Cubs

Theo putting pieces in place, from coaching staff to front office

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Theo putting pieces in place, from coaching staff to front office

The Cubs gave Theo Epstein the keys to the kingdom and put his name in lights on the Wrigley Field marquee.

Theo Watch had become a national story last October, beginning in secret when the Red Sox general manager met chairman Tom Ricketts at his familys New York residence overlooking Central Park.

On Yawkey Way, Epstein and his boys in baseball operations had fantasized about what it would be like to field an entire team of homegrown players (like, say, Anthony Rizzo at first base instead of Adrian Gonzalez).

Cubs executives on the business side liked to point out the obvious similarities between Boston and the North Side charming old neighborhood ballparks, passionate fan bases, etc. But the Cubs offered Epstein something completely different a new canvas, hands-off ownership, more personal space, a more relaxed (though still neurotic) media market and the chance to break another curse, which would cement his place in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Twelve months ago, Epstein gave his Baseball is Better speech during a stadium club news conference introducing the new team president. October 25, 2011 was supposed to be a game-changing day in franchise history that would eventually lead to a parade down Michigan Avenue. The fans and the local press corps are still in wait-and-see mode.

I have a lot more gray hair now than I did a year ago, Epstein said Tuesday. My wife reminds me of that all the time. But I do feel really energized by a lot of the things that are going on here.

Think of this like an episode of The Wire. You could put all the mug shots on a big board with branches moving in every direction, all leading up to Epstein at the top, with Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod as his inner-circle lieutenants. Tuesdays announcements mapped out where the Cubs are heading and what they are thinking:

Major-league coaching staff

James Rowson is no longer the interim hitting coach and will keep the job next season. David Bell a third-generation big leaguer whose father Buddy is a White Sox executive becomes the new third-base coach.

The rest of Dale Sveums coaching staff remains intact: Chris Bosio (pitching); Jamie Quirk (bench); Dave McKay (first base); Lester Strode (bullpen); and staff assistants Mike Borzello and Franklin Font.

Epstein had tried to hire Bell for Bostons organization. Bell managed the past four seasons in Cincinnatis minor-league system, rising this year to Triple-A Louisville. Bells final season as a player 2006 coincided with Sveums first year as Milwaukees third-base coach.

A native New Yorker, Rowson left the Yankees organization last winter for what was on the surface a lateral move (minor-league hitting coordinator). Rowson is only 36 years old, a fresh voice to explain the approach that drags out those four-hour prime-time games in the American League East.

If theres one thing that I was surprised by in a negative way, Epstein said, it was sort of how pervasive the lack of plate discipline was in the whole organization the major-league level, upper minors, lower minors, draft decision-making and protocol.

It was just something that really has not been a factor here for a long time, and were paying the price for that. Its embedded. Its institutionalized. So we need to be really, really vigilant in turning that around.

The Cubs did lead the National League in on-base percentage (.354) in 2008, when they won 97 games and their second straight division title, but that doesnt fit the new narrative.

Front office

Randy Bush, who remembers the good old days, recently agreed to a three-year extension after what Epstein described as a 15-second negotiation.

Bush has the instant credibility that comes with winning two World Series rings as a player in Minnesota. The assistant general manager helped guide Epstein with his institutional memory and relationships inside the organization. Bushs presence had to be reassuring to the Jim Hendry loyalists.

Mark ONeal will not continue working as head athletic trainer, though hes expected to remain in the organization. ONeal has a family and didnt want to spend so much time on the road. Epstein views keeping players healthy and more accurately predicting who will break down as the next frontier. The job description isnt exactly written yet, but ONeal should still be involved in medical operations. There are plans for a kind of science wing in the new spring training facility in Arizona and a renovated Wrigley Field.

International

The Cubs won the Jorge Soler sweepstakes and want to keep building their pipeline in the Dominican Republic. Louis Eljaua gets bumped up to international scouting director, with Paul Weaver shifting to a role as the international crosschecker and Pacific Rim coordinator. Jose Serra the scout who signed Starlin Castro was promoted to director of Dominican operations.

