Cubs homegrown talent recalls Dallas Green days

Cubs' homegrown roster of young, talented players reminiscent of Dallas Green's efforts

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Former Cubs general manager Dallas Green, who worked for several MLB organizations throughout his baseball career, helped rebuild the Cubs farm system in 1984. It later produced a significant crop of top talent.

    Former Cubs general manager Dallas Green, who worked for several MLB organizations throughout his baseball career, helped rebuild the Cubs farm system in 1984. It later produced a significant crop of top talent. Associated Press/file

 
 
Updated 6/20/2015 1:27 PM

Gardening and baseball would seem to have little in common except this: It's always more satisfying to grow your own.

The Cubs are starting to cultivate something special, and it could be sooner rather than later when they start reaping the rewards.

 

When Kyle Schwarber came up from Class AA Tennessee last week, he became the latest homegrown product to take the field for the Cubs. The early indications are that Schwarber can flat-out hit.

In April, Kris Bryant made his much-awaited debut, and he's here to stay.

If you look around the diamond and down on the farm, the Cubs are starting to build a young team of players they've nurtured themselves.

Bryant, Schwarber, outfielder Jorge Soler and shortstop Starlin Castro -- still only 25 years old -- were either drafted or signed as free agents and then developed by the Cubs.

Although first baseman Anthony Rizzo, 25, came to the Cubs in a trade, he originally was drafted by the Boston Red Sox, run then by current Cubs president Theo Epstein. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer acquired Rizzo in San Diego before he and Epstein brought Rizzo to Chicago.

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Second baseman Addison Russell is a transplant, too, as he came from the Oakland Athletics system in last July's trade for pitchers Jeff Samardzija (a 2006 Cubs draft pick) and Jason Hammel.

Down on the farm, Javier Baez was likely a broken finger away from coming up. He was the last top pick of the previous regime, but he's a Cubs product nevertheless.

And there are more coming.

One might be tempted to say that today's crop of young homegrown players is the most bountiful in Cubs history.

Comparison to recent years may make it seem that way, what with the memories of disappointing Cubs prospects such as Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Tyler Colvin, Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson and others fresh in the memory.

But here's an interesting and perhaps instructive parallel period to look at: the 1980s under Dallas Green.

The Tribune Co. bought the Cubs from the Wrigley family in 1981 and hired Green to run the baseball operation. The situation was similar to that of 2011, when Epstein came to Chicago from Boston: The major-league team was floundering and there was not much in the farm system.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Green's 1984 team won the National League East and came within a game of the World Series, but that was largely a team filled with veteran acquisitions. The full fruit of the labor by Green and his staff did not become apparent until after the Trib forced Green out in 1987.

In Green's relatively short tenure, the transformation was startling, and it came via solid drafting and player development. It became fully apparent with the 1989 NL East winners.

Green had his own Rizzo-type acquisition when he plucked an infielder named Ryne Sandberg from his old organization, the Philadelphia Phillies, before the 1982 season.

Sandberg, who went on to the Hall of Fame, was a member of both the 1984 and '89 division winners. Plenty of his '89 teammates were homegrown, and although some had longer careers than others, most had big impacts on the Cubs' second division title of the 1980s:

• Pitcher Greg Maddux went 19-12 in 1989, He was a Cubs second-round draft pick in 1984.

• First baseman Mark Grace put on a hitting show in the 1989 NLCS and went on to compile 2,445 career hits. The Cubs drafted him in the 24th round in 1985.

• Outfielders Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith finished 1-2 in Rookie of the Year voting in 1989. Walton was a second-rounder in 1986, and Smith was a third-rounder in '84.

• Shortstop Shawon Dunston was the first overall pick in 1982. He went on to play 18 years in the big leagues.

• Catcher Joe Girardi played 59 games for the 1989 Cubs. He was a fifth-round draft pick in 1986. Fellow backstop Damon Berryhill was the Cubs' first-rounder in '84.

The '89 club had a chance to be even more impressive. After Green left, general manager Jim Frey traded Rafael Palmeiro to the Texas Rangers. Palmeiro was the Cubs' first-round pick in 1985, and he, too, would be in the Hall of Fame if not for being connected to baseball's steroids era.

Who knows how things would have turned out had Green stayed.

There is no guarantee the Epstein-led Cubs will get to the playoffs or win a World Series. But they're following a good blueprint. If they do make it, the homegrown taste will be all the sweeter.

• Follow Bruce on Twitter @BruceMiles2112

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