Cubs' Jackson named fifth-best OF prospect

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Cubs' Jackson named fifth-best OF prospect

The Cubs are starting to get some recognition for their farm system.

Though the organization didn't have any top pitchers on MLB.com's list of the top 10 prospects at each position, they do have four position players.

Anthony Rizzo and 2011 draft pick Dan Vogelbach cracked the top 10 at first base -- Rizzo was named the No. 1 1B prospect -- and 2011 first-round pick Javier Baez came in at seventh on the top shortstops list.

While all three of those guys are new additions to the Cubs' system over the past few months, Brett Jackson has been one of the organization's top prospects for a couple years.

Jackson was named the fifth best outfield prospect, behind only Bryce Harper and Mike Trout (duh) and a pair of Royals in Bubba Starling and Wil Myers. Jackson was sixth on the same list last year.

There are a few other interesting names that fill out the bottom half of the top 10. Christian Yelich of the Marlins and the Blue Jays' Anthony Gose and Jake Marisnick have all been discussed in some form or another in trade rumors revolving around Matt Garza.

The Marlins obviously haven't been interested in dealing for a starter since they acquired Carlos Zambrano from the Cubs, and the Blue Jays have gone decidedly quiet on the Garza trade front.

It's very possible Jackson does not make this list again next year. To be eligible for any of these positional prospect rankings, players must retain rookie status, which means Jackson cannot exceed 130 at-bats or 45 days on the active 25-man roster. If he gets a call-up in July, it'd be to play a majority of the time, thus disqualifying him for "prospect" status.

Some of the craziest facts from Kris Bryant's monster night in Cincy

Some of the craziest facts from Kris Bryant's monster night in Cincy

What a night for Kris Bryant.

The Cubs' second-year third baseman had one of the biggest offensive nights in club history Monday, going 5-for-5 with a trio of home runs, a pair of doubles, six RBIs and four runs scored. That's a whopping 16 total bases.

Some of the crazier facts from CSN stats guru Chris Kamka.

The Cubs had a fun fact of their own (with visual aide):

And this one from the Reds might be the most impressive of all:

We said it before, but it's worth repeating: What a night for Kris Bryant.

Kris Bryant's three-homer, two-double night powers Cubs' win over Reds

Kris Bryant's three-homer, two-double night powers Cubs' win over Reds

CINCINNATI — When Kris Bryant reached the dugout after his record-setting third homer, thousands of Cubs fans in the stands cheered for a curtain call. A few teammates wanted him to take a bow, too.

Nope. That was the only thing Bryant wouldn't do on his historic night.

Bryant became the first major leaguer to hit three homers and two doubles in a game, and Jake Arrieta added a solo shot in the ballpark where he threw a no-hitter in April, setting up an 11-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.

The Cubs pulled out of their 1-6 slide behind a tandem that's had some huge moments in Cincinnati.

"The last couple of weeks haven't been what I've wanted, so I figured I'm due," said Bryant, who hit three homers one time during a college game with San Diego.

Arrieta (12-2) threw his second career no-hitter on April 21 during a 16-0 win over the Reds. Bryant led the way with a pair of homers in that game, including a grand slam that gave him a career-high six RBIs.

Arrieta struggled in his return to Cincinnati, giving up a season-high five runs in five innings, but Bryant drove in six runs again to help the right-hander pull through. Bryant's 16 total bases were a Cubs record, and his five hits marked a career high.

"That keeps you back from those 0-for-20 stretches when you have a game like this," Bryant said.

Bryant doubled home a run in the first, hit a solo homer in the third and added a three-run shot deep into the upper deck in left field in the fourth off Dan Straily (4-5). His solo shot in the eighth came off Ross Ohlendorf, who also gave up a homer to Anthony Rizzo.

Most of the 31,762 fans wore Cubs blue and demanded a curtain call after the third homer. Bryant wouldn't oblige, considering it inappropriate on the road.

"He enjoys the moment, but he doesn't go over the top with it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's very old school. He doesn't spike the ball in the end zone. He just lays it down or hands it to the official."

Arrieta hit an opposite-field drive — his fourth career home run — in the fifth inning off Michael Lorenzen for an 8-3 lead.

The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner became the league's first 12-game winner despite his worst pitching performance of the season. Arrieta walked a season-high five batters in five innings, and four of them scored. The five runs allowed were his most since he gave up six during a 7-2 loss at Great American Ball Park on Aug. 28, 2014.

"I was my own worst enemy tonight," Arrieta said. "I'm not happy about it."

Adam Duvall had a two-run double in the first inning, Jay Bruce singled home a run and Joey Votto hit a two-run homer off Arrieta, who threw 93 pitches in five innings.

"He still had his stuff," Bruce said. "He just wasn't locating it very well. We had some walks and put some hits together. That's baseball."

The Cubs have the best record in the majors at 49-26 despite their slump last week, characterized by a lack of clutch hitting and poor relief pitching. The bullpen gave up three runs and four hits Monday, including Votto's second homer in the ninth inning.

