Rozner: Cubs' young players will need time, patience

  • Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein understands fans are dreaming very big for this season, but that might not turn out to be the reality.

    Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein understands fans are dreaming very big for this season, but that might not turn out to be the reality. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 3/16/2015 12:34 PM

Cubs players are certainly talking a good game and there's precisely nothing wrong with that.

Raised expectations are a good thing when a team has been so bad for so long, and Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester have certainly done their part to create a winning atmosphere.

 

Consider the words, however, of the Mets' David Wright, who told The New York Times, "You've got to practice winning. You're not talking about it. You're not expecting it. You're doing it."

And usually you're doing it over the course of several years, as a team built from the bottom up needs time to grow up at the big-league level.

But with the additions of Lester, Jason Hammel, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero and Joe Maddon, some in Cubs Nation believe this year could be magical.

"The expectations definitely went from zero to 60 pretty quickly," Cubs president Theo Epstein told me during a recent conversation on the Score. "At least from a superficial sense, from the outside looking in, with expectations we didn't get that gradual ramp-up process where you have a chance to surprise some people.

"We didn't have that year where we're better than expected and have people see the young players break in and realize these guys might be good."

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And that has led, with help from player statements, to portions of the fan base dreaming very big in 2015.

"The expectations are probably outsized for where we are in this transition," Epstein admitted, "but I think to the extent that the expectations are that we compete and maybe win a division and do some damage in the playoffs, those are our own expectations, too.

"Once you decide you're going to compete, you don't say, 'Well, we'd like to scare second place, we'd like to compete into July and that'll be a successful season.'

"Once you decide you're going to compete, you're in it to win. Our own expectations are to go out and have a great season and win a division and win the World Series. In that way, it lines up with outside expectations."

But it is wholly unrealistic to think every young star the Cubs promote to the big leagues will produce quickly at the big-league level. Kris Bryant sure seems like a guy who can dominate at any level, but if he struggles this season, he will hardly be the only one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I do feel like our young players are going to need the benefit of the doubt," Epstein said. "It's never been harder for young position players to break into the majors and succeed.

"If you look at the top 100 prospects last year, only three position players out of that group had any shred of success at all.

"One was (the White Sox') Jose Abreu, who was an established veteran at 27 years old coming over from Cuba.

"One was (Houston's) George Springer, who was 24 years old, so he was already older than Starlin Castro at the time and the same age as Anthony Rizzo.

"The other was Mookie Betts, who we drafted in Boston back in 2011, and he's from another planet. He's so talented.

"Three guys had success, the rest struggled, including a couple of our guys. So it speaks to the quality of pitching, the quality of advance reports, the quality of bullpens. It speaks to the size of the strike zone. It's just hard to hit right now."

It's tricky for Epstein, who wants the players to believe they can win, the fans to expect to win and the organization to prepare for winning, but the reality is the Cubs may yet be a year away and the youngsters -- as a group -- have much to prove before they can be taken seriously.

"Our fans don't have to be patient with us. They should hold us accountable," Epstein said. "But specifically the individual players, it's important to remember guys like Eric Hosmer, who just about single-handedly got the Royals to the doorstep of the World Series last year. He struggled for 2½ years.

"Mike Moustakas, who was on fire in the playoffs (for Kansas City), struggled for three, four years. Both those guys were awesome, but it just doesn't happen overnight. Some guys do, but that's the exception.

"We're in it for the long haul. There will be lots of ups and downs with our young players. Our young players are so crucial to our immediate success that it's a big variable, so our fans have to be patient with that."

In other words, the kids are coming and some are already here, but to think that they'll be dominant from the first day is unfair, which means next year might not be here.

Yet.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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