Theo was on the WSCR radio this morning for an interview during the program "Hit & Run" hosted by Barry Rosner and Connor McKnight. I was able to make a full transcript which you can read right after the jump...
Theo: Morning guys, thanks for having me on.
Barry Rosner: We appreciate it. So Theo, Generally speaking, I'm wondering how you feel about where you are? You've had 2 drafts, 2 international signing periods, 2 trade deadlines. You've built up a terrific stockpile of legitimate prospects. You've basically had a year and about 2 -3 months to get this going. How do you feel about where you are now?
Theo: There is a real dichotomy involved. We are thrilled with the state of the farm system and the health of the organization overall relative to where we were about 18 months ago. From a consensus standpoint we've gone from a bottom 5 farm system to a top 5 system farm system. It usually takes a bit longer to do that. We're taking advantage of the opportunities that we do have, you know, two trading deadlines, and that comes with consequences at the big league level that you're seeing now. Two drafts that we're pretty happy with, 2 international signing deadlines and 2 off seasons of trade opportunities, haven't been perfect, there's been some hits and misses. Overall in potential impact players which I think is most important and overall depth which is also very significant, I'm happy where we are. The people and processes that we have in place both in our scouting operation and our player development operation, I'm very happy with. They are responsible for most of that progress. That said, we continue to push forward and try to get better as it's a very competitive landscape out there.
On the other hand, the big league picture hasn't been as pretty. We know that. When you are pushing forward in your farm system it's because you have high draft picks, because you are making trades. There is a price to pay at the big league level. That said, we can't help but be a little disappointed that we haven't provided more consistent improvement with our young players at the big league level, more progress that's demonstrable. Progress, player development of young big leaguers isn't linear so it's understandable. We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard at the big league level.
Barry Rosner: I think people know who you are talking about. They are aware of it as well. They know which players are important to the future here. It's guys like Castro, Samardzija and Rizzo and players like that. Where are you now on a guy like Starlin Castro? He made some interesting comments yesterday after hitting the game winner. He said he's not thinking anymore, he's done thinking. He's just wants to play baseball. I know you guys have tried very hard to get him to take a more thoughtful approach to the game, while not affecting his natural ability. Where are you in that process with him right now?
Theo: I still very much believe in him. When a young player has a number of things go wrong within the course of one season, it can be a physical factor or a fundamental factor. Sometimes it can be a mental factor. When you have one of each or maybe 2-3 things affecting you over the course of a season it can be really really difficult despite the length of the season to turn it around in season. Especially with young players, I've seen this on and on, over and over again. Sometimes it takes just getting into the winter to hit the refresh button, to have perspective on the things that were bothering you, things that you have to do better. You put the work in and you magically come back with better perspective and much improved and resume your level of play the next spring training. I think we're going to see that with Starlin. It's been like a 5 month long slump. It's really hard for young players, especially ones that haven't struggled to hit that reset button in season. It doesn't matter, All-Star break... You give him a couple of days off, there's just something about the rapidity of the season that requires you to wait until the winter to get it right. Sometimes. Now you don't give in to that, but it's a reality sometimes.
With respect to your approach, we do try to make all of our hitters aware, basically, of one simple thing, which is getting a pitch you can drive. That said, with aggressive hitters, especially with Starlin, yeah sure there's been some of that dialogue but there's always been the recognition that he's been an aggressive hitter, that he has unique hand eye coordination, the ability to put a lot of pitches in different parts, inside and outside the strike zone into play relatively hard. So, there is an awareness not to take that away from him. It's more art than science. Were there at points done that maybe make him think too much? Did he come into camp trying to advance too much as a hitter, rather than letting the accumulation of at bats, thousands of at bats take their natural course and allow him to mature? Maybe. I'm sure there is some of that. Long ago, we went to Starlin and just asked him to...hey, clear your mind and listen to your own instincts as a hitter. As Starlin said, no one taught me how to hit originally to get me here. He says that in a very nice way. What that means is he's a "feel" hitter. He drifts a little forward through his swing, he doesn't naturally pull the ball through the air and he just has to have that feel for the barrel. He just has to be feeling really good about himself to be able to hit the ball with backspin, to the pull side and that's fine. You saw that yesterday afternoon, after a few days he's feeling pretty good about himself, he was able to take a fastball that leaked back in over the plate, stay inside of it, get the barrell through the ball and saw the juice that he still has left in his bat. I'm bullish on his future, I think we need the winter to get him straight.
Connor McKnight: Theo, you mentioned how Castro needs to develop and what he's been doing the last couple of months at the plate. I think there's been equal amount of questions about him in the field. There's been some mistakes both mental or physical and a lot of people have wondered for awhile if will he stick at SS? I wonder if you are as bullish about him in the field as you seem to be at the plate?
