Cubs' farm system seems ready to produce
It was certainly Kris Bryant's day Friday at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs' No. 1 draft pick from this year agreed to sign with the Cubs. He had his introductory news conference, took batting practice on the field and chatted up the big-leaguers on the roster.
Bryant's signing also provided a good time to check on how team president Theo Epstein sees the Cubs' farm system.
The Epstein regime completed its second draft by signing 24 of the 40 players it selected. Actually, the Cubs began spending heavily on the draft in 2011, the final year of Jim Hendry's regime. That year, the Cubs selected Javier Baez with their first pick, and he's arguably the organization's top prospect.
Dan Vogelbach, who is playing for the Kane County Cougars, was the second-rounder in 2011.
The Cubs took center fielder Albert Almora with their first pick last year and followed that by stockpiling pitchers with their next seven picks, knowing full well a good number won't pan out.
Building from within has been the mantra of the Epstein regime, which also has spent heavily on signing young international players.
"I feel really good about it," Epstein said. "It's obvious what direction we're going and how important a robust farm system is for us. It's one thing to talk about it. It's another to start to feel like you're making some headway. I like the people we have in player development. I like a lot of the talent we have.
"Hopefully, one thing that's going to separate us as a farm system is the numerous potential impact guys we have. We've had some depth for a while now, but I think now there are a handful of guys that we can look out and say, 'If we do a nice job of helping them reach their ceilings, they can be potential impact players in the big leagues.'
"We need those guys to get where we want to go. It's nice to look at the progress we've made. But I think we've got an awful long ways to go, too."
The Cubs feel Bryant is an impact talent along with Baez, Almora and Cuban signee Jorge Soler.
"You're getting into that category now of having five, six, seven guys that have tremendous bat speed and athletic ability and doing a lot of good things with the baseball bat as well as some pitchers," said manager Dale Sveum, who threw batting practice to Bryant before Friday's game. "Some of the pitchers are pretty low right now, but it's nice to know that a year's gone by and we have a lot of guys getting really close. And obviously signing a kid like (Bryant), the best hitter in college baseball, is another piece to the puzzle."
The Cubs have received their recent high draft picks by finishing down in the standings. Although Epstein would like to accelerate the winning at the big-league level, he and his management team are not rushing prospects. There's been much talk lately of bringing up infielder-outfielder Junior Lake from Class AAA Iowa, but the Cubs feel he has developing to do yet.
"We have to stay true to our vision," Epstein said. "You start taking shortcuts and rushing prospects through the system and shortchange their development, you pay for it with struggles at the big-league level.
"We wish we could speed this thing up a little bit. I'd say there's a lot of nice things happening at the big-league level, too, with the way we're playing now that we've got our bullpen stabilized a little bit. Our starting pitching has been consistent all year. It's nice to try to claw our way to .500."