Ernie Banks #14

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Some of my earliest memories of being a Cub fan are of Ernie Banks and his 500th home run.

He also came to the grocery store in Polo, where I grew up, and signed autographs. He had an infectious personality and he always put a smile on my face.
Tonight he passed away.

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Cubs Add Dexter Fowler

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This morning the Cubs have added Dexter Fowler in a trade with the Astros.
It was move where major league talent was traded for major league talent with 3B/2B Luis Valbuena and P Dan Strailey heading to Houston. Thankfully, no Cubs prospects are moving. This opens up things for Mike Olt at 3B and for Arismendy Alcantara to play multiple positions (2B and CF).

At 28, Fowler will provide Maddon with more options this year and add a lot of veteran depth in the outfield. Fowler comes to the Cubs with a high OBP (.375) and some versatility in the outfield as he can play a good CF and LF and is a switch hitter. He has spent most of his career in Colorado. Last year, he played for the Astros and has one year left on his contract. He is likely a place holder while Almora and Alcantara develop. I envision him at the top of the order with Coghlan in 2015. He does possess defensive speed, but he has never been a big threat to steal bases. He will be a place setter with Coghlan and LaStella for Rizzo, Castro, Soler, and Bryant. He also has been touted as positive force on younger players, something the Cubs need for Soler and Alcantara.

With Straily moving, it clears things for Dallas Beeler to be the first starter called up from Iowa.

I don’t think the Cubs are done dealing yet. I think they have one or two good trades left in them, both with major league talent moving (Wood and Castillo).

Down on the Farm – Ending the Cubs Convention in Style

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To be honest, I normally just like to get in the car and go home on the final Sunday of the Cubs Convention. This year, the wife slept in and I went to a couple of sessions. I wanted to see “Down on the Farm.” After getting a Jorge Soler T-Shirt, I decided to go up and check out the seating during the opening session with Rick Sutcliffe, Gary Matthews, Bob Dernier, and Lee Smith. The quartet regaled the crowd with stories of Don Zimmer, Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, and Harry Carey. It was hysterical, sentimental, and wistful at times as tales of humor, pride, sorrow, and joy filled the ballroom. But this Cubs Convention is not about the past. It is not about the ’69, 84, 89, 03, 07, or 08 teams. It is about winning now…and a little bit about the future.

Photo courtesy of Chicago Cubs

“The Down on the Farm” session was led by Tennessee Smokies broadcaster Mick Gillespie and the panel included Senior Vice President of Player Development and Amateur Scouting, Jason MacLeod, Director of Player Development, Jaron Madison, and players C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell, who I like to call “The Golden Ticket.”

If you were there and didn’t come impressed with these four players, there is something wrong with you. C.J. seemed a little shy but he is very aware of the job laid before him. Pierce seemed laid back and very funny. Kyle Schwarber could have doubled for the Hulk. In all seriousness, he comes across intense and very focused. And Addison Russell? He was a little overwhelmed by the size of it all, especially coming from the A’s organization. However, he gave excellent answers to his transition from the A’s to the Cubs.

After about ten-fifteen minutes, they opened it up for questions from the audience (unlike most of the sessions this weekend) and they were good questions (save one). The key points to take away from the session are these:
1. The Cubs are stocked in the minors.
2. They will add 20-25 more players this summer and they will be even more stocked. They will continue to target pitching en masse. The Cubs will likely take a bat at #9 because the history of the draft shows hitters make it to the majors at a higher percentage in the first round.
3. Kyle Schwarber made Baseball America’s Top 20 Prospect list despite still having to work on his catching. His bat is that good.
4. All four players on the panel know they have to work on things this spring and summer. And they know they have to continue to work on things when they become pros.
5. The Cubs management is basically selecting “Baseball Rats” or players who live, eat, and breathe baseball all day and night. These four today exemplify that characteristic.
6. Yoan Moncada cannot be discussed externally by Cubs Management, only internally.
7. Duane Underwood is on the verge of something special
8. Bijan Rademacher is highly thought of by McLeod.
9. See Tweet