Theo: I think he can certainly stick at SS. When you have struggles they are often with young players they are taken onto the field. The one massive mental mistake that he caught the pop up on national TV and put his head down, that came toward the end of a stretch where he played really good major league shortstop for a period of 4-6 weeks. We see these long stretches of him playing excellent SS. There are some fundamental things that he's working on. He needs to gain ground on balls a little bit more, come through the ball, rather than lay back and all of a sudden he's got to rush a throw. Those things are fundamental issues that I think he can and will continue to improve upon. The bottom line is he's gotten a lot better in the last 2 years. There are no physical issues, when we get him straight at the plate, we'll see more consistent sense of play. I think he's made some strides this year defensively despite the occasional high profile lapse.
Connor McKnight: Jeff Samardzija is a guy on that pitching staff who's shown he's incredibly talented and can do things with the baseball that not a lot of others can do. I find it interesting that he's the age he is and seems to have that one hidden year between going from relief to starting and whether you put those miles on him as a starter or reliever is interesting. You guys have a decision to make with Jeff Samardjiza coming up in the off season. He's just on a one year deal with a year of arbitration eligibility left I believe. A lot of people are looking to him as a key to where you guys are going in the next little bit here...is JS status something we can read into as far as your plans into the future.
Theo: If you are asking about our desire to sign him into a long term deal, I don't think that's ever been a question. We are interested in locking him up for the long term. It hasn't been a perfect year, of progress and development for Jeff, there are lessons he's going to learn from this season that will make him better in the long run. It doesn't change the way I view him. I still think he will continue to develop into a consistent top of the rotation starter. He has the stuff. He has the physical ability. He has the makeup there. A couple of things are holding him back. Mainly this year, honestly, is his ability to respond to adversity during the course of a game and keep his composure and execute pitch after pitch regardless of what's going on behind him. I think that's what cost him yesterday a bit and it's cost him a number of times during the season. He's so talented, usually when there is a big inning it's because there's an inability to harness his emotions and calm himself down. The same things that make himself great, his competitiveness, the hard nosed nature, that also gets in his way sometimes. He needs to continue to harness that. I'm sure there are people out there who have doubts about his ability to turn the corner. I'm not one of them. That said, it's not always easy to sign someone to a long term deal and there has to be mutual interest. We'll see where that goes. Regardless, we control him for 2014-5 and hopefully for a long time to come.
Barry Rosner: Theo, I think most Cub fans truly get it now, maybe a majority didn't get it at the start but a majority understands it now. They are remaining patient, I believe for the most part, certainly not everyone. You've talked about the noise from the media and fans and other baseball people. Not in a negative way, but you can't be distracted by that, not let that affect your timeline. Are you immune to all of that? Are you aware and does that affect you at this point?
Theo: After a long decade in Boston I'm pretty calloused to it. I don't think any human being is immune to it. That would be a neat trick. I'm calloused and used to it and at this point emotionally mature enough that it certainly doesn't affect me or at least my decision making. That said, it's been replaced by an internal pressure, internal drive that we all feel and we put on ourselves. We're asking fans to be patient and in return we're going to provide something special. While the average fan would say you are asking me to be a heck of a lot more patient that I ever expected. So it better be a heck of a lot more special. We feel the same thing. We clearly are taking the long view here. It's the right thing to do. Some of it is out of necessity frankly because we simply don't have the payroll flexibility that we would for a quicker talent infusion. Given some of the limitations and timing of the business plan are the realities of lots of circumstances surrounding the ball club right now. We need to take the long view. It's not easy. I do enjoy the scouting and draft, I enjoy the player development part of it. I enjoy the young players. I believe in young players. In an ideal world we'd be doing both and we would be infusing a lot more ready talent into the situation to speed up the clock a little bit but we don't have that luxury right now. We need to be fully committed to what we are doing. So we can deliver on that promise. So the fan who says, "hey, you are asking me to be a lot more patient that I ever imagined"...so we can deliver something more special than they ever imagined. I do believe that day is coming. We had a fantastic year in the farm system and for the organization as a whole. Despite what you've seen at the big league level, I'm convinced based on the talent we've acquired and started to develop, the organization is a lot closer to winning the World Series then we were.
Barry Rosner: There is no doubt you've got a stockpile now and it's legit. You've got 20-22 guys that are legit when there was probably one when you got here. There's a lot there. They are not all going to get here, they are not all going to be superstars, you will probably use some as trade chips. You will evaluate that and figure that out. In the meantime, you look at all those players coming and you think about all the time that you've spent and all the money you've spent down in the minors and the international signings and the draft and the Dominican and everything else. Will you have the resources then to pair that up? How will the timing be in terms of revenues from renovations or any of that. Will you have as a baseball operation department, the revenue you will need to jump into free agency or however you need to spend it when the time is right?
