Former Chicago Cubs pitcher Mark Prior was invited to address some of the team’s top prospects Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field during an extended major league acclimation program for the kids.
Jason McLeod, the Cubs senior vice-president of scouting/player development, said Prior, a former first round draft pick who experienced the highs and lows of stardom in Chicago, was a “bookend” speaker for the prospects after ex-Cub Kerry Wood addressed them earlier this week.
“Who better to know and understand (about) having all the hype, having all the pressure, being the young guy coming up and then performing in his environment?” McLeod said during a rookie workout at Northwestern University. “Who better than those two guys? Those had to have been two of the most hyped Cubs prospects of the last 15-20 years.”
McLeod knows Prior from working in San Diego, where Prior lives. The former Cub hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006, when his career was waylaid by arm problems. He’s made several comeback attempts since, including last year in the Red Sox system.
McLeod said he didn’t know if this was a chance for Prior to re-establish a relationship with the Cubs organization.
“I do not know what the deal was when he left,” he said. “I don’t know if there were bad feelings. All I know is I reached out to him a little over a week ago, told him about the program and asked ‘Hey, would you mind coming in to talk to these guys?’ Honestly, I thought he was going to say ‘No, I don’t want to.’ But he was fired up about it, said ‘I’d love to come talk to those guys, tell them about my experiences.’
“Unfortunately, he couldn’t stay for the (Cubs Convention) because his daughter’s birthday is this weekend.”
McLeod said the Cubs began the rookie program to “expose them to the market” and teach them “how to be professional, how to handle the media, how to handle the fans here.”
Top prospect Javy Baez and a dozen other players have been working out at Northwest this week while going through various training sessions at Wrigley Field. Marc Strickland, the team psychologist whom McLeod referred to as his “mental skills coach,” has also been on hand, talking to prospects about dealing with the pressures associated with their profession.
Some of the young players were at Wrigley Field for the first time, and even got a chance to walk on the field, leading to an overreaction by vice-president of ballpark operations Carl Rice, who was worried about them damaging the infield grass.
“Carl Rice was a little upset because they walked on the infield and left some imprints,” McLeod said with a laugh. “So we had to have a talk with them about that.”
With Rice, or with the players?
“Well, both,” he said.
President Theo Epstein, outfielder David DeJesus and pitching coach Chris Bosio also spoke to the prospects, while Chairman Tom Ricketts and business president Crane Kenney gave them a sneak peek at the expansion plans for the clubhouse and ballpark, which will be announced Saturday at the Cubs Convention.
“I know the guys have gotten a lot out of it,” McLeod said.
Baez and outfielder Matt Szczur agreed the program was a big help.
“A lot of guys have come in and talked about the top and the bottom,” Szczur said. “That helps, because we sit with them afterwards and get to pick their brains a little bit. That’s the most important thing for us- to pick their brain and get that little bit of knowledge that can help us in the end.”