MESA, Ariz. – Take the first-round, Cal-Berkeley pedigree, the before-and-after swings and the small sample size and it’s tempting to wonder what the Cubs might do if Brett Jackson plays lights-out all spring.
But manager Dale Sveum isn’t interested in that what-if question, no matter what Jackson says to the media or how well he performs in Arizona.
“I don’t think it changes anything,” Sveum said. “Obviously, if there’s injuries in the outfield, it might change things.”
Near the end of last season, the Cubs told Jackson he’d be starting 2013 at Triple-A Iowa. During his 101-losses postmortem last October, team president Theo Epstein told reporters that the front office would be building the Opening Day roster without Jackson.
Through Wednesday, Jackson had tripled twice and only struck out once in five Cactus League at-bats. That doesn’t include a sacrifice fly or his 3-for-3 day in an intrasquad scrimmage last week. These statistics don’t matter so much as what Sveum’s seeing at the plate.
“Mechanically, it’s all good,” Sveum said. “You can see it in him going into at-bats now – the confidence is sky-high.”
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The Cubs already have guaranteed jobs in the outfield for Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston. Brent Lillibridge – who has the inside track for a super-utility role – can play the outfield. Darnell McDonald and Dave Sappelt appear to be fighting for the final spot.
It seems possible that Jackson, 24, could be in line for a midsummer promotion, either as a jolt to the lineup for a surprise contender hanging around the wild-card race. Or, more likely, as a replacement for a player traded at the deadline.
The Cubs hope Iowa will be the same finishing school it was for Anthony Rizzo during the first half of last season.
“That’s obviously the perfect world with Brett,” Sveum said.
To his credit, Jackson attacked the offseason and incorporated all the subtle changes needed to shorten his swing. There are times where he carries himself like a 10-year veteran. An outsider would have no idea that he struck out 59 times in 120 at-bats in the majors last season.
“He’s a confident guy,” Sveum said. “Those reasons why he got called up were: 1.) For us to get a really good look at him in person and see what’s going on. And then 2.) Get a taste of it and understand that big-league pitching’s different and there are some major adjustments you have to make. He did a great job doing that.”
The strikeouts are the final piece of the puzzle, because otherwise this is the type of athletic, well-rounded, two-way player the coaching staff and front office talk about.
“So far, so good,” Sveum said. “He works on his defense. He loves being on the bases. He’s got that larceny you like (with) the speed and all that. But there’s something there when that swing gets honed in. That could be a special player.”