Theo: That's the plan but we need a lot of things go right. There are a lot of really talented people working on that behind the scenes. It depends on our ability to come throught with our over the air TV package, TV rights deal, which is up soon. It depends on our ability to come throught and for the right market to develop for the cable package, which is 5-6 years from now. Most importantly it depends on our ability to get the Wrigley renovation, restoration done quickly and done well and done in a manner that generates revenue. Ultimately, it will depend on our ability to put a better product on the field at the major league level so that we can stop the trend in attendance and reverse it and get our attendance back up and generate revenue that way. It depends on our overall investment in the club from a financial standpoint. Just as we have a baseball plan, one that takes a longer view than anyone would want in an ideal world, we also have a business plan, it also has a longer term perspective. We're at a point where we haven't realized those increased revenues yet as an organization. There are a lot of building blocks being put in place, a lot of work being done behind the scenes. With the Wrigley issue, with the sponsorship issue and the TV deal that will pay dividends for us. The timing still matches up, our baseball plan and the business plan. There is great synergy between both plans and the departments, even if it's not as quickly as either side would like.
Connor McKnight: Theo, you mentioned patience and timing a couple of times so far this morning and I think it boils down to a couple of players as well. Maybe those that you are collecting at the AA level or will be at the AA level next year. Javy Baez is a kid we've talked about him in a round about way this morning with the fantastic year the farm system has had. I know there is going to be...and Jed has talked about this before with Anthony Rizzo back in San Diego, he mentioned he rushed him. He didn't use the patience he'd liked to have used the first time around with Rizzo. You guys are going to have to, whether it's with Baez or another prospect, resist temptation to bring that kid up. I wonder how you and Jed evaluate those kids and evaluate the timing for each one of those prospects, when that time comes?
Theo: We rely on their individual player development plan. That's a mechanism that we use to make sure that we optimize each players development at the minor leagues and get the player invested in their own development. Each player has a document breaking down his strengths and weaknesses from a physical, mental and fundamental standpoint. When those weaknesses are addressed and become strengths that's when the move up through the farm system and ultimately that's how they advance to the big league level. Obviously, there are more factors involved. A big league promotion has to have opportunity and the mix has to be right for the major league roster. That's essentially how we do it. If you look at the history of some of the players that came through the Red Sox system, I'm a firm believer that it's important to do everything you can to fully develop a player. I don't like rushing players. I like players who have every chance to maximize their development at the minor leagues before they come up here. I believe it's important for players to fail in the minor leagues and bounce back and undergo some sort of adversity and learn how to adjust and bounce back. The prospects like the Ellsbury's and Pedroia's, the guys that have gone on to have success, those were more advanced college players, they've all spent significant time in AAA. The all got to a point where they held their own but not only succeeded but for stretches of time dominated and developed some consistency at all levels of the minor leagues including AAA. I just believe we're invested in these players for two decades and it's important not to rush them, not to show them off to appease anybody but to develop them as slowly as you can so that they are ready to come up here and succeed.
Barry Rosner: Theo, we really appreciate your time. You've been gracious with your time today. We look forward to talking to you again. That's it for us this year on "Hit and Run" at least. We can't fight the NFL beast. At least not until you put yourselves into a position to let us work into September. We appreciate it. We look forward to next year.
Martinez is one of my least favorite pitchers in baseball. I'd love to see a game like yesterday's against him.
Send Soler down!
Awesome thanks AZ
Great report, Phil! This organization has so many hitters to be excited about.
Ben Zobrist is very enjoyable to watch!!!!!!
given that he seems to only be throwing low 90s these days rather than the 93-96mph he used to throw, along with his wildness issues this year, he may end up passing through.
i dunno if something is wrong with him physically or his past shoulder issues has rendered him what he currently is, but he's been throwing a lot of sliders he can't control well and his fastball isn't as sharp. even when his slider wasn't working in a game he was still throwing a lot of them.
Any scuttlebutt on where Neil Ramirez gets traded?
He seems better than some of the relievers on competitive teams. He ought to bring more than the waiver fee.
My guess? Toronto.
PHIL: It seems as if Paniagua has always played 1B with the Cubs. At 6'2 and 180#, what is his frame like? String bean? Have you seen him bulk up? Where do you project him? Thanks.
Phil, what's your thoughts on which position players are going to Eugene and who is staying in AZL?
Ahhh...way to bring me down BB.
Still - a win tomorrow will be an acheivement regardless.
Don't mean to spoil your mood, but with tonight's win the are 3-5 on the trip with one to play.
While I'm bringing the room down -- Richard comes in to pitch the 9th with a 12-1 lead...and can't finish the game. Woof.
For some reason
It is remarkable how my mood has become uplifted with one game against the Cards.
That is sick.
But, I have been an addict for a long time.
A W tomorrow and it will be a .500 road trip.
Also, to keep the losses in perspective, if the Cubs were to lose 10 games a month - a lot at this current pace - they still end up 102-60. Six months of the ride!
So, the Mesa Cubs should be solid this summer in the AZL Rookie League?
And, I like the, "But did you know" lead in there. Something a little different.
I can tell really like this group of hitters in AZ right now.
What pitchers out there, other than Cease, should we be excited about?
Thanks as always for the info.
back on the Run Differential hunt... (aka The Hunt for Blue October)
These are the 2016 Cubs I know and love. Also digging that Cardinals OF (lack of) defense.
Another day, another eight runs