Jackson could be next Cubs call-up


Jackson could be next Cubs call-up

The day after the trade deadline signaled a clear shift in focus for the Cubs. After trying to showcase their players to contending teams, the next two months will be auditions for 2013.
If the Cubs are looking for a jolt of energy after trading away several popular veterans, Brett Jackson is waiting at Triple-A Iowa. The front office and the coaching staff are already thinking about it.
There were discussions leading up to Tuesdays deadline. There were meetings scheduled for after Wednesdays 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field, and during Thursdays off-day in Los Angeles.
That happens to be Jacksons 24th birthday. The sense is that the Cubs are trying to accelerate the process of figuring out what they have really got in the 2009 first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley.
I dont know if there is any so-called risk involved in it, manager Dale Sveum said. Everybodys always worried about the failure part instead of the guy coming up here and maybe being a better player in the big leagues than he is in the minor leagues.
Its stuff worth thinking about. Its something were really dwelling over right now what were going to do the next month before the September call-ups.
Jackson is an athletic outfielder who began the day hitting .253 with 15 homers, 25 stolen bases and an .814 OPS and 152 strikeouts in 391 at-bats.
Everyone looks at that big number, but Jackson fits Theo Epsteins vision of a well-rounded player who may not be spectacular in one area but still makes contributions across the board.
The Cubs president says you shouldnt fixate on the strikeouts and overlook Jacksons overall game.
With Jackson, the question becomes now primarily (about) his development, Epstein said, and what buttons we can maybe push to help get him to that next level, as far as that one issue that still faces him as a player.
Epstein mentioned the individual player plans every prospect in the organization received this season. There are boxes to check before being promoted as well as a loophole.
There are other instances where youre actually looking for a change of scenery, Epstein said. Youre looking for some sort of change to actually trigger further development. So theres no hard-and-fast rule for every players promotion.
Jackson turned it on last season after being promoted from Double-A Tennessee and actually put up better numbers at a higher level. People throughout the organization have noticed his sense of confidence and how he acts like he belongs.
The strikeouts are a problem, Sveum said, but on the other hand sometimes players just get to the big leagues and they hit better. You cant even explain it.
Hanley Ramirez I remember when we had him in Boston. He never put up any minor-league numbers and the next year hes in the big leagues and he wins Rookie of the Year.
Some guys struggle with the third deck in the stadium and other guys perform a lot better with the third deck. Its (difficult) predicting how guys are going to handle this kind of atmosphere."
Ramirez must be some sort of urban legend around the Red Sox. Because while Kevin Millar was trying to earn a roster spot with the Cubs in 2010, he was asked about Ramirez at a time when Starlin Castro was opening eyes in spring training.
The funny thing about Hanley is he didnt put up great offensive numbers (in) Double-A, Millar said then. He stepped up to the big leagues and then turned into a beast.
At the big-league level as weird as it sounds it becomes easier. When I say that, you get the better equipment, the better field, better lights.
Certain kids (get) better at the big-league level, and Hanley Ramirez was that guy.
In 2005, Ramirez hit .271 with six home runs and 52 RBI in 122 games for the Portland Sea Dogs. He exploded after being traded to the Florida Marlins in the Josh Beckett deal, which was engineered in part by future Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer.
Ramirez had that breakout season in 2006, batting .292 with 17 homers, 59 RBI, 51 stolen bases and 119 runs scored in 158 games.
No ones saying that Jackson is going to duplicate that performance. But it sounds like the Cubs are talking themselves into letting him take a shot.

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."