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updated: 7/13/2014 7:06 PM

Scout's honor: The crystal ball's always cloudy

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  • The Braves' Jason Heyward is the perfect example of the next big thing turning into just another major-league ballplayer.

      The Braves' Jason Heyward is the perfect example of the next big thing turning into just another major-league ballplayer.
    Associated Press

 
 

The mood at Wrigley Field felt a couple ticks higher Sunday morning.

A lot has happened since the Cubs surrendered Jeff Samardzija and Jeff Hammel to Oakland on the evening of July Fourth.

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The Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved the renovation plans for the ballpark. Arismendy Alcantara has made an impact since being promoted from Triple-A Iowa five games ago. Attendance over the weekend was as good as it has been this season.

Meanwhile, none of the other hot prospects still in the minors has blown out a knee yet.

The Cubs' franchise is on a roll even if the Cubs' team suffered a 10-7 loss to the Braves on this day.

Still, the only thing that really matters is how good the reputed phenoms in the Cubs' system will become.

The guy in right field for the Braves and an article on the Kansas City Star website indicated just how difficult it is to project the careers of prospects.

Jason Heyward arrived in Atlanta with all the expectations that Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and others will bring to Chicago.

Heyward was the next big thing, especially after hitting a home run against the Cubs in his first big-league at-bat on Opening Day in 2010.

Four years later, Heyward is batting .255, and a member of the Braves' traveling party said the team still doesn't know what it has in him.

Is he a speed guy destined to bat leadoff, a power guy for the middle of the order, a combination of the two, neither or something else altogether?

Regardless, Heyward is a good player on a good team but nothing close to what he was supposed to be.

From the buzz surrounding Bryant and Baez, they will disappoint if they don't wind up better than Heyward has been.

It's just about a given that not all the Cubs' prospects will make an impact and that some will prove not to be even useful once they arrive at Wrigley Field.

Cubs' president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting/development director Jason McLeod acknowledge that.

Those three are veteran scouts, though not as veteran as the very veteran Art Stewart.

"You'll have your heart broken by a player far more often than you'll be proven right," the 87-year-old Stewart will tell anyone who'll listen.

In fact, Stewart has a book out titled "The Art of Scouting" with the Kansas City Star's Sam Mellinger as co-writer.

The book is a dandy, judging by excerpts that Mellinger included in an article Sunday on kansascity.com.

"The whole thing is so unpredictable, and your job is to predict it," Stewart wrote.

The book is full of colorful stories portraying a scout's life on the road. But most relevant here -- to the Cubs and White Sox, who just gave millions of dollars to a college pitcher -- is the uncertain nature of scouting.

"You have to decide," Stewart writes about position players, "how this young man will adjust from sleepy crowds in small towns in the Carolina League to sellout crowds at Tiger Stadium when Justin Verlander is throwing 99 mph in the ninth inning."

Though the Theocrats can be questioned for continuing to trade major leaguers for prospects, stockpiling is their hedge against unpredictability.

A young player might not be as good as envisioned. He might be injury prone. Or something else generally unspoken might interfere with his progress.

"The next talented player to be sidetracked by too many women on the road," Stewart wrote, "won't be the first and won't be the last."

This is sobering stuff for teams rebuilding their farm systems with youngsters like the Cubs and Sox are in the process of doing.

The only sure thing is that it's an unsure business.

OK, now back to your regularly scheduled renovation/Alcantara/ attendance mood elevator.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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