Brett Jackson, 'Linsanity' and going to the next level

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Brett Jackson, 'Linsanity' and going to the next level

MESA, Ariz. Brett Jackson looked him over and wondered: Who is this dude? Does he play soccer?

This was last fall at SPARTA Performance Science near San Francisco, before Jeremy Lin made the cover of Sports Illustrated two weeks in a row. The SportsCenter highlights didnt run every night and Linsanity hadnt yet taken over Twitter.

All of a sudden, hes like (the) hottest ticket in town, Jackson said Wednesday. Its unbelievable.

The Cubs think Jackson could be the next big thing, but it wont happen overnight. Baseball America just named him the No. 32 overall prospect in the game, and the projection is that the 23-year-old outfielder will be in Chicago sometime this season.

The new front office will have an Ivy League influence and be driven by data. Jackson went to Cal-Berkeley and trained in Silicon Valley, hoping to fit into Theo Epsteins vision.

You want to take yourself as far as you can, Jackson said. You want to be the best player you can be. If Im a special player in the big leagues, then Ive worked hard enough and Ill continue working. You dont want to settle for anything. You dont want to settle for average.

Lin was searching for an edge during the NBA lockout, which brought him to the high-tech gym that counts Philadelphia Phillies All-Star second baseman Chase Utley among its clients, and helps train players for the NFL combine.

Using proprietary software, SPARTA tracks and monitors the athletes body, and designs workout plans around that. A recent Bloomberg television report said it helped Lin add almost 15 pounds to his frame and 3.5 inches onto his vertical.

Then again, Lin bounced around from the Golden State Warriors to the Houston Rockets to the New York Knicks last December before exploding into a global star. There is an element of timing or luck involved, even for a Harvard graduate.

Jackson only saw Lin a few times at the gym, and can only hope hell also be in the right place at the right time.

Since taking over baseball operations, Epstein has traded away recent first-round picks Andrew Cashner and Tyler Colvin, and everyone in the organization has been looked at in a different light.

It didnt faze Jackson, the 31st overall pick in the 2009 draft, and untouchable from the start of the Epstein compensation negotiations. Jackson was actually roommates with Boston prospect Lars Anderson this offseason and learned all about the Red Sox Way.

Jackson may never hit 30 bombs a year in the big leagues, but he can run, hit and field, and has a .393 career on-base percentage in the minors. That is the type of across-the-board player Epstein likes to target. As manager Dale Sveum said: That guy just bounces around with athleticism.

After Wednesdays workout, Jackson sat in a corner of the clubhouse joking around with Anthony Rizzo, Matt Szczur and Josh Vitters. You wondered if it was a glimpse into the future.

Rizzo (No. 47) and Szczur (No. 64) also made Baseball Americas top 100 list, while Vitters is still only 22 years old, waiting to fulfill his potential as the third overall pick in the 2007 draft. Instead of making a late push for Prince Fielder, the Cubs traded for Rizzo to be their first baseman.

Great dude, Jackson said of Rizzo. Hes texted me the last couple weeks before we got here, saying, We got to make this team.

That probably wont happen out of camp. More likely, theyll be ticketed for Triple-A Iowa. But if all goes according to plan, pretty soon theyll both have to find a way to handle the insanity of playing for the Cubs, and all that goes with it.

Figure it out as you go along, Jackson said. But when it comes down to it, its just about playing baseball. Its about being a good teammate, having fun and thats why I play. Theres a lot in it here with this club and the history and everything. So its easy to work hard when theres a cause, something to believe in.

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

The sports world woke up to some tragic news on Sunday morning.

Former major leaguer Andy Marte