Saturday's weekly "Talking Baseball" show on ESPN 1000 radio, hosted by Bruce Levine and Fred Hubner wrapped up with a Q&A session with Theo Epstein. Bruce Levine asked Theo up front if he wanted to talk about playing electric guitar or baseball, ...and baseball it was. A summary was posted in the CCO but as it turns out I had a recording of the program and was able to get together several complete quotes from Theo on multiple topics, including:
• Dale Sveum's camp, the bunting contest and the 9am meeting with a daily player "roast." (I doubt the roast would have gone over well in the Milton Bradley era)
• Lineup construction (after Hubner wanted Theo's opinion of Soriano leading off):
"Lineups are overblown to begin with. As long as you adhere to some basic lineup construction principles, it's really hard to screw up a lineup and also hard to get too great of an advantage out of it."
• On acquiring starting pitching depth:
"Frankly, going forward looking at the next several years, we don't have a lot of starting pitching coming up in the upper levels of the farm system and we didn't have a lot of starting pitching under control on the big league team."
• Samardjiza's opportunity to start:
"A quality starter is more valuable even than a quality closer, which is significantly more valuable than a setup guy or a middle man"
• Talent acquisition and the new scouting and player development manuals
• Matt Garza and any contract negotiations
• Hitting, Ted Williams and the number one foundational principle of hitting
• Theo's best organizational surprise upon coming to the Cubs, the Dominican Academy
the full quotes, after the jump...
Theo was asked about Sveum's camp:
A lot of attention to detail and fundamentals. Theo said Sveum shouldn't win the bunting contest, he should win a round or two and bow out gracefully.
The Cubs are "roasting" one player every morning in their 9AM meeting which is mostly a review of how things went the previous day. Good for team chemistry and all (some discussion of the value of the bunting contest and team bonding).
"The real team bonding occurs when you get down to 25 guys."
Theo was asked his opinion about Soriano leading off (by Fred Hubner): Theo said he wasn't paying attention to that.
"Lineups are overblown to begin with. As long as you adhere to some basic lineup construction principles, it's really hard to screw up a lineup and also hard to get too great of an advantage out of it. If there is ever a time to experiment, it's now. Dale (Sveum) understands the principles of lineup construction and I think you'll see lineups that reflect that during the course of the season."
Levine commented/asked about their off season depth acquisitions of (left handed hitters and) starting pitchers:
"Building starting pitching depth and acquiring controllable starting pitchers was something that was important. It serves both of our primary purposes. It was important for the 2012 club. It was something that hurt us last year as the injuries early in the (2011) season we weren't equipped to handle those. We needed to build depth to put ourselves in a more competitive position for 2012. Frankly, going forward looking at the next several years, we don't have a lot of starting pitching coming up in the upper levels of the farm system and we didn't have a lot of starting pitching under control on the big league team. As we look to our chances in future years, let alone this year, we knew we had to do something now, acquiring as much starting pitching as we can."
Quite a bit of commentary on Jeff Samardzija (after a Fred Hubner question whether Shark will get a chance to start):
"The primary factor is how he throws. Our job is to put our best players in a position to make the most impact in the short term and in the long term. There's no doubt that if you think you have a quality starting pitcher on your hands, you find a way to get him into the rotation. A quality starter is more valuable even than a quality closer, which is significantly more valuable than a setup guy or a middle man. Right now the focus is on him and what he can do and we'll see how the parts fit together later in the spring. This is part of his evolution and we'll see if that leads him to the rotation. A year or two ago he was not ready to be considered for a starting spot. He didn't have the command or the 3rd or 4th pitch to rely on. He wasn't mentally, physically or fundamentally ready to be a starting pitcher, getting through a lineup 3 times or all those things a starting pitcher has to do. Based on what he did the 2nd half of last year, that was a lot of progress. He had a great winter. Consolidate that progress and build on it. The way he's throwing right now, he's very interesting as a starting option. The biggest caveat possible applies, he hasn't had (faced) anyone in an opposing uniform with a bat in their hands yet. So you can't draw any conclusions in the first couple of weeks in spring training let alone spring training as a whole. We're going to take a long look and see what we have."
Levine asked about the plan to acquire new talent/players: Theo outlined their options including the draft and international signings, with some new limitations from the CBA. Trades and the rare free agent who are 27-8 (years old), most free agents are over 30. There are few opportunities to acquire new players so we have to make the most of it.
"The way we're choosing to put ourselves in the best possible position is taking a fresh look in how we scout and how we develop players. This is a great opportunity to do that. Any time there is a change in an organization, it's a great time to try some new ideas, take a look at what the organization already does well and enhance that. Take a look at what we don't do well and make sure we try a new approach. There's been a new collective spirit of stripping this down to the nuts and bolts, defining how it is we're going to scout. We wrote a new scouting manual to define how it is we're going to teach the game and how we're going to develop players. We're in the process of putting together our player development manual with input from a lot of people with a lot of wisdom and experience when it comes to developing pitchers, developing hitters, teaching defense, teaching base running. We need to be a machine. We need to be really efficient. We need to be on the same page. We need to know what it is we are looking for in players and how we're going to develop those players. That's a long process. You never figure that out. It's something you try to get better at every single day. I can promise you there is a lot of effort going into it. That's were we're going to do our damage is by being well organized, having good ideas, working really hard and impacting players. The bottom line is you can't go out and buy young players, there is no opportunity to do that any more. You have to make sure you are better than the other organizations at identifying it and developing it."
Levine did ask about Garza and a contract extension.
Theo said any info on that would be kept confidentially and private.
"I don't believe in talking about that kind of thing. It's between the player and the club and nothing good comes out from talking about it. We'll keep that between Matt and us and see where it goes." (thud...sound of door slamming on Levine's foot)
Hubner asked about hitting and Rudy Jaramillo.
Theo mentioned they had a 6 hour hitting meeting where (they) decided what (the Cubs) are going to emphasize.
"A lot of it boils down to controlling the strike zone and getting a good pitch to hit. Ted Williams said it in his book. It's the number one foundational principle of hitting, which is, if your not getting a good pitch to hit, there is not really much you can do as a hitter unless you are a once in a generation freak like Vlad Guerro or Yogi Berra who can put any pitch in play hard. You need to get a good pitch to hit, control the strike zone and be selectively aggressive and that's going to be the foundation of our hitting program in the minor leagues and at that big league level. Now, obviously there is a lot of mechanics that go into it, there is physical preparation, there are more nuances to the mental approach as well but that's the basics and everything springs off that. I think we're on board with that in the minor and major leagues."
The final Levine question about what surprises he encountered in taking over the Cubs:
Theo replied that one of the most pleasant surprises was the Dominican Academy.
"We're way ahead of the game in how organized we are down in the Dominican, in how we teach the game from a player development standpoint, not only from a scouting standpoint. Those kids down there were really working hard, playing the game well and were fundamentally sound. From the other academies I've been to, you see the balls getting sprayed all over the place and it looks a long, long way from the big leagues. We have some really good instructors down there. You could see the kids were ahead of where they should have been fundamentally. That's something that's hard to build. The fact that is already in place now is a competitive advantage for us."