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Ready for impact: Cubs exec Jason McLeod is on the clock

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Ready for impact: Cubs exec Jason McLeod is on the clock

Jason McLeod checked into his new office at Clark and Waveland on Opening Day, knowing that he wouldnt be back for almost two months.

McLeod was on the clock, and planned to use his San Diego home as a temporary base while scouting the country. His job is to see the future, and envision what a 17-year-old high school kid might look like at the age of 27.

When Theo Epstein introduced McLeod and general manager Jed Hoyer at a stadium club news conference last November, the Cubs president delivered a line that still sticks in your head.

Jason McLeod is the rarest commodity in the industry, Epstein said. He is an impact evaluator of baseball talent.

At the podium that day, the new Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development sat next to Epstein, literally his right-hand man.

McLeod was a lead architect of the pipeline that brought Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard to Fenway Park. This is his time of year, what he calls our Super Bowl.

The Cubs entered Day 3 of their pre-draft meetings on Wednesday. They hold the sixth overall pick and four of the first 67 selections in the amateur draft that begins June 4. They have to get it right.

McLeod sees a draft thats rich in high school talent, particularly on the pitching side. The college class features some pitching depth, but is viewed as weak in terms of position players.

The Cubs will have to target pitching, because its the organizations biggest need. Team officials believe that you need power arms to get to the playoffs, and that they tend to show up more in the postseason. But you cant force it.

Its just straight impact, McLeod said. When we look up two, three, four years down the road, whos going to make the most significant difference on this organization? Thats the priority all the time.

The Cubs expect around 40 prospects to come through Chicago for final inspections, some local college players and some who might go first round.

Its not so much for the evaluation on-field, McLeod said. Its more to sit down and really look them in the face and ask some pretty pointed questions.

McLeod and Epstein did this years ago with the Boston Red Sox. On some level, its like the intense interview process that got Dale Sveum the managers job, where they want to see how you react and how you think things through.

The Cubs are going through thick binders filled with scouting reports on performance, personal background checks and medical records. This year they also gave their scouts cameras to create a video library.

Even Sveum has become another set of eyes and watched some video on certain prospects, to break down their swing mechanics and see what will play on the next level. Its all about information, which has been organized in the new Bloomberg computer system.

Back in spring training, when a reporter wondered where you can really make a difference Everyone talks to the coach and the parents, right? Epstein fired right back.

Do you talk to the equipment manager? Epstein said. Do you talk to the guidance counselor? Do you dig deep enough to find out when the kid has struggled and (faced) adversity? What (has been) his biggest failure? How (has) he bounced back from that failure?

Theres a lot of different ways to do it. Do you have a psychologist interview the kid? Do you have him take an objective test? Do you log your entire relationship with the kid, every bit of information that you get, so everyone in the draft room can share it and gain the insight?

The Cubs will have to exploit that advantage, because they cant just write checks to players who are perceived to be difficult to sign. The new collective bargaining agreement created a cap-and-tax system that assigns an aggregate signing bonus pool to each team.

Baseball America reported that the Cubs will draw from a pool of almost 8 million. One source suggested that it wouldnt have been unrealistic to think the Cubs would have spent three or four times that amount without those restrictions.

Id be lying if I didnt say everyones looking at: Is there a loophole in there somewhere? McLeod said. But really were not focusing too much of our attention to it. The CBA is what it is.

Were just trying to line up the board to get the best players we possibly can.

Epstein has compared his ideal vision of a front office to a think tank or a boiler room that argues everything out to reach a consensus.

There are around 20 staffers in the Chicago draft room now. A leading voice will be amateur scouting director Tim Wilken, a holdover from the Jim Hendry administration who once helped the Toronto Blue Jays draft Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter.

The one thing I like to tell everyone is: Lets check our egos at the door, McLeod said. Tim Wilkens one of the most respected scouts, probably of all-time. Im going to disagree with him, even though he has 30-plus years of experience. Hell disagree with me.

Everyone should have disagreements. Thats how we feel we get the most information out of the players were talking about.

Who has the authority to make the final call?

Theo, McLeod said with a smile. Hes our boss. He trusts us to do our job, and ultimately I think Theos going to go with our recommendation.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do Bulls or Blackhawks have a better chance at making playoffs?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do Bulls or Blackhawks have a better chance at making playoffs?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Kaplan was joined by Ben Finfer, David Haugh and Mark Lazerus to discuss the Bulls not tanking well and the Blackhawks tanking too well.

Plus, Alshon Jeffery is heading to the Super Bowl while the Bears stay home. And is the hot stove league about to heat up with Yu Darvish?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here

Cubs adding catching depth that may help them out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes

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AP

Cubs adding catching depth that may help them out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes

Chris Gimenez, come on down.

The 35-year-old catcher isn't exactly a household name, but he's been signed by the Cubs to add backstop depth, according to Chris Cotillo and Ken Rosenthal:

The Cubs didn't have much depth in the catching department beyond Willson Contreras and inexperienced rookie Victor Caratini and while Gimenez doesn't light up the stat column, he's a link to Yu Darvish that could give the Cubs a unique advantage in that domain:

Darvish and Gimenez played together with the Texas Rangers in 2014-15 (though Darvish was hurt in 2015) and Gimenez has been shedding some light on what the free-agent pitcher may be thinking this winter. Is this Part II of a David Ross-Jon Lester personal catcher situation?

That may be reading a bit too much into things, as the Cubs were always going to sign a veteran catcher to provide depth beyond the unproven Caratini. They saw how important that was in 2017 when Alex Avila spent roughly a month as the starter when Contreras was hurt.

The link between Gimenez and Darvish is real, but the frontline starter has also made 48 starts over the last two seasons while throwing to a catcher not named Gimenez. And the free agent catching market is pretty thin beyond Avila and Jonathan Lucroy, both of whom should earn starter's money or close to it.

Gimenez has played 361 games in the big leagues over the last nine seasons as a journeyman, with stops in Cleveland, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Texas, Cleveland (again), Texas (again), Cleveland (again) and then Minnesota last year. He played for Cubs manager Joe Maddon and new pitching coach Jim Hickey while in Tampa Bay.

Gimenez turned in a career season in 2017 with the Twins, notching new highs in games played (74), at-bats (186), runs (28), hits (41), homers (7), RBI (16) and walks (33).

He has a career .218 batting average with a .309 on-base percentage, .345 slugging and .654 OPS. 

But Gimenez isn't just a catcher. He's made nine appearances as a pitcher over the last few years, including six in 2017, where he allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings.

Gimenez will probably compete with Caratini for the backup catcher role in Chicago and can lend a veteran presence. He's also the best bet to take for first position player to pitch in a game in 2018.