Even if Theo Epstein insists that the Cubs will block out all the external noise, that wont stop the fans and the media from wondering: When are Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo getting here?
It will only grow louder on talk radio and the message boards if the Cubs dont get off to a good start. But Epsteins front office is supposed to run things like a corporation, without emotions. So this year an individual player plan was created for every prospect in the organization.
Jackson and Rizzo are near the intersection of the parallel tracks Epstein likes to talk about. In the years to come, they are supposed to anchor the lineup and glue the clubhouse together. So whats left to prove at Triple-A Iowa?
Its kind of a broad word, but consistency in terms of how they approach their at-bats, really the mental focus from at-bat to at-bat, said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. Its kind of easy when you go down to the back fields to lose concentration. Even when you get into Double-A and Triple-A, everyones kind of itching, scratching, like they can feel it, getting to the major leagues.
Sometimes guys, even on the way up, kind of get complacent being there because Im not saying these guys are but you fall into this trap of just kind of biding your time until you get called up. (So its) consistency, mental focus and preparedness every single day.
Epstein said that major-league service time and the financial advantage gained by delaying it will not really be a consideration. It sounds like the Cubs wont be reactionary if there are injuries or trades.
With potential impact young players, we always try to make decisions based on whats best for their development, Epstein said. Theres a certain set of criteria for advancement that we have for each level of the minor-league system and that sort of checklist that goes into how those decisions are made.
So Id like to see players get a significant amount of time at Triple-A, usually a full calendar year, if possible, and certainly Id like to see them check all the boxes (before) theyre advanced up here.
As talented as Anthony and Brett are, there are still some issues left in their development, so wed like to see those addressed before they get up here.
Manager Dale Sveum called Jackson probably the best young player hes seen in camp since he started coaching in the big leagues almost 10 years ago. Its just that there werent any job openings in the outfield.
A 2009 first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley, the 23-year-old Jackson began this season with only 48 games above the Double-A level. The attention to detail in that player plan is such that the Cubs want to see certain improvements in his baserunning, as far as angles, turns and jumps.
With Brett being the athlete that he is, he can do so many things, McLeod said. Hes probably got a little more power than is good for him, because he knows he can juice a ball. But when you have multiple skills like he does, hes got to learn how to take advantage of and get the most out of all those skills.
Hes a guy that can hit in the top of the order and he can probably hit in the middle of the order. Hes got that kind of power. So (theres) his plate discipline. Approach, again, is way too broad-based of a word. Its (more): What am I looking to do in this at-bat? What am I looking to do in this count? Whats the game situation?
(Its) understanding his strengths and weaknesses, because he can get on base, he can walk and he can steal bases. There are reasons mechanically and mentally why the strikeouts are a little high.
Rizzo is the Cubs first baseman of the future, but then again he had that same label for the Red Sox and Padres. Drafted by these Boston executives, and traded to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, he knows all about The Red Sox Way the Cubs are trying to recreate.
They just preach winning, Rizzo said. Right when I signed, (it was): Win a World Series. They brought up a ton of talent through their minor-league system.
General manager Jed Hoyer has admitted that Rizzo was rushed last season to San Diego, where he hit .141 with 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats. The Cubs dont want to make the same mistake.
With Rizz, its again that mental focus, McLeod said. His, obviously, is a swing mechanics type thing and he likes to tinker a little bit, so its staying consistent with what feels good to him.
I try to think back to when I was 22 years old. I think its a hard thing to not be like always looking at Wrigley and (wondering): Whens my time? Whens my time? Whens my time? So its just kind of more being in the now and every day getting yourself focused.
The idea is that once Jackson and Rizzo get to Clark and Addison, theyre never going to leave.