Cubs reach out to an agreeable Mark Prior

Updated 1/17/2013 6:46 PM

The Cubs of the future got a couple of blasts from the past this week at an inaugural rookie camp.

Former pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, who went through everything from hype to injury to disappointment in Chicago were part of the program, which was winding up Thursday, ahead of this weekend's Cubs convention downtown.

"Who better than those two guys?" said Jason McLeod, the Cubs' senior vice president for scouting and player development.

Wood has been around the organization a lot since his retirement from the Cubs last May. The Prior news came as a bit of a shocker.

McLeod said Prior was to fly in Thursday specifically to address the group of a dozen minor-leaguers. Prior, a former first-round draft choice who pitched for the Cubs from 2002-06 before injuries derailed his career, lives in San Diego, where McLeod used to work.

"I do not know what the deal was when he left," McLeod said. "I don't know if there were bad feelings. All I know is I reached out to him a little over a week ago, told him about the program and asked 'Hey, would you mind coming in to talk to these guys?'

"Honestly, I thought he was going to say 'No, I don't want to.' But he was fired up about it, said 'I'd love to come talk to those guys, tell them about my experiences.'"

The minor-league players, including 2011 first-rounder Javier Baez, a shortstop, worked out in the field house at Northwestern University.

The rookie camp, which also included off-the-field seminars, is new to the Cubs.

"A lot of clubs have been running rookie programs over the years," McLeod said. "We did it in Boston. We did it in San Diego a couple of years ago. The whole thought behind it, really, is to get some players that are in the minor leagues that you think are close to being here the next year, year-and-a-half, expose them to the market, really get them in a smaller group, talk a lot about what to expect when they get here, how to be professionals, how to handle the media, how to deal with the fans here.

"Former players have come in and talked about their experiences as they were coming up as young players, how they dealt with failure, how they dealt with success. We've had a lot of our business-side people come in and talk about things they can expect from the marketing end."

Hello, Kane County:

The Cubs' annual winter caravan made a stop at the home of the Kane County Cougars, the organization's new Class A affiliate in the Midwest League.

McLeod indicated it's likely that Cuban signee Jorge Soler would open the 2013 season at the higher-level Class A club at Daytona, but he wouldn't rule out Kane County altogether.

Even if Soler isn't at Kane County, McLeod said fans should see "impact" talent in the suburbs.

"I think we're going to have that (impact) team there because that Boise team that lost in the championship was the youngest team in the league by far, in the Northwest League," McLeod said of the Cubs' short-season Class A team. "We had five or six guys under the age of 20 in that starting lineup last year. So those players will probably all be at Kane County.

"That's going to be an exciting young team. We're going to be young. I don't know if we're going to win, but we're going to have young, legitimate prospects."

On the fast track:

The rookie camp was mainly for players deemed close the major leagues or at least ready for higher-level play in the minor leagues. Among those attending were pitchers Trey McNutt, Dallas Beeler, Nick Struck and Rob Whitenack. Position players included Logan Watkins and Matt Szczur.

Even though Baez played only as high as Daytona last year, he's considered a fast-tracker.

"It's been very good," said the 20-year-old Baez. "I'm not in shape yet. That's what we're working on. But I'm almost there."

McLeod said he still sees Baez as a shortstop, even though Starlin Castro holds that job with the big club. Baez had a line of .333/.383/.596 with 12 homers last year at Peoria before struggling at Daytona, hitting .188. He also suffered a hand injury last season. He says the hand is better now.

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