Jason McLeod

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs draft strategy provides another clue into the direction of the franchise

Cubs draft strategy provides another clue into the direction of the franchise

Under Theo Epstein's regime, the Cubs are all about trying to find baseball's next market inefficiency.

Instead of following the crowd, they're always trying to be one step ahead, setting the tone.

Over the last 15 or so months, we've seen a renaissance of sorts around the game as the Launce Angle Revolution has gained notoriety and velocity from pitchers has increased.

The two downfalls to that are strikeouts and walks. 

It's more complicated than this, but for the most part: Hitters are sacrificing contact for power and pitchers are sacrificing control for velocity.

The Cubs are trying to address that within their own organization and their strategy for the MLB Draft this week is another clue into how they plan on doing so.

With science contradicting the effect of Launch Angle, it looks like that bubble is about to burst around the game. As such, the Cubs are trying to be one step ahead of the game, moving to a more contact-oriented approach.

Thanks to a pair of compensatory picks, the Cubs owned 12 selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. They used 7 of those picks on hitters, 5 college bats (Nico Hoerner, Jimmy Herron, Andy Weber, D.J. Artis, Luke Reynolds) and a pair of high-school outfielders (Brennen Davis, Cole Roederer).

Throughout their respective 2018 seasons, 5 of those 7 hitters walked more than they struck out and all 7 guys are seen as high-contact individuals. Combined, those 7 hitters drew 224 walks this spring against only 191 strikeouts.

Now, part of that may be the competition they were facing, as the two high school kids were clearly far more advanced their their peers.

Still, it's a glimpse into what the Cubs front office places the most value on moving forward.

"If you look especially in the first 10 rounds, we really focused on guys that we feel can control the barrel, get the ball in play," said Jason McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting. "For some of those college guys, history of hitting, history of controlling the zone, low strikeouts."

The Cubs believe the contact skills and strike zone judgement/organization will carry over to the professional ranks, especially with the college hitters who have faced more advanced pitching on a regular basis.

Managing the strike zone and placing an emphasis on contact is also something the Cubs are preaching at every level in the minor leagues right now, making it a focal point as these young hitters develop toward the big leagues.

With the pitchers they selected in the Top 10 picks, the Cubs once again prioritized the strike zone.

Paul Richan — the second compensatory pick, 78th overall — doled out just 13 walks in 89.2 innings at University of San Diego this season, good for a sparkling 1.30 BB/9 ratio.

Ethan Roberts — the right-handed reliever the Cubs selected in the 4th round (128th overall) — has permitted 31 free passes in 107.2 innings the last two seasons.

Derek Casey — the Cubs' 9th round pick (278th overall) — walked only 25 batters in 95.2 innings at Virginia.

In the big leagues, the main issue that has plagued the Cubs pitching staff since the start of last season is too many free passes. That was a major point of emphasis in the offseason, but yet the problem has persisted 1/3 of the way through 2018.

Tyler Chatwood's start Thursday (7 walks and a hit batter) served as yet another reminder.

"On the pitching front: When you look at Paul Richan, Derek Casey, some of the college arms that we took, these are guys that have consistently shown that they'll throw strikes, limit the walks," McLeod said. "And then we were able to sprinkle in a Kohl Franklin (6th round, 188th overall), who's another upside high school arm out of Oklahoma."

These guys drafted Monday and Tuesday are still years away from Wrigley Field, but the organizational strategy is clear, both in the short and long term.

Why Nico Hoerner is exactly what the Cubs were looking for

Why Nico Hoerner is exactly what the Cubs were looking for

It took roughly 20 seconds after he began speaking for the first mention of the word "winning." 

Nico Hoerner became the latest college hitter to go to the Cubs in the first round of the MLB Draft and in his introductory teleconference with the Chicago media, the Stanford shortstop didn't waste any team showing what he was about.

Theo Epstein's Cubs front office spends a lot of time and energy on the character of a player they draft and it's paid off well with Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ in the past (as far as the Draft goes, at least). 

Hoerner checked all the boxes for Epstein and Co.

"First and foremost, it's his ability on the baseball field," said Jason McLeod, Cubs senior VP of player development and amateur scouting. "He's a talented player that can really swing the bat, that's a high-contact bat. We think there's actually more power for him there in terms of extra-base hits and lifting the ball.

"But we really love what he can do at the plate. He's a multi-tool athlete with incredible makeup. When you go and watch him, it's really apparent — he's a leader on the field, he's a leader in the dugout, he's incredibly passionate, he's all about winning.

"He's exactly what we're looking to bring into the organization."

Hoerner was the star of a Stanford team that went 46-12 overall this season and finished atop the Pac 12 conference.

He spent most of the spring focusing on his team at Stanford instead of the Draft.

"Honestly with the Cubs, I really had no idea," Hoerner said. "I asked my advisors throughout the whole process to give me really limited information and just let me focus on the season. 

"I was lucky to be on a really successful team this year and I was focused on winning. The draft process was pretty smooth."

Hoerner only hit 3 homers in 164 career college games, but collected 42 doubles and 9 triples while slugging .406 overall.

After a rough start to his collegiate career in 2016 (.254 average, .609 OPS), Hoerner turned it on and hit .307 his sophomore year and then .349 his junior season.

In between seasons at Stanford, Hoerner — an Oakland native — played for the Madison, Wisc., team in the Northwoods League in 2016, where he got a taste of the Midwest life and caught a glimpse into the world of Cubs fans.

He also played in the Cape Cod League in 2017, an experience he credited with helping him take huge strides before his junior season in college.

As the Cubs prepared for the Draft, they were holding out hope Hoerner would still be available at pick No. 24. They fell in love with his "exceptional makeup" and unique "natural hitting ability."

The Cubs think more power will come eventually, as he continues to fill out his 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame.

"He's just so skilled at barreling the ball up around the zone," McLeod said. "He has strong hands. I know this year when I went to see him, I was actually surprised just the strength of his body. Because you read the bio and you might see 5-11ish or 6-feet and you kinda expect him to be more of a medium frame guy, but this is a guy that's very strong, has very strong hands, high contact and he hits balls really hard.

"We do think that will translate really well because of what he already does well — which is really elite hand-eye coordination and ability to get the barrel to the ball and hit it hard."

Hoerner also fits the Cubs' mold in recent years as a player who can play all over the diamond. He has no qualms about moving if asked, but for now, he and the Cubs are content with sticking at shortstop.

"I'm gonna play shortstop as long as that's OK with them," Hoerner said. "That's what I love to do; I think I can do it at a really high level. 

"But at the same time, I think I can play every position on the field if need be. Just want to win ballgames."

There's that "winning" concept again...