By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) Keeping the Cubs franchise flush with great young talent is the charge for Jason McLeod.
The Cubs’ senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting, McLeod could easily have been a general manager elsewhere by now. He was approached by both the Padres and Twins about running their front office but instead chose to stay with the Cubs. He was rewarded with a new contract last fall, as keeping McLeod became a foregone conclusion after Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer had their contracts extended in October.
Now, McLeod continues to head the most important element of the organization with his two friends and colleagues.
That everything is going well in the Chicago farm system would be an understatement after the franchise’s historic championship run last fall. However, driving the Cubs top brass is a need for pitching depth and more good arms in the system.
Down the road, all 30 major league clubs will be looking to sign 22-year-old Japanese pitcher and hitter Shohei Otani as a posted free agent. The earliest that can happen is 2018. With that said, the Cubs will be ready for Otani, who won 10 games with a sub-2.00 ERA and hit 22 home runs in the field.
“He deserves the great attention as far as what we have seen of him,” McLeod said Saturday on Inside the Clubhouse on 670 The Score. “What he has done on the mound and at the plate is a lot to be excited about. When you look at him on the hill or at bat, you see a true baseball player. This guy is so fluid and natural in the way he throws and hits. To put up the numbers he has is like Nintendo. He is something we have not seen come around that often.”
For now, young position players continue to be the strength of the Cubs organization. That’s both reassuring and maddening at the same time for McLeod.
“Our young pitchers are at different places in their development path right now,” McLeod said. “With Duane Underwood, this will be Year 4, and we are hoping the injuries he dealt with are behind him. We think he can step forward this season and put 2016 in the review mirror.
“A guy like Dylan Cease, the reins are off now, being that two years ago he had (elbow ligament replacement). We have conservatively brought him back. We are really encouraged by the way he finished the season at Eugene. His stuff was electric at times. We loved his arm strength at the end, and the way he was spinning the breaking ball. We have a plan to send him to South Bend and get him to pitch his first full season at the professional level. There will not be any limitations on him.”
McLeod was honest about where the system is in starting pitching progress right now.
“Organizationally, we really don’t have the impact starters at the upper levels,” McLeod said. “I do think with the volume of arms we have taken over the past few years and signed internationally, guys are coming on. We now feel really good, not just with the depth of the organization but having some major league starting impact guys who are at the the A-ball level and progressing toward Double-A now.”
The Cubs have been busy this offseason in signing reclamation project-type pitchers. They also have brought in arms from other franchises who have failed or been limited due to other barriers along the way. Adding depth with pitchers Brett Anderson, Koji Uehara, Wade Davis, Brian Duensing and Eddie Butler should bolster the bullpen and rotation alike.
Anderson and Butler will compete for the No. 5 starter role with Mike Montgomery. Davis and Uehara are key to the closing and setup roles this season.
“A guy who’s an established pick by Colorado,” McLeod said of the 25-year-old Butler. “Big arm. Really got his career off to a good start in the Rockies organization. I don’t want to say he’s stalled out, but the performance the last two years hasn’t been what you expect for a guy with his type of arm and his type of stuff.
“For us, it was certainly a guy we felt fit a lot of what we needed, which was upper-level starters that can come up and start in the major leagues. Obviously, we feel really confident in our pitching infrastructure — with (pitching coach) Chris Bosio, the guys in the big leagues and our pitching coordinators in the minor leagues — that this was somebody we could get as a buy-low that still has that big stuff that he had coming out of the draft.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.