Theo not ready to forecast title contender

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein is not quite ready to tell the world when his team will contend for a championship.

"It is easier to pinpoint when our prospects might get here than it is when we have a winning, young team," Epstein said Friday. "Those are two different things. If you look at things historically of teams having impact prospects arrive at the same time, they don't automatically start winning right away. We are trying to continue to create a winning environment so even as we get an infusion of potential impact talent, that can translate into a winning team."

Epstein said "progress and development aren't linear concepts in baseball," referring to the fact that many prospects make it to the big leagues and that doesn't necessarily translate into wins.

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals are examples of having really good young talent but plenty of losing seasons. Although they drafted well, the Pirates are about to break a string of 20 straight losing seasons while the Royals have just one winning season in the past 20 (they are 54-51 going into Friday's game).

"I think the Royals a couple of years ago had eight of the top 100 prospects in baseball," Epstein said. "I think there is this expectation that a light goes on and they win right away. It is a lot harder than that. Players go through a lot longer adjustment periods in the big leagues and timing a roster with so many young players at the heart of the lineup can be a difficult thing. Those are the things we try to get ahead of even if there is no easy answer."

Epstein said the Cubs have a plan to advance their prospects through the system.

"I think you can understand that we like to have guys at a (minor league) level for about a year, unless they dominate the competition. After that you can figure out when the rest of those guys will get here," Epstein said.

Within the realm of Epstein's inner circle the conversation is all about the plan for building a championship-caliber organization.

"We always stress winning as an important part of the (minor league) development," Epstein said. "It is not always going to happen. Development comes first. We teach winning and we teach creating a winning culture down there. Development comes first at the minor-league level."

Despite their intention to rebuild, Epstein said losing is still tough to bear.

"Losing is never comfortable and it is always really painful," he said. "You go home ticked off every time you lose but our job is to really focus on the big picture. We are really excited about the vision we have so we are not going to compromise anything as far as executing it."

Epstein believes a strong month of July has re-affirmed the organization's goals. The club has improved its play at the big-league level while adding depth to the minor leagues with key international signings and trades over the past 30 days. They just signed Eloy Jimenez, a 16-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic who is considered one of the top international talents.

Epstein pointed to the Cubs' first winning month in more than a year (a 14-13 July) and the plans for rehabbing the ballpark by getting city approval as positive steps. All of that would fall in line with the composite plans that have been mapped out by ownership.

"We know it is important to keep the focus on what is right in front of your face and in the moment," he said. "It is equally important, or you could argue in our case even more important, to maintain that focus of the big picture. We continue to look at the long-term plan in order to keep moving the ball forward."