MESA, Ariz. -- Theo Epstein has signed autographs, posed for pictures and received more than a few reminders about how long it's been since the Cubs won a World Series, and he's prepared for the inevitable "noise" from impatient fans.
"The definition of 'patient' varies from person to person, as it should," Epstein said.
Since Epstein took over in late October as the Cubs president of baseball operations, he's made it clear there is a lot of work to do. That feeling was reinforced as he watched Minor League games this spring.
"We need more talent," Epstein said in a 30-minute session with Cubs beat reporters. "We lack impact talent. We have a number of interesting guys, especially at the lower levels. Every organization has interesting guys at the lower levels.
"We need some more impact talent and we need some guys who have the ability to break through. It'd be nice to get a breakthrough player or two this year and have someone move from that interesting prospect category to that potential impact category."
On Monday, Epstein met for an update with the team's scouts. He's challenged them -- and everyone associated with the Cubs -- to work harder than the other 29 teams. Manager Dale Sveum didn't need to be told that; that's just the way he is. Sveum took Spring Training seriously, Epstein said, beginning with a walk-through at the Cubs' two Arizona facilities at Fitch Park and HoHoKam Park to get a feel for what they could do.
"There's been an incredible amount of hard work put in by Dale and the coaching staff, and most importantly the players, to put ourselves in position to go out there and compete and win," Epstein said. He added, "Nothing will be given to us. If you listen to the prognosticators and look on paper, it's probably an uphill battle, but that doesn't mean we're giving anything away. The goal here is to get in the playoffs and the World Series, and we start on equal footing."
Epstein added that he prefers the role of underdog: "Sometimes high expectations can be tough to live up to. I'd rather surprise some people."
Epstein complimented the players for taking to Sveum and his staff.
"It was a willing and captive audience," Epstein said. "A lot of the new players were here to make a good impression and embraced it, and a lot of the players who have been here were eager to dive into a new approach -- I'm not saying a better approach, but a new approach -- and they couldn't have been more cooperative, they couldn't have been hungrier."
"The tone in the end gets set by the players. I can blab all I want and fill your notebooks and Dale can talk about setting a certain tone but in the end, the ones who define it are the players and how they buy into certain messages. ... From that standpoint, it's been a big success."
Epstein acknowledges there will be blown saves, errors, losing streaks, criticism from the media and angry fans over a 162-game season. His goal, and something he emphasizes to his staff, is to not lose sight of their plan.
"Our progress as an organization is not going to be linear," Epstein said. "It's important to focus on what we're doing internally and understand that everything outside is really -- no offense -- is just noise. Whether it comes from [the media] or even comes from some fans, who are deservedly upset at a given point, it's really just noise. If we let it affect our decision making, shame on us."
If you see Epstein wearing headphones, now you know why.
He said that because he grew up in Boston, he understood the Red Sox's distractions before he took over as the general manager prior to the 2003 season.
"I think that was part of the Red Sox problem for many, many decades -- focusing too much on the next day's sports section and what people thought," he said, "and focusing a little too much on the Yankees and other factors and not on just building something and keeping everybody's internal focus on progress and building. We're not going to be deaf to the concerns of fans and what's going on around the [Cubs]. We'll recognize that, with respect to the media, it's just noise and we'll focus on what we're trying to do despite the occasional cacophony.
"Now," he added to the writers, "it's your job to make it hard for us."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.