he can write something positive) featured Almora and those very intangibles in a recent piece, complete with these thoughts from Theo Epstein:
‘‘He seems mature beyond his years,’’ said Cubs president Theo Epstein, who made Almora the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft not long after he and ranking execs Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod visited Almora and his family at their home in Miami.
‘‘He carried himself like a college kid. He had a real clear idea of his goals. He thought he was the best player in the draft and wanted to get his career started and prove that".
‘‘I remember him looking at us in the eyes and saying: ‘I’ve won everywhere I’ve been. And not because of me, but because of the teams I’m on. And I want to do that for the Cubs.’ ’’
The comparison to Jeter comes up often, and it makes sense; neither player had tools that jumped of the page, yet they excel at everything, including demonstrating vocal leadership.
When it comes to Bryant, there isn’t much that has rattled this kid thus far. Soon after his first Cactus League AB, which featured a 400ft blast, Bryant spoke about this as if he were a 10-year vet.
"It was a good one," said Bryant, who fouled two 3-2 pitches before ripping a slider off Jarrett Grube that landed over the wall just left of center field.
"I felt good up there. I wasn't nervous at all. I saw a lot of pitches, which was good.
"Home runs don't mean anything if you don't win the game. It's a little disappointing. But for myself, it was a good performance. "It's just a game," Bryant said. "You have to have fun and don't put pressure on yourself. Go out there with a smile on your face, and good things usually come from that.''
Bryant’s inherited some of his cool from his father, a former Red Sox farmhand. Bryant’s dad was tutored in hitting by none other than Boston legend Carl Yaztremski (insert your own Hawk Harrelson joke here).
The senior Bryant passed on some of those tips to his son, who flashed leadership skills at San Diego both on and off the field. Bryant led quietly, but I am told when he speaks, teammates listen.
When it comes to Baez, he has a different type of aura than Bryant or Almora.
Here is what one scout told me about the Cubs young shortstop:
“He is supremely confident a little brash but, it works for him. He doesn't rub players the wrong way, he is a very good teammate. The biggest thing with Baez is he doesn't like to lose, and he is one of those players the can light a fire under a team”.
Recently, ESPN prospect guru Keith Law created a bit of a “thing” in regards to the makeup of Baez. If anything, some have said Baez can tone down the brashness a bit. I can live with that, if that is the only knock.
This is all really no mistake. This front office is placing a premium on strong mental makeup. Normally, that would be prudent; in Chicago, its essential.
These kids already would eventually feel enormous pressure of the major leagues. The weight of 100-plus years the Cubs haven’t won, notwithstanding. Add in the recent failures of Cubs top prospects, the ugliness in the win-loss columns, increased media attention, and things get much hotter.
Oh, let us not forget that they are the only subject the front office can point to, and the business side can sell, these days. Sigh. I’m getting anxious for them just writing this. Yet, I’m actually not worried.
These kids have it. They have that something extra I’ve always thought the team to break the drought would need. Baseball Prospectus prospect expert Jason Parks calls it "Rig", a certain swagger.
It is something I thought Mark Prior exuded during the 2003 playoff run before it all came crashing down. In the end it was the same old song. Yep, it’s going to take more than just talent to overcome the demons that live at Addison and Clark.
Maybe this time the song will be "The Kids Are Allright"?
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