Jason McLeod says he likes being part of the Cubs’ rise, and why not? He has as much to do with it as anyone. In fact, other than his boss, Theo Epstein, there may not be a baseball executive more on fire than McLeod, the Cubs’ senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting. He basically built the Red Sox and the Cubs with draft picks, and don’t look past the two years he spent in San Diego.
McLeod seems to have a magic touch when it comes to picking a scouting staff. The fact he’s not running his own team is his choice. He’s had plenty of opportunities to interview elsewhere and he has turned them down. For now.
McLeod is the one who drafted Josh Reddick in the 17th round and Anthony Rizzo in the sixth round. When the Red Sox didn’t have a first-round pick in the 2004 draft, McLeod chose Dustin Pedroia with the team’s first selection, 65th overall.
Some of the other players McLeod has drafted aren’t too shabby, either: Kris Bryant, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Kyle Schwarber, Justin Masterson, Daniel Bard, Jacoby Ellsbury, Christian Vazquez, Alex Wilson, Jeremy Hazelbaker. He’s had his share of misses, from Lars Anderson to Jason Place to Nick Hagadone, but every scouting director does.
McLeod turned down opportunities to interview in Seattle and San Diego (which would have been his third stint there), and one would suspect the 44-year-old native of San Diego will be taken care of handsomely when Epstein gets a record-setting contract for a president of baseball operations.
McLeod would eventually like to run his own team.
“Sure, I think most of us who enter this profession and work in these jobs want to rise into a job like general manager or president,” McLeod said. “That’s definitely a goal for me at some point, but right now, being a part of what we’re doing here in Chicago is so much fun and so rewarding.
“To have a plan and to be able to execute it has been an incredible process to be a part of, from the trade for [Jake] Arrieta to hiring Joe Maddon to signing Jon Lester. And each time we get one step closer. It’s been great to work with all the people we’ve put together on our team led by Theo, but also [GM] Jed Hoyer and our player development and scouting staffs.”
Last Wednesday, McLeod traveled to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to watch the Cubs’ Single A affiliate play a doubleheader. One of the team’s star players, outfielder Ian Happ, was drafted by McLeod in 2015.
One area in which the Cubs are thin is pitching, and McLeod seems confident that the Cubs can find help in that area in this year’s draft, despite the team not making its initial pick until No. 104. “They’re out there,” he said. “We just have to identify them and make the pick.”
There are some draft picks on which McLeod would like to have a do-over, and he’s secure enough to share them. In 2005, he could have drafted Chase Headley for the Red Sox in the second round but instead took catcher Jonathan Egan. Also that year, McLeod had this “little” reliever from California he kept waiting to take. That pitcher, Sergio Romo, went to the Giants. In 2007, McLeod had third baseman David Freese lined up in the seventh round, but he procrastinated and lost him to the Cardinals.
There were players McLeod drafted but couldn’t sign, such as Brandon Belt, Yasmani Grandal, Pedro Alvarez, Jason Castro, Travis Shaw (whom he drafted out of high school before Shaw went to Kent State), Hunter Strickland, and Yan Gomes.
The most talented player he has drafted?
“Ryan Westmoreland,” McLeod said without hesitation. “He would have been Boston’s lefthanded Mike Trout. A New England kid. It was a great story. He was a racehorse, 6-foot-3, strong, and as fast as can be. Raw power. Great defender. He could have been Boston’s center fielder for 15 years.
“When he was in the fifth grade, he wrote about how he wanted to play for the Boston Red Sox. It’s a shame what happened.”
Westmoreland’s career was short-lived after he needed three brain surgeries, one of the tragic baseball stories locally.
One of McLeod’s strength is his belief in his scouts.
He remembers the great work area scout Rob English did on Reddick and how English really believed in the kid. McLeod remembered the conviction Laz Gutierrez had in Rizzo and how everything Gutierrez said about Rizzo turned out to be true.
McLeod has now had Rizzo with three organizations — the Red Sox drafted him, the Padres acquired him from Boston, and Hoyer (then the Padres’ GM) dealt him to the Cubs.
And McLeod is proud of his picks in San Diego. He made righthander Joe Ross — now with the Nationals — the 25th overall selection in 2011. In the same draft, he also took infielders Cory Spangenberg and Jace Peterson (traded to the Braves in the Justin Upton deal), pitchers Matt Wisler (traded to the Braves in the Craig Kimbrel deal), Matt Andriese (traded to the Rays), Colin Rea, and Kevin Quackenbush, and catcher Austin Hedges.