In 2014 Kane County was loaded with Blackburn, Underwood, Tseng, and Torrez. I think Underwood has the inside shot with Blackburn and Torrez next. There is a lot of baseball for them to play between low A to the MLB and a lot can happen. Tseng to me, needs to get his fastball up 1-2 notches, but he has “thee” best changeup going today. Tseng’s changeup acts like it just rolls off the table. For Underwood, he is definitely the most athletic pitcher in the organization and is just beginning to tap into his potential. I think Blackburn has the potential to be a great pitcher, he has not done it and he just doesn’t have that knockout pitch yet. Duary Torrez is riding a 2 pitch arsenal to High A and he may not get away with it much longer despite the Caroline League being a pitcher’s league.
10. Addison Russell lives for baseball. He says his hero is Barry Larkin. Mick Gillespie raved about how Russell has the best hands he has ever seen in baseball. I don’t care what anyone says, do not trade this 21 year old for anyone. He had the quote of the day in these meme.

11. Schwarber’s Intensity

McLeod left out the expletive Schwarber actually used in the description, but the incident impressed Theo and Jason with Schwarber’s confidence and intensity. Schwarber then went into a great explanation of how Mark Johnson (Kane County manager) spent 4 days with him on a crash course on how to catch and then Schwarber had another 4 day crash course at instructs last fall.
12. No one ever taught Schwarber how to stand at the plate either

13. Jaron Madison is still high on Jeimer Candelario despite his struggles in 2014. He also likes Victor Caratini a lot.
14. Gleyber Torres will likely be at South Bend. Apparently we, the blogosphere and Cubs Twitter, haven’t seen anything yet with this kid. We know he is very good and likely a top ten prospect by year’s end, but McLeod just raved about him today.
15. One breakout player this year is Kevonte Mitchell who did very well in rookie ball in Arizona. McLeod loves his athleticism and control of the plate. He likely will be at Eugene to start as Mitchell has a lot to learn.

I came away very impressed with the players and I could listen to McLeod talk all day about scouting and player development. One thing I missed this year was the player development panel with Pro Scouting director Joe Bohringer and a few others. I hope they bring that panel back next year.

The crowds this year were huge and the autograph lines were long and vendors were packed in like sardines. The sessions were standing room only and exceeding fire restrictions. But you know what? I actually enjoyed it despite those complaints. I am a sponge for Cubs information. I met some cool people, hung out with a former student, interacted with a lot of Cub bloggers and Cub fans alike. The future is now for Cub fans. The players in today’s panel gave great insights into their selection, preparation, adjustments, and positive mental attitudes.

I went into this convention thinking I was not going to come back next year. But in the end, my wife and I enjoy going to Chicago, experiencing great food, and checking out the Cubs organization from top to bottom. It holds us over until spring training starts. I’d say that is a pretty good weekend every year.

Day 2: Joe Maddon Steals the Show

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There’s not much left to the Cubs Convention this year. It is filled with a lot more people this year than last. And now that Sunday is fast approaching, I only have one session left to attend – Down on the Farm.

Joe Maddon and his staff
Joe Maddon and his staff

Today, I saw three packed sessions: The Ricketts Family Forum, Meet Cubs Management, and Meet Joe Maddon. I also met Jake Arrieta, Tennesse Smokies Broadcaster Mick Gillespie, and Kane County Cougars play-by-play man Wayne Randazzo. I hung out with a former student and I saw a current student in the autograph lines.

The most notable thing about the convention this year is the air of excitement. The reasons for the excitement are varied. From Joe Maddon to Jon Lester to Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Addison Russell, every session had an air of anticipation as the 2015 season was on the docket.

The morning began with me arriving about 8:20 a.m. to get in line for 9:00 a.m. autographs. Those lines were filled and the 10 a.m. lines already began. I went upstairs to level 4 and got a good seat for the Ricketts’ Family Forum. At 9, the festivities began. After Len Kasper introduced the three members of the family: Todd, Tom, and Laura, each family member made an opening statement. I liked Tom’s quite a bit.

