2012 Cubs Convention, Day 2

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Today, as Tom Brady humbles Tim Tebow (at least for the time being, Tebow has an entire half to mount his divine comeback), let’s look back at the day’s events at the Cubs Convention and share a few random pictures that don’t suck.  For the crappy pictures I took from Day 1, click here.

The Great Autograph Adventure

In order to get the autographs of hot prospects Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo, I decided to try to come to the hotel at about 7 AM, two hours prior to their scheduled start time.  This was the line when I got there…

Jeez, don't you people sleep?

Apparently some folks up front had been there since just after midnight and decided to camp out for the night.  Others had been there since 5 AM.  When Rizzo and Jackson showed up, a few people just continued camping in their spots to try to snag autographs at a later session from Marlon Byrd or Darwin Barney.  Since they were in groups of three or more it would’ve made sense to have one person get autographs of each player while the others continued to squat, but I guess they don’t like Rizzo or Jackson.  Here’s hoping the players don’t get carpal tunnel or some other malady giving out all those autographs.  In hindsight it probably wasn’t worth it to camp out so early and I probably won’t do this again unless it was for Ernie Banks or Fergie Jenkins (and it’d better be free!)  And wouldn’t you know it, my camera battery died so I had to switch to the iPhone.  Curses!

Two of the top prospects in the organization.

I wasn’t able to have more than a 20-second conversation with Jackson, but those of you who follow us on Facebook know that I talked to a friend of his last winter during recruitment for my graduate program.  Brett thought it was cool that we both went to California-Berkeley and we shared a “Go Bears” moment before I had to make way for the next person.  I wish them both good luck in Iowa and pretty much expect both to be called up by June or July.

Brett Jackson's autograph.

Later on I was wandering around and bumped into Ryan Dempster.  I had put my son’s baseball away after the Rizzo/Jackson session so had to dig out the Sharpie and the baseball while chasing after Demp without appearing too desperate.  He’s probably used to it though.

I like how he tucked in the #46.

Later on I walked by Jed Hoyer, who was hurrying to one of his sessions, and saw Welington Castillo in the lobby talking on his cell phone without a hands-free kit while signing autographs like a champ. I was also hoping to get Alfonso Soriano‘s autograph, but unfortunately his session was for kids only and by the time I could recruit a young fan to help, the line was already insane so that didn’t happen. Oh well, maybe I can get one before he’s traded or released or forcibly retired.

Walking around the booths, saw a couple familiar faces…

The great Fergie Jenkins. Had to pay to get his autograph. So I got a free fuzzy picture instead. You get what you pay for.

Pat Hughes was again signing the Ron Santo book for any fans that came by.

Not to be outdone, Anno’s mom got the prize of the day:

If you do not know what this is, please turn in your Cubs fan card immediately.

And what Cubs event would be complete without this guy?  It was a pretty good game between the Saints and 49ers, by the way.

That there is Ronnie Woo-Woo. Yes, he smelled weird. The gentleman caught in the wrath of my camera's flash is Matt Tolbert, master of CubsHub.com.

Not a bad day at all. Cubs Convention is definitely really good for bumping into random players and legends of the game.

Morning session: player development

I thought this would be a good session to attend to learn a bit more about the Cubs’ Dominican operations and player routines as they train in the offseason.  Starlin Castro was supposed to be there, but I think the Cubs were shielding him from heavy questioning so he was a last-minute scratch.  We got Welington Castillo and Jeff Samardzija instead.  Before they set up, though, Theo Epstein was in the room and being treated like he was Bruce Springsteen…

He's almost got as big of a crowd as some of the Cubs players did. You'd think he actually won a World Series or two.

The session was moderated by President of Business Operations Crane Kenney and also had Oneri Fleita involved. Kenney introduced another guy, Steve Jacobsen, who was in charge of real estate development for the Cubs (explained later).

The gist of this sessions was that the Cubs realized that they had to build and upgrade their player development facilities to be the best for rehabilitation, training, and strength and conditioning.  It sounded like a lot of the programs were fast-tracked such that within a couple seasons, every baseball academy or training facility, whether it be in the Dominican Republic or Mesa, would be streamlined and standardized to groom every player through the system towards the new Cubs Way.  In the Dominican, for example, the goal was to build a facility where the players could train every day regardless of weather (at least one of the training fields will be turf so they can train even in rainy weather) and also help recruits learn English and earn their GEDs so they at least have a basic level of education before they come to MLB.  The new facility, as the honchos claim, is on the largest baseball-related property in the country, located on the southeast end of the island.  One of the fields is designed to mimic Wrigley Field’s dimensions.  The facility is centrally located so that the recruits are only a 15-20 minute bus ride away from each game.  I might have missed it but it sounds like they intend to build similar facilities in other Latin American countries, or import those recruits to the Dominican facility which honestly sounds a lot nicer than Wrigley Field’s amenities right now.