His Chicago signings also include outfielders Jorge Soler (international) and Albert Almora, and 2015 international prospects Yonathan Perlaza, Yonathan Sierra Estiwal, Aramis Ademan, Miguel Amaya, and Christopher Martinez.
Some team will try to lure McLeod from the Cubs to run the organization. And at some point, he knows he has to take the leap. But for now, he’s just having too much fun being a part of baseball’s biggest story.
Phillies are way ahead of schedule
How about those Phillies? Who would’ve thought they would enter Friday with the third-highest win total in baseball? Medfield’s Matt Klentak, the Phillies’ youthful GM, is now fielding questions about whether he will make a deadline deal to improve the team’s playoff chances, not to sell off parts.
The Phillies need a hitter, but Klentak is not going to disrupt the plan to develop from within.
This success is way ahead of schedule. The Phillies have the financial resources to do just about anything.
“There will be nobody happier than me if we are still in playoff contention in July, and if that happens we’re going to do everything we can to help this team improve and get better and make a run at it,” Klentak told CSNPhilly.com last week. “The job of a general manager is to balance both the short and the long term, and I need be cognizant that right now we’re not even a quarter of the way through the season. We continue to be open-minded toward any types of additions and ways to improve, but right now the success of our team has been built on pitching and defense and we’re going to continue to respect that.”
The previous regime led by GM Ruben Amaro Jr., now the Red Sox’ first base coach, left Klentak with a nice group of young players, the result of Amaro’s deals with Washington for Jonathan Papelbon and Texas for Cole Hamels. Klentak then made an outstanding deal with Houston, trading closer Ken Giles, who has struggled in Houston, for five young pitchers, including Vince Velasquez, who is 5-1 with a 2.42 ERA this year.
It’s certainly hard to tell whether the Phillies can keep this up, but their success has created hope that the team isn’t far off from being a contending team for years to come. They will shed the contracts of Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz after this season.
One thing that could start to sink the Phillies is overuse of the bullpen. Jeanmar Gomez has been the closer but manager Pete Mackanin has had to mix and match at the end of games recently with David Hernandez, Andrew Bailey, and Hector Neris. Gomez and Neris are on pace to pitch in close to 90 games apiece.
“When every night it’s a one-run game, we’ve got to try to win the game,” said Mackanin.
Apropos of nothing
1. Craig Kimbrel acknowledges there are differences between the American League and National League, but as long as he is getting three outs in the ninth, they aren’t insurmountable. “Sure, but I think they’re more profound for a starting pitcher having to face the extra hitter and all that. I’m never going to face the pitcher anyway, but there are some good hitters in this league.” Better than the NL? “I would never say that because that would be slighting the hitters over there and I think they have some good ones. But the hitters here are really good. You can’t be making too many mistakes out there and get away with it. I’ve found that out the hard way.”
2. Royals broadcaster Rex Hudler made his major league debut at Fenway on Sept. 9, 1984, and also took his last at-bat there on June 28, 1998. “I pinch ran for [Willie Randolph] in my debut,” Hudler recalled. “It’s just great to consider that [my career] began and ended in such a historic place. I couldn’t have asked for more.”
3. Different World Dept.: Jim Kaat told me he had the equivalent of a UCL tear back in the ’70s, before Tommy John surgery came along, but he rested the rest of the season and offseason, and he came back to pitch full time the following year. “We were afraid that if we missed time we’d lose our jobs,” Kaat said.
4. John Farrell’s son, Luke, is 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA for the Royals’ Triple A team at Omaha. The righthander has a chance to be called up this season if things continue to go well.
5. With Fredi Gonzalez fired by the Braves, it leaves no Latino manager in baseball. With so many Latin players in the game, this doesn’t seem right. The Selig Rule — which requires teams to consider minority candidates for openings — simply hasn’t helped the cause. Commissioner Ron Manfred has allowed teams that fire managers during the season to bypass the rule. He’s right in a sense that when teams fire a manager in-season, there’s no time to go through a formal process because you need to name someone quickly. The offseason is different.
