Midwest League: Cubs brass meets with Cougars fans
By Mike Knapp For Sun-Times Media February 3, 2013 6:20PM
Updated: March 5, 2013 6:30AM
The “Cubs Way” is coming to Kane County.
No doubt the Cubs made a splash just over a year ago when they hired Theo Epstein away from the Boston Red Sox in hopes of building a program that could contend for years to come, and while the franchise suffered through a 101-loss season in 2012, a plan is in place for the future.
One of the keys to that plan includes a way of doing things the same from the top to the bottom of the organization. With the Cubs entering a player development agreement with the Kane County Cougars last fall, that way will be on display at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark this summer.
Friday night, Cougars fans got a little more insight as to what might be in store when Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod, Director of Player Development Brandon Hyde and 2013 manager Mark Johnson appeared at the “Meet the Cubs” winter event.
That means fans should see even fundamental things like bunt plays or baserunning look the same whether it’s being done at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark or Wrigley Field.
“There is a fluidity throughout the organization and how we teach and what we believe in,” McLeod said. “We’re going to hold our players accountable for the style of play we want to implement. All of the players have their own plan.”
In reality, the Cougars could represent ground zero of that new philosophy, as a majority of players — such as Albert Almora, the Cubs top pick a year ago, and Dan Vogelbach, a power-hitting first baseman — are part of the first group of players in the organization who have followed those blueprints since the start of their careers.
Both were part of a young Boise team that gelled late in the year and eventually played in the championship series of the short-season Northwest League.
Conceivably they could be in Kane County uniforms in 2013, among many other members of the 2012 Hawks roster. While the team would be young (Almora doesn’t turn 19 until April 16), the talent would be there to make the Cougars an exciting team to watch.
“We had a group that wanted to win, and a lot of times you can’t really teach that,” said Johnson, who managed at Boise last year. “The kids in Boise, they wanted to win and knew how to win.”
Playing in the Chicago market is also part of the plan, as it exposes players early to the scrutiny they will see as Cubs — whether that is the expectations of the fans or people like Epstein or Cubs manager Dale Sveum evaluating them from the stands.
McLeod compares it to the Red Sox organization, where the Low-A affiliate (Lowell) is just 31 miles from Fenway Park.
“I think it ingrains in them more, ‘This is what it means to be a Cub’,” McLeod said. “From the time they signed and went to Lowell, right away they were hit with Red Sox Nation, and that is big for those guys. They aren’t shellshocked by it. I think guys coming through here and getting the feel and vibe, they will know what to expect.”
The Cougars open their season at home April 4 against Quad Cities.