The Cubs improved to 7-1 against the Reds this season and have won 10 of their last 11 vs. their NL Central rivals.

No need for Cubs to overreact when best years should be in front of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell

No need for Cubs to overreact when best years should be in front of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell

There’s no need to overreact when the injuries pile up and the Cubs lose 6-of-7 games in June, because Kris Bryant and Addison Russell are still possibly years away from their best seasons in an organization loaded with young talent.
 
Bryant and Russell have been such integral parts since debuting in April 2015 that it's hard to remember they're still around three-to-five years away from their prime. They're also in a perfect situation to keep developing, not having to worry about carrying the weight of the franchise on their shoulders, the way Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro used to feel those responsibilities.
 
The pressure is spread out among a young core, a battle-tested group of veterans and a manager that loves the spotlight. All of that can help explain why each player has avoided the dreaded "sophomore slump" that sometimes plagues second-year players in the big leagues.
 
"Last year, I thought both of them fought through some really different moments their first year up," Joe Maddon said. "And that's what it's really all about. The sophomore slump, for me, is where the league adjusts to you, and then you adjust back to the league. That's the definition."
 
Bryant currently has an OPS that’s 19 points higher than his 2015 numbers, while Russell's OPS is 23 points higher entering play Monday, and both second-year players have seen major improvement in important areas.
 
Bryant led the league with 199 strikeouts last season, but has seen his strikeout percentage drop from 30.6 percent to 23 percent this season. He's on track for about 162 strikeouts in 2016.
 
Russell, meanwhile, has experienced just an incremental decrease in strikeout percentage (from 28.5 to 27.2 percent), but he has seen a nice jump in walk rate (from 8 percent in 2015 to 11.2 percent this season). Despite drawing only one free pass in his last eight games, Russell is on track for 68 walks, which would've ranked 12th in the National League overall last season and first among shortstops. 
 
"The guys that don't adjust back quickly enough really have an extended period of negative moments," Maddon said. "I think they learned a lot last year. They made a lot of adjustments. Both of them made swing adjustments last year. And that, I think, is permitting their success this year.
 
"Addison's propensity to get big hits is unbelievable, and now he's using the whole field. He's not chasing balls out of the strike zone. Those are the adjustments he had to learn how to do last year when he was going badly, and now he's doing them.
 
"They're both going to hit a bad stretch, there's no question. But I think they're better able to handle that based on their experience from last year."
 
Bryant has settled in as one of the premier offensive threats in the game by following up his 2015 campaign (26 homers, 99 RBI) with a pace for 39 homers and 112 RBI.
 
In spring training, he said he considered 2016 an extension of his rookie season, just with a three-month break off in between. But as the regular season hit, he took that sort of thinking to another gear.
 
"I feel a lot more focused this whole year," Bryant said. "I don't know why. I don't know if it's a whole other level or just extra determination or the fact that I know we have a good team and we really want to win.
 
"I just feel really good up there. I feel like I'm having some quality at-bats. I'm doing all I can to help. I'm in a good spot."
 
Russell, meanwhile, has developed a reputation as a clutch hitter, posting a .429 average, 1.237 OPS and 23 RBI in 54 plate appearances in high-leverage situations. 
 
He's taken his game to another level at the biggest moments, not something often said about a 22-year-old with only 210 big-league games under his belt.
 
"Just a slow heart beat," Maddon said. "If you talk to the kid any time, he's always 'suavecito.' There's nothing really hurried about him. He's just got a great way about him.
 
"Again, he's going to keep getting better. Everybody's liking it when he's doing good. I'm here to tell you: He's going to get better."
 
However, Russell also just went through one of those bad stretches at the end of May/beginning of June where he hit .161 with a .569 OPS through 18 games, striking out 23 times. He felt he had gotten too passive during that span.
 
When the St. Louis Cardinals swept the Cubs at Wrigley Field last week, Russell stared at strike three right down the middle during his first trip to the plate. He instantly made a mental adjustment to be more aggressive and responded with three straight hits to close out that first game.
 
"I've been feeling good," he said. "I've been seeing the ball well. Just taking an opportunity of swinging the bat at the right moment. I felt like early on in that game, watching two balls go by that I would normally do some damage with, I kind of took it hard and realized maybe I'm letting these pitches go too frequently. 
 
"I still feel more comfortable [overall this season]. It's just a daily grind, man. You're going to go through these funks. You're going to hit balls day-to-day that don't tend to fall. You normally don't want to change anything, so my approach is just to stay the same, and I want to take my walks as well."
 
The Cubs understand this is a long season filled with adversity, injuries and losing streaks. But if Bryant and Russell cannot be considered sophomores anymore, would their maturity and advanced approaches put them at a junior level?
 
"I think so. Favorite year in high school, by far," Maddon said. "You're totally free your junior year. SATs don't matter. PSATs are OK. I got my license, among other things. It was a really good time."