Updates on nine
1. Jose Miguel Fernandez, 2B, free agent — The highly regarded, 28-year-old Cuban second baseman is ready to sign with any team and currently waiting in the Dominican. Agent Alan Nero is accepting offers, though the timing isn’t great. Fernandez is major league-ready and Nero is selling him as a Ben Zobrist/Dustin Pedroia type. Nero hopes he can get a deal during the season but realizes he might have to wait until the offseason for the lefthanded-hitting on-base machine to sign. Fernandez would need some minor league time to shake off the rust. One issue is that he hasn’t played competitively since 2014. In his last full season in Cuba he hit .326 with 65 walks and 10 strikeouts in 314 plate appearances and was second in his league with a .482 OBP.
2. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds — Bruce remains a target for a few teams looking for a lefthanded bat, including the Royals. Bruce also makes sense in Anaheim. Teams such as the Royals and Phillies are also looking at Atlanta’s Nick Markakis, though the money is an issue there, especially with the Royals.
3. Josh Reddick, OF, A’s — Horrible timing for Reddick’s fractured left thumb. Not only was he a trade deadline candidate, he is also one of the top hitters headed for free agency. Reddick told me last week that there had been no movement toward an extension with the A’s. Power lefthanded bats are in demand, and when Reddick was at Fenway last week he reminisced about how much he loved playing there.
4. Shawn Tolleson, RHP, Rangers — Tolleson lost his closer job with the Rangers last week after blowing his third save chance in his last four opportunities, going 11 for 15 overall. A year ago, he had 35 saves in 37 chances and opponents hit .239 against him with a .388 slugging percentage. This season, those numbers are up to .343 with a .642 slugging percentage.
5. Matt Harvey, RHP, Mets — His fastball velocity is down about 2 miles per hour from last season, which has affected the differential from his off-speed stuff. One NL scout’s take: “He’s got a confidence problem. When your fastball doesn’t have the normal velocity it affects some guys, and clearly it affects Harvey. He’s got to learn to pitch when he’s not throwing 96-97, which is easier said than done. If you’re not getting swings and misses like you once did, that can play havoc on you mentally.”
6. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox — Sale was already one of the best, but he’s taking his game to the next level. His strikeouts are down, but he’s become more economical by relying on perhaps the best infield defense he’s ever had behind him. Sale (9-0, 1.58) has a great fastball, but he’s learned such a valuable aspect of pitching in that he doesn’t have to go max effort on every fastball. “He’s learned you don’t have to throw 96 every time,” said one AL GM. “He’s learned that you can vary speeds depending on the situation. And now he’s a true pitcher.”
7. Joe Mauer, 1B, Twins — The Twins have tried anything and everything to turn their fortunes around, including batting Mauer leadoff for eight games. But the former MVP and batting champion hit just .156 with a .500 OPS in the spot, and the experiment ended. The Twins simply aren’t getting it done. They demoted their top prospects, center fielder Byron Buxton (.156 average) and righthander Jose Berrios (10.20 ERA). Phil Hughes has been pitching with shoulder fatigue. What else could go wrong?
8. Tim Lincecum, RHP, Angels — Maybe he wanted to stay on the West Coast, but according to a couple of GMs, Lincecum should have stuck to the NL. “I just don’t see his style of pitching at this juncture in his career working in the AL,” said one AL evaluator who watched Lincecum’s workout. “The designated hitter makes a big difference, and when you have a guy who relies on having to be pinpoint, that makes it a tough league to succeed.”
9. Ruben Amaro Jr., first base coach, Red Sox — Amaro received a huge endorsement from manager John Farrell last week for his work with base runners and outfielders. Farrell also mentioned Amaro as a future managerial candidate, which is what Amaro had in mind when he took a field job after being fired as Phillies GM.
From a bag of Bill Arnold’s goodies: “Jake Arrieta (Cubs), Gio Gonzalez (Nationals), Felix Hernandez (Mariners), Kenta Maeda (Dodgers), Drew Pomeranz (Padres), Robbie Ray (Diamondbacks), and Danny Salazar (Indians) are the only starters in the bigs (minimum eight starts) who had yet to give up a run in the first inning of a game in 2016 through Thursday.” . . . Happy birthday, Drake Britton (27), Julian Tavarez (43), Vaughn Eshelman (47), and Walt Hriniak (73).
A.J. Pierzynski may not be the first name that comes to mind when discussing the best-hitting catchers of all time, but the numbers tell a different story. This season he became the ninth catcher to reach 2,000 hits and he’s one of eight to have 2,000 hits, 175 homers, and 800 RBIs. Another thing he has in common with the other seven greats (six are Hall of Famers): longevity. They all played at least 16 seasons.