Tom spoke quite a bit about facilities at the major, minor, and international levels. He also spoke of how the Cubs kept adding talent to their coaching and development staff to teach the players “The Cubs Way.” Lastly, he spoke of the talent added in the organization and how the Cubs have been rated as the number one farm system by many organizations.

Then came the questions from the audience…sort of. The first three were long ramblings and odes to the Ricketts family and not a question was to be heard. In fact, it was brutal for the most part as questions veered to the misinformed.

I then made my way to the Meet the Management session. It was a very sweaty session as the place was standing room only. The mood of the panel was very good as Theo, Jed, Randy Bush, and Shiraz Rehman answered a lot of questions from Radio color man Ron Coomer and WBBM broadcaster Josh Liss. The pacing was quick and the questions were thought out ahead of time. Joe Maddon, expectations, and the process were the main topics of conversation.

I got in line to ask two questions:
1. What is the payroll estimated to be in the future?
2. Is Yoan Moncada worth $40-50 million?

However, the line was just too long and the time too short.

I did however get some good bits on tape from Randy Bush and Jed Hoyer on what Joe Maddon brings to the table.
Randy Bush said of the new manager, “Maddon said, ‘The players don’t need you when they’re going good, they need you when they are going bad. They need to know you have their back.’ He certainly has a tremendous feel for that.

Jed Hoyer talked about the difference of the challenges that Maddon faced in Tampa and will face in Chicago. Hoyer said that Maddon has shown that, “Every single time that he is creative. He figures out a way to bring that group together every year.

By noon, I was tired and ready for a nap, but the program and person I came to see was the next session. I took one for the team and stayed in the room to see and hear Joe Maddon. After his standing ovation, it was well worth the wait.

Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure” was his first mantra that he repeated from his first press conference. However to see him in person was electric! Where Rick Renteria came off as a used car salesman to me last year, Joe came off as a magnetic personality. I wanted to go have a shot and a beer with him and tell him all my problems and have a good cry! He was mesmerizing.

None the less, he did speak well about how his staff is going to be this year and why he chose the Cubs. He spoke glowingly of the stadium, the young players, the atmosphere, and how it reminded him of the movie Gladiator. He also spoke of his roots in development and scouting.

I did start as a scout in 1981. I became a scout in the Angels organization and [then] a minor league manager. I really think that if you have a scouting background, it really benefits you a lot.

After the session ended, I grabbed lunch with my lovely wife, got Jake Arrieta’s autograph, and headed back to the hotel for a quick nap before the 3:3o New Kids on the Block session. Needless to say, the hotel bed was very comfortable and we missed the session. Pizzeria Uno soon called for supper.

I am looking forward to the Down on the Farm session. Jason MacLeod and some youngsters will be the stars of the show. Based upon what I am looking forward to this summer, it will be right in my wheelhouse.

At the end of the convention, I kept thinking back to an interview with Theo on 670 the Score on Friday morning. He said, “We want to dominate over a long period of time.” Tomorrow I will hear from some of the players who will be responsible for that.

At the end of the day, I think Maddon stole the show. From how Theo and Jed hired to Maddon’s own perceptions of himself and Wrigley Field, his influence on veterans and young players might be immeasurable.There is no stat for what he can do for this team. I am excited to see just exactly what he does that cannot be quantified.

Let’s go!

Cubs Convention Day 2

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Got to meet and great Jake Arrieta, Mick Gillespie, and Wayne Randazzo today! I will have a big post tomorrow with words, but for now…here’s a pic.
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Cubs Convention Part 1

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Got some some cool swag tonight.

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Looking Forward to the Convention

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010With less than a week to go, I am starting to get excited about the 2015 Cubs Convention. This week, the Cubs put out a list of names of former players, current major leaguers, and current minor leaguers who would be there. Looking at the list, I noticed some great names to meet and greet, and many are the new guys like Jon Lester, Jason Motte, and Joe Maddon. But the Convention is more than just getting autographs. There are forums where you get to listen to Cubs management and players. I like those a lot as you get a lot of information about why things are done. Last year, I sat in on the “Meet Cubs Management” and “Scouting and Player Development” sessions. Those were my favorite sessions and memories from last year.

