Bulls

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.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Daniel Gafford breaks out in loss to Bucks

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Daniel Gafford breaks out in loss to Bucks

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, Dave Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 115-101 loss to the Bucks.

0:45                        Reaction to breakout game from Daniel Gafford

3:30                        On Gafford getting limited minutes and not playing in the 4th quarter

7:00                        Viewer comment on sitting Markkanen

8:55                        Viewer comment on on Zach and Lauri

10:15                     On the rotations and bench play

12:45                     Viewer comment on Coby White long-term potential

14:30                     Dave needs to do a show with no hat?

16:15                     Viewer comment on Zach LaVine

18:00                     Viewer trade idea with Warriors

19:45                     Viewer comment brings back Rose memories

20:05                     Change the starting lineup?

22:05                     Viewer makes Sabine happy by referencing Doncic

23:10                     Matt Peck breaks his mic

25:00                     On the Bucks having fun before the Bulls game

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen fail to produce in crunch time for Bulls

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen fail to produce in crunch time for Bulls

Coby White’s second straight 3-pointer splashed through the net — a three that, combined with a Ryan Arcidiacono long-ball, capped a 9-0 run to give the Bulls a one-point lead over the Bucks with 6 minutes, 23 seconds to play.

For the second time in five days, the Bulls had an opportunity to knock off the Bucks, an Eastern Conference champion contender.

Then, reality hit. Or the starters returned. At this point, that’s one and the same.

Here’s all you need to know about where the Bulls’ rebuild stands as 'Year Three' fell to a 4-10 start following the Bucks’ 115-101 victory: Coach Jim Boylen admitted he considered riding a bench unit down the stretch over one that featured Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.

“They have a guy that they can go to that can get them a bucket, which is what good teams have,” Boylen said, referring to the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo. “I’ve been on those teams. We’re figuring out who that guy is and we’re learning to play that way. We’re not there yet.”

Boylen then supported his beleaguered core players, because that’s what he’s paid to do. But the sobering reality of the Bulls’ current fortunes didn’t just play out in LaVine’s stat line of 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting, or Markkanen’s 9 points on 2-for-12.

It played out when Boylen indeed returned to LaVine and Markkanen with 5:04 remaining, and the Bucks leading 103-99. From that point, the Bulls didn’t score another field goal.

Markkanen sank two free throws but missed a driving layup and 13-foot jumper. LaVine committed a turnover, missed a layup and a 3-pointer.

Game, set and match.

“They got the MVP over there. He did his thing. And we didn’t,” LaVine said. “It’s going to be tough when your leading players, me and Lauri, don’t perform at our level. You can understand that. You’re missing a lot of points and a lot of plays. We understand we have to pick it up.”

What’s that they say? Recognition is the first step towards recovery. The Bulls have to hope so, especially after Markkanen admitted his slump is affecting him mentally.

“It’s frustrating knowing I’ve never had this kind of stretch of not even not hitting 3s but missing layups and dunks,” he said. “I have to keep my head up knowing that you work too hard for this not to turn around. Keep working and I know it’s going to turn around.

“I noticed myself kind of thinking too much at the half. I tried to switch it up and make the plays for the team. That’s how you get out of your own head. I have to stay aggressive. Create contact and then finish every shot. Not getting out of it too early or anything like that. I’ve done my film study. Put the work in and I know it’s going to turn around.”

At one point, Markkanen actually missed two dunk attempts on the same possession. Following the second, he rolled his eyes toward the United Center roof as if to say, 'What’s next?'

Markkanen is shooting 36.2 percent overall and 26.8 percent from 3-point range. He missed all four three-pointers he attempted versus the Bucks.

“Just try to get an easy bucket and lay it in. But having two 7-footers there, I know it’s going to be blocked so I tried to go up quick and end up missing it,” Markkanen said of the dunk sequence. “It was frustrating. I know I can play better. It’s not going to be like this forever. I don’t know what else to say.”

Antetokounmpo made 13 field goals, equaling the total of five Bulls starters. How do you say 'ouch' in Greek?

“What I’m going to do is I’m going to support those two guys. I’m going to coach them like I always have. I’m going to show it to them on film and we’re going to work on it in practice. We’re going to get them to understand that we believe in them, we value them and that we need to do better,” Boylen said. “It’s all part of this process. We’re slugging uphill right now. We gotta keep slugging. That’s all I can say.”

Boylen said he returned to LaVine and Markkanen because he still believes in them. He has to say that and he has to believe that. The rebuild is structured for them to shine.

It’s not currently happening.

“I’m still developing two young guys,” Boylen said. “Zach missed a year-and-a-half. Lauri was hurt last year. He has basically played two years. I’m going to keep developing them to come in and learn how to win games. I believe in both of them. I believe they’re important to what we’re doing.”

Raising LaVine’s absence to an ACL injury and subsequent rehab is a curious approach from Boylen given that LaVine has been fully healthy and rehabbed for quite some time. But again, he has been placed in a position where he has to protect their play and lack of production in big moments.

The Bulls are a long way away from respectability at this point.

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