Cubs execs to modernize player development

Breslow (pitching), Stone (hitting) aim to innovate from ground up

October 17th, 2019

CHICAGO -- The Cubs' ongoing search for their next manager understandably has been the focus at the outset of this critical offseason for the franchise. But Theo Epstein, the team's president of baseball operations, has made it clear that other changes in Chicago's leadership structure were to come.

The Cubs' player-development department was in the spotlight on Thursday, as Chicago announced a series of shifts in its top layers, led by the promotion of Craig Breslow to director of pitching and the hire of Justin Stone as director of hitting. The moves signal that Epstein not only wants a new voice in the clubhouse and dugout, but a new way of operating from the ground up.

"We've been making adjustments as we go to try to modernize," Epstein said of the evolution of the team's Minor League departments over the past eight years. "But I think this is a good opportunity to [ask], how would we set it up if we were building it from scratch? How would we set it up, not to adjust for the modern game, but to be centered around the modern game?"

Those remarks came during Epstein's season-end gathering with reporters on Sept. 30, when he revealed that adding directors of hitting and pitching would be on his offseason to-do list. Anticipating where baseball is going next would be a key responsibility in those two jobs, Epstein said.

The Cubs' Pitch Lab in Arizona -- where the club is using some of the leading technology for pitch design, velocity training and biokinetics -- is just one example of how Chicago has taken steps to modernize within its player-development department. Epstein said the team needs to keep pushing the envelope in that regard.

"Part of the winner's trap," Epstein said, "is it's sometimes harder to implement that stuff, because the existing methods have proven successful, right? So, if you come in somewhere new, somewhere fresh, you can implement everything that you want. It's the challenge of leadership, and it's an area where I need to do a better job as a leader, even though we've been successful in certain areas, executing that type of change."

Breslow was hired by the Cubs last January as director of strategic initiatives, baseball operations, following a 12-year playing career. A Yale graduate with a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, Breslow will be "tasked with the strategic management of the club's Minor League pitching infrastructure," according to a press release.

Breslow also will continue to serve as a special assistant to Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

Stone moves into the director of hitting role after serving as a biomechanical hitting consultant for the Cubs since 2018. Stone created Elite Baseball Training in Chicago in 2011, working with baseball and softball players using technology-based instruction. He has two decades worth of coaching and teaching experience, including a stint as the GM at the White Sox Training Academy from 2001-11.

In his new role, Stone will lead the Cubs' Minor League hitting infrastructure, while also working as a hitting coordinator at the lower levels of Chicago's farm system.

The Cubs began a shift in their front-office structure in September, when Jason McLeod was promoted to the role of senior vice president of player personnel. After working as the Cubs' senior vice president of amateur scouting and player development under Epstein, McLeod now plays a more prominent role in roster-building decisions at the Major League level.

That move paved the way for Thursday's announcement that Matt Dorey -- the Cubs' director of amateur scouting for the past six years -- has been promoted to senior director of player development. Jaron Madison, who spent the past six seasons as Chicago's director of player development, is now a special assistant to Epstein and Hoyer with an emphasis on all aspects of scouting.

Bobby Basham has been promoted to director of player development, following two years as director of special projects and assistant director of player development. In addition to Basham's promotion, the Cubs also elevated Jeremy Farrell to the title of assistant director of baseball development after he worked as the team's Minor League field coordinator last year.

"As a leader, it's really important to be accountable," Epstein said. "And it's really important to take a really honest look at things that we can do better, things that I can do better. That's something that we've been doing. It's something that we'll continue to do, be honest with ourselves and find areas that we need to improve and then execute and improve in those areas."