CHICAGO -- As far as the front office is concerned, the Cubs can raise the "W" flag on the month of July.
A successful haul prior to the non-wavier Trade Deadline and the acquisitions of potential high-impact prospects through the international market -- coupled with a winning month for the big league club (14-13) -- left Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein pleased with the work of his staff last month.
"I thought it was really a productive month of July," Epstein said on Friday. "We acquired a lot of young talent. A few buy-low guys, a few upside prospects, a few complementary type players. Obviously, it was quiet right at the Deadline, but looking at the month as a whole, we were really pleased. We'll see how it plays out, but all in all, I think things went well."
The Cubs made five deals in July, swapping pitchers Scott Feldman, Carlos Marmol, Matt Garza and outfielders Alfonso Soriano and Scott Hairston for a handful of young prospects -- some close to the Majors (third baseman Mike Olt in the Garza package) and some not (right-hander Corey Black, acquired for Soriano).
They also spent heavily in the international market by signing four of MLB.com's top 30 international prospects, including No. 1 prospect outfielder Eloy Jimenez.
And the big league club had its first winning month since last July.
Although the organization's July moves by no means represent the light at the end of the tunnel, the various positives -- including receiving the go-ahead from the Chicago City Council for the Wrigley Field renovation project -- made July a much-needed win for the Cubs, Epstein said.
"It was a good month, and right now is a good time for people who are sort of wanting for things to go well in the organization, looking for progress. They can see that progress, seize on it for hope and to be optimistic," Epstein said. "And that applies to all of us. It was easier to come to work the last few days than it was maybe a couple months ago."
But that doesn't mean the endgame for Epstein and Co.'s plan is near. The big league club could finish August below .500 and a handful of top prospects might falter this year or next. When that undoubtedly happens, Epstein said it's important to remember the big picture.
"It's important to remind everyone that the trend line as a whole is going in the right direction," Epstein said. "There's going to be peaks and valleys, but right now we're excited about certain things that happened this month, even as we brace for what's an uncertain future. We need to really keep working hard and taking advantage of every opportunity we have to get better going forward."
Cubs' young players developing nicely
CHICAGO -- A lot has made Theo Epstein happy lately, including the Cubs' work prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline and the organization's success in the international market.
But one of the most important things has been what's happening with those players already in the Cubs' system.
"I think it's been a really good year in player development," the Cubs' president of baseball operations said Friday. "Everyone's on the same page. There's a lot of great teaching going on, there's a lot of hard work going on. You see a lot of players getting better and sort of grabbing some of the concepts we're trying to teach."
Double-A Tennessee shortstop Arismendy Alcantara is a perfect example of that, Epstein said. The 21-year-old entered Friday hitting .270/.346/.450 with 13 home runs and 24 stolen bases in 106 games. Alcantara was ranked midseason as the Cubs' eighth-best prospect by MLB.com after not cracking the preseason top 20.
The biggest progress in Alcantara's development, Epstein said, is the youngster becoming more patient at the plate.
"You look at a guy like Alcantara, for example, who had been kind of free swinger earlier in his career and took it on himself to seize the plate discipline principles that were being taught," Epstein said. "Now he's taken it and run with it and become a really well-rounded player.
"You see a lot of that going on down there. [There are] a lot of things going right in the Minor Leagues that all of us should be proud of. [That's the result of] a lot of hard work from the coaches."
Alcantara is the latest position player to draw raves from those familiar with the Cubs' system, both inside and outside the organization. After all, eight of MLB.com's top 10 Cubs prospects are position players.
Adding pitching to that everyday core continues to be a priority, as shown in the past two Drafts and Trade Deadline moves under Epstein. The Cubs acquired right-hander Arodys Vizcaino (out following Tommy John surgery) last July and this season added right-handed prospects Ivan Pineyro, C.J. Edwards and Corey Black in various deals, as well as those already with big league experience like Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and Matt Guerrier.
Epstein said the Cubs won't know for a while if any of the younger pitchers will make an impact. But by adding a high number of arms, they're improving the odds.
"With pitching, you need five good arms for every one that you want to count on coming up here and making a difference, so that's why we try to acquire arms in every deal that we could," Epstein said. "We have a player or two left in the Texas deal, we'll see how that works out. But all in all, I'm happy with the volume of quality arms that we brought into the organization."
Lake impressing in first go-around in Majors
CHICAGO -- Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein had a warning for manager Dale Sveum before Junior Lake debuted on July 19.
"I told Dale when he came up here, 'He's going to do things on the baseball field you haven't seen before -- both good and bad -- until he fully develops and matures,'" Epstein said on Friday. "But it's going to be fun to watch and it's great to see this ball of clay being formed before your eyes."