Fleita said that they designed it such that the technology was cutting edge so he could watch the players in the Dominican work out from his office at Wrigley Field.  This will help the organization impart a consistent philosophy throughout the system so every player, no matter where they come from, will come in with some familiarity of big league life an expectations.  Welington Castillo talked a bit about his experiences, as he started playing baseball when he was just 7 years old and was self-motivated to be better than his peers so he would get noticed and eventually signed by the Cubs.  He cited Sammy Sosa as one of his inspirations, and talked about working out daily with guys like Junior Lake and Starlin Castro.

The focus switched to Mesa and Steve Jacobsen talked a lot about upgrading the facility that would be financed by Mesa so that it would be miles above what they used to have at HoHoKam and Fitch.  They insisted that it be a Cubs-only facility as they were not willing to compromise, and that it be in the best possible location to maximize accessibility and revenue.  The facility as planned has at least seven practice fields that I could see, and the game field, similar to the one in the Dominican, has the same basic dimensions as Wrigley Field.  These guys were dead serious about consistency throughout the system.  Everything in the new facility would be improved and would be bigger than its predecessors, and the MLB guys and minors players would have separate facilities.  Sounds like they spared no expense.  The construction is expected to begin in summer 2012, open to practice in fall of 2013 and open to Cactus League competition in 2014.  Arizona State University is also expected to play many games in the new Mesa complex to maximize exposure.

Jeff Samardzija was one of many players who voluntarily took advantage of workout time in Mesa.  Say what you want about how much he sucks, and of course his coaches aren’t going to throw him under the bus in front of fans, but at the very least, the man works hard.  Maybe he will surprise us when the season starts.

Early afternoon session: Scouting

We came in the tail end of Dale Sveum’s coaches session, as he was signing autographs before heading out…

Dale Sveum tries to wade through a sea of fans.

The speakers, including Jason McLeod, were chatting it up when they spotted me with my camera:

I see you!

They were pretty cool and tried to pose a bit better but my camera had shut off so I just waved to them to thank them. Here’s a better one as they were seated:

Jason McLeod and Tim Wilken.

This session wasn’t too heavy on statistics and was sort of like the “anti-Moneyball” session, but not really.  Every one of the speakers was a scout in some capacity and they were also highly educated and experienced.  They explained that scouts were really the backbone of the industry because the challenge was to find the player that would blossom into a superstar (like their example, Dustin Pedroia) before anyone else; that requires an army of scouts to comb the country and the world for the right players.  Naturally they’re not always right, but the goal is to be less wrong than everyone else.  They were pretty candid about their mistakes, and also acknowledged the importance of information.  McLeod said that in Boston, Theo made a few interns crunch all the NCAA baseball data in existence and then gave the numbers to Bill James so they could crunch it further.  Statistics have to be used in conjunction with scouting in order to improve the odds of success.  I think I remember blogging about that somewhere.

There were a few amusing anecdotes.  Fleita apparently was drafted twice by Wilken, although you can’t actually find that on Google as he claims.  McLeod looked up to Wilken a lot as a new scout and the guys seem to have great respect for each other.  Wilken learned a lot of what he knows now from Cubs star Phil Cavarretta.  They talked a lot about how they look for consistent qualities in young pitchers so that the player could repeat their movements and throw strikes.  For hitters, they were looking for consistent contact and squaring up on the ball, even if the player looked like an Oompa-Loompa (McLeod used this to describe pre-MLB Pedroia).  Joe Bohringer explained the importance of balancing statistics and scouting to find those who are most likely to succeed at MLB, and also to ensure near-complete coverage of all professional levels on every team to keep tabs on players of interest no matter where they are at present.  At the end of the day, they are being paid to predict the future as professional guessers, and they are trying to be right more often than not.  Here’s hoping they’re right most of the time as the Cubs rebuild.

Late afternoon session: Cubs business

Crane Kenney was also at this one, along with Wally Hayward and some other guys in charge of improving fan experience and making tons of money.  Anno blogged about this earlier, but I felt the image should be shared again.

It doesn't look too bad.

In a bit of snark, I’d like to say that if this were an artist’s depiction, they could have hired a better artist. But the main point is well made, all they’re really doing is raising the bleacher box seats a few feat to accommodate a new screen that could be used for advertisements and eventually replays. I’m kind of surprised they kept the home run basket boundary at the same spot as before, but I guess they don’t want a Wrigley Monster feel. After all, they did steal most of Boston’s former employees, stealing their signature feature is probably going a bit too far.

And that’s it for Day 2.

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