By Mark Grote–
(CBS) Pay no attention to what you’re seeing on the field right now, because it’s all being taken care of backstage.
That was the vibe in shortly after Theo Epstein took over baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs in October 2011.
Back then, Epstein hired Dale Sveum to manage the Cubs. To a man, it didn’t seem as if there would be much job security. It was a full rebuild, and the Cubs went 61-101 in 2012 to prove it.
Sveum knew what he had signed up for, as Epstein practically came out and said that the franchise might have to hit rock-bottom before it would again rise, which it has abruptly done here in 2015. Sveum was fired in late September 2013.
Now the Royals hitting coach, Sveum reflected on how far the Cubs have come.
“I don’t know that anyone would have envisioned it coming together this quickly,” said Sveum, whose Royals were in town Monday to face the Cubs. “Most people probably did not see kris Bryant and Addison Russell developing this quickly.”
Bryant, Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Anthony Rizzo are symbolic of Epstein’s perceived organizational philosophy of stockpiling young hitting.
“But it still comes down to their pitching,” Sveum said. “Getting Jon Lester was huge, as he is obviously one of the best in baseball, and (Jake) Arrieta’s development has been off the chart.”
It was in July 2013 when Epstein acquired Arrieta and Pedro Strop from the Baltimore Orioles for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger.
“That’s one of those things where you’re like, ‘How can you give that (Arrieta) up?’” Sveum said. “I know the Orioles were in the race, and Feldman was doing a great job, too. Sometimes it’s risk/reward when you make trades like that.”
A candidate for this year’s Cy Young award, Arrieta was hit with the “eternal prospect” label on his way out of Baltimore.
Sveum had a different scouting report upon seeing Arrieta up close.
“I was like, ‘We have something pretty special here,’” Sveum said. “It came down to getting this guy to be an athlete, instead of just being mechanical.”
Another big factor in Arrieta’s development has been a man whom Sveum hired — Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio.
“Working with individuals is probably his forte,” Sveum said. “He doesn’t push one theory on everyone, and obviously it has paid off for the organization.”
Despite being fired after just two years in Chicago, Sveum should also be given credit for helping to build the floor plan that still exists today in terms of offense and defense.
“You take a lot of pride in understanding that this game has changed to where you can find out certain things about hitters, pitchers and positioning of defense — might have been the reason we didn’t lose 125 games (in 2012),” Sveum said with a laugh.
Mark Grote is the Cubs pregame and postgame host on WBBM. Follow him on Twitter@markgrotesports.