Lake launched two solo home runs on Thursday to up his line to .323/.344/.565 through 15 games, and he also flashed some glove and hustle in the ninth inning when he made a catch down the left-field line. Lake ran into the brick wall after making the catch and hit his side, but he was in Friday's lineup hitting second and playing left field.
Lake went 4-for-5 with four singles in the Cubs' 6-2 loss to the Dodgers. It was Lake's second four-hit game in 16 contests, making him the first Cub since 1916 to accomplish that feat, and first Major Leaguer to do it since the Cardinals' Bo Hart in 2003.
The 23-year-old is a converted infielder who played only six Minor League games in the outfield -- all this season -- before joining the Cubs. Sveum said he hasn't had any qualms about the youngster's defense while he learns the position on the fly.
"He's done fine. He hasn't even … knock on wood, I don't think he's really made a mistake besides trying to throw a guy out at home and launching it over everybody's head," Sveum said. "But as far as routes and getting to balls and all that, he's done a good job."
The biggest issue in Lake's professional career has been laying off the breaking ball -- which he said he's been seeing more frequently in the Majors. His second home run on Thursday came against a slider, so maybe that's an issue that's left itself in the past.
"Junior's a really hard worker and he can do so many different things on the baseball field," Epstein said. "Everyone's just pulling for him to figure out how to lay off and not chase the breaking ball. It's the most important thing. He's really started doing it.
"[He] worked hard last year at Double-A, took this improvements into winter ball and then gained a lot of confidence with the outstanding performance he had in winter ball. Coming off the [disabled list] this year, he hit the ground running and hasn't missed a beat in the big leagues."
Cubs enjoying new affiliate being close by
CHICAGO -- The affiliation between Class A Kane County and the Cubs is four months of game action in, and so far it seems to be a happy marriage.
The Cougars play in Geneva, Ill., about 50 miles west of Wrigley Field.
"Yeah, it's great having it so close," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said on Friday. "When it really sinks in is when you see the Kane County players on an off-day coming into Wrigley and taking it in and watching [batting practice] and chatting up the big league players. That makes me feel great."
Kane County competes in the Midwest League and hasn't had a successful season record-wise. The Cougars went 30-36 in the first half to finish in sixth place in the Western Division, and they entered Friday in last place at 13-25.
Although Epstein said he'd like to field winning Minor League teams, the most important part of a farm system is player development. He hopes, however, to eventually field winning teams at all levels of the Cubs' system.
"Ultimately development comes first at the Minor League level, winning isn't [the priority]," Epstein said. "So we'd love to reward our affiliates with winning teams all the time, but it's not always going to happen, especially with this phase where we are and some players being really young for their level."
• The Cubs designated outfielder Julio Bourbon for assignment following Friday's 6-2 loss.
A corresponding move will be announced prior to Saturday afternoon's game.
Borbon, 27, was claimed off waivers from Texas in April. He appeared in 72 games for the Cubs, hitting .202 with three doubles, one triple and one home run.
Borbon was one of a handful of players the Cubs have taken a chance on through the waiver process this year, but the left-handed hitter started only 12 games for Chicago.
After doubling as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning on Friday, Borbon was thrown out trying to advance to third on a ball in the dirt with the Cubs down by four.
• Many fans want to know the precise end date of Epstein's grand plan and when they can expect to see a winning team at Wrigley Field. But Epstein said on Friday it's important to know that the winning doesn't start just because a host of top prospects might debut around the same time. Instead, winning starts when a team blends the right mix of talented youngsters and veterans.
"Everyone's waiting for these teams that come up with all these prospects now in the big leagues, and I think the expectation is the light goes on and they win right away," said Epstein, mentioning the Royals and Mariners for comparison. "It's a lot harder than that. Young players go through long adjustment periods in the big leagues. Having a roster with so many young players at the heart of the lineup can be a difficult thing. Those are some of the things that we talk about in the office, kind of get ahead of, even if there's no easy answer for it."
• Despite the Major League success of Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig this season, Epstein said there's been no talk of speeding up the development of outfielder Jorge Soler, who is currently on the seven-day disabled list at Class A Advanced Daytona.
"No," Epstein said, "they're different players. They had completely different levels of experience in Cuba."
• Kane County first baseman Dan Vogelbach and Double-A Tennessee right-hander Matt Loosen were selected as the Cubs' Minor League player and pitcher of the month for July.
• Black, acquired from the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano, is scheduled to make his debut for Daytona on Friday.