Player development

Director Brandon Hyde brought in Tim Cossins from the Marlins organization as field coordinator. Alex Suarez who helped close the Soler deal was promoted to another hybrid position as assistant director of player developmentinternational scouting. David Macias whos bilingual and played at Vanderbilt University and in the Cubs system was added as an assistant for those two departments.

Amateur scouting

Tim Wilken got a contract extension and a bigger portfolio with Jaron Madison coming over from San Diego as director of amateur scouting. Lukas McKnight was promoted from regional crosschecker to assistant director of amateur scouting. The No. 3 in this department is an interesting hire Shane Farrell, a former Marshall University pitcher and Cape Cod League scout whose father John is the new Red Sox manager.

Looking at the big picture, the Cubs have recently added three new area scouts, three new pro scouts and two more major-league scouts while making several more promotions within baseball operations.

Within the past year, Epstein and his crew have also fired: perhaps the highest-paid hitting coach in the game (Rudy Jaramillo); the executive (Oneri Fleita) viewed as a father figure by Castro, Carlos Marmol and the Latin players throughout the organization; the popular traveling secretary (Jimmy Bank) who took care of Ron Santo all those years on the road; while not renewing the contract of the third-base coach (Pat Listach) who helped turn second baseman Darwin Barney into a potential Gold Glove winner.

After losing 101 games and laying the framework for what he thinks will become an annual contender Epsteins fingerprints are clearly all over the organization.

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

When discussing his unconventional lineup choices, Joe Maddon had this to say, "It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating.....So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

And it is hard to blame Maddon for letting his experiment ride out longer.

Via our Chris Kamka, Rizzo has hit in the leadoff spot seven times this season. In those seven plate appearances he has a single, double, triple (July 21), home run, walk, hit by pitch and a groundout. Rizzo’s numbers as a leadoff hitter are staggering:

And it appears the Cubs agree.

After their 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, Ben Zobrist joked that Rizzo is the “self proclaimed greatest leadoff hitter...”. And while on paper, having Zobrist bat fourth in the order and Rizzo lead off seems contradictory, the move has definitely energized the offense. Immediately following all the lineup shuffling, the Cubs reeled off four straight wins before the Cardinals 18-run, 18-hit explosion, but even in that game Rizzo did draw a base by HBP.

And sure enough, in Saturday’s game, there was Rizzo, dominating to the tune of three walks and a triple. There is no telling if Maddon will continue to keep him in the leadoff spot. The move was originally made to help Rizzo get his groove back, which if Saturday’s win was any indication, he has.

But with Jason Heyward having a great offensive season, Jesse Chavez looking good in his Cubs debut (two clean innings with one strikeout) and Baez continuing his MVP-like play, Cubs fans should be as optimistic as one certain fan at Wrigley Field.

Cubs infielder Ryan Court had a special night in Iowa

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USA TODAY

Cubs infielder Ryan Court had a special night in Iowa

The farm system doesn't have the big names it once did, as the majority of the top prospects have graduated to the Major League roster, but that doesn't mean the minor league clubs aren't having fun. 

Take 29-year-old Ryan Court, a minor league infielder who has bounced around from Arizona and Boston's systems and found a home this year with the Cubs triple-A affiliate in Des Moines, IA. Court has had a solid season in Iowa, slashing .272/.347/.410 in 74 games, but might have had his finest game as I-Cub Friday night against the New Orleans Baby Cakes. 

Court came up in the 8th inning last night needing just a triple to hit for the cycle, but his club was on the verge of taking the lead in the after scoring three runs prior to his at-bat.

With Bote on 1st, the game tied at 8 runs apiece, Court placed a ball in front of the right fielder who overplayed the ball and allowed Bote to score from first and Court to scamper to third to complete the cycle. 

The I-Cubs would tack on another run to polish off a 5-run 8th inning and take home the win in a 10-8 victory over the Baby Cakes, and according to Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch, it was the first time in two decades an Iowa player has hit for the cycle. 

It's unlikely Ryan Court will make his way to the big leagues with the Cubs already carrying plenty of infielders, but for one night he played the hero and got his team the win, finishing the night 4-5 with 2 RBI, 4 runs scored and one massive smile on his face.