This morning the Cubs listed the schedule of events:

Friday, January 16th
6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Opening Ceremony
7:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. Friday Night with Ryan Dempster, presented by Budweiser

Saturday, January 17th
9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Ricketts Family Forum
9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Cubs Jeopardy
10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. A Recent Look Back: The Cubs of 2007-08
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Meet Cubs Baseball Management
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. Meet the New Cubs
12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Joe Maddon & His Coaching Staff, presented by Wintrust Community Banks
1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. For Kids Only Press Conference, presented by Advocate Children’s Hospital
2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Cubs Business Operations Update
3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. New Kids on the Block
4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Cubs Family Feud, presented by Mastercard
5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. What Lies Ahead
5:15 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. #CubsSocial
8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. Cubs Bingo, presented by Budweiser

Sunday, January 18th
9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. 30 Years of Cubs Convention Memories
10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Down on the Farm

Looking at the list, it is quite a bit different from last year; most noticeable is the WGN Radio absence. Also missing is the Scouting and Player Development panel, my favorite from last year. Last year had a bit of an unsure buzz about the major league team and Rick Renteria, and there were some downright angry fans about the product on the field.

This year, I expect the buzz to be electric in the building. For me, I don’t get into the big Friday night extravaganza. I like the smaller panels and meeting players, both former and current. One of my favorite memories of the past few years was meeting broadcaster Pat Hughes and talking to him for 15 minutes with my wife. We didn’t expect that heading into the building last year. We just headed down to the exhibitions to get some gear for the kids (and us) while the 100 year ceremonies were going on upstairs.

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My lovely wife and I and Pat Hughes

Come Saturday morning, I like to get up early, get a good, hearty breakfast, and then head out the Sheraton go get autographs.  This year, I hope to get balls or programs signed by Mark DeRosa, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell, Jason Motte, Ted Lilly, and Neil Ramirez. Then starting around 11, start attending the forums and panels.

Here are my highlights for Saturday at this year’s Cub Convention:

My South Bend Cubs hat I got last month.

1. Listen to Joe Maddon and Theo in Person
After standing in line for autographs for two hours, I can’t wait to sit down for two of the three forums underlined above: Meet Cubs Management and Meet Joe Maddon and His Staff. I think these forums will really give me a lot of insight into the year ahead, not only what Maddon might do, but what his approach will be as a day-to-day and in-game as manager, and how he handles a team in the locker room. It will interesting to hear how he motivates players and gets a player to adapt at the major league level.

I look forward to hearing what Theo’s plan in this phase of the rebuild is. What is on the table, what is not? I look forward to hearing what Theo’s goals, objectives, and attitudes are about player acquisition for the year both foreign and domestic. With the international free agent signing period opening up on July 2, I would like to hear his take on blowing past the limits on IFA and whether Yoan Moncada would be worth it and if they are open to taking a pitcher at #9 in the 2015 draft.

2. New Kids on the Block
I assume this 3:30 panel will be about the young prospects the Cubs have. I don’t know if it will be about the minor league talent or major league talent. Either way, I can’t lose. It will be interesting to see what the focus is and if this is a panel of players, or if it is a panel of the management. I am leaning to Jorge Soler and Addison Russell being there. <sigh!>

3. Get Some Gear
Whether you want major league gear or minor league gear, it is all here. I got some South Bend Cubs stuff for Xmas, but I also want to get some a “new” Smokies hat and some Eugene Emeralds and Myrtle Beach Pelicans gear. I can’t wait to see what they have on Friday night.

4. Get some video
Maybe it will be an interview, or it could be just a meet and greet, or even just the festivities, but I hope to get some passable video of the convention.

Usually, Sundays have some good stuff, but I am exhausted by then. I am ready to head back to the boonies with a lot of information for the coming year.