Baez, Contreras owe all-star success to Hendry and other Cubs staffers
Just as baseball is passed from generation to generation, a couple of Cubs all-stars have been passed from baseball regime to baseball regime.
Infielder Javier Baez and catcher Willson Contreras will start Tuesday's All-Star Game at Nationals Park in Washington. Both are longtime members of the Cubs organization, having been drafted and/or signed by the previous baseball management team, headed by former general manager Jim Hendry.
Baez was the final first-round pick of the Hendry regime, in 2011, and Hendry worked tirelessly to sign Baez even as Hendry knew his days with the organization were coming to an end.
The scout who gets credit for signing Baez -- along with then-scouting director Tim Wilken -- is Tom Clark, who is still with the organization, as are many scouts from the Hendry regime.
Contreras was signed as a 17-year-old free agent out of Venezuela in 2009, with scouts Hector Ortega and Julio Figueroa being credited. Both of those scouts also are still with the Cubs.
In 2012, after the Theo Epstein-led baseball team took over, Contreras made the transition from infielder to catcher. He had spoken to and been encouraged by former player-development chief Oneri Fleita about moving behind the plate.
"I'm thankful for Oneri," Contreras said on Sunday when he was named an all-star. "I'm always thankful that I switched my position. But I wanted to catch. I wanted to be there. I think that was part of my priorities. Now that I'm behind the plate, I have to take care of my team and teammates first."
To Epstein's credit, he always has been generous with crediting Hendry, Fleita, Wilken and the scouts for obtaining and helping to start the development of Baez and Contreras.
The current baseball-operations people also did not prejudge Baez and Contreras simply because they were procured by the previous people in charge. Of course, it helped that both players possessed prodigious raw talent back then.
"Jim Hendry and his lieutenants did a great job finding those guys," Epstein said during the 2016 World Series, when both Baez and Contreras were bursting upon the scene. "They were both in (Class A) Boise when I got here. The talent was obvious. Like any other player in the low minors, some of the tools stand out and some of the challenges are there in the development path. It was obvious a lot of people would have to touch them along the way and help bring them along."
Missing Ken Ravizza:
The Cubs were hit hard by the recent death of sports psychologist Dr. Ken Ravizza, their mental-skills coach.
Ravizza and others, including Cubs manager Joe Maddon, did much over the past two decades to de-stigmatize players seeking psychological coaching and assistance.
A welcome figure in and around the Cubs clubhouse, both at home and on the road, Ravizza would walk around the room to talk with players and stop to chat with media members about how they were doing as well.
Ravizza, who was 70, went out of his way to ask about my own daughter, who is a collegiate swimmer.
He will be dearly missed.
Top pick moving up:
Shortstop Nico Hoerner, the Cubs' first-round draft pick this year out of Stanford, has been promoted from short-season Class A Eugene to South Bend (A) of the Midwest League.
Hoerner began his pro career in the Arizona Rookie League, going 3-for-12. At Eugene, he went 7-for-22 (.318) with a triple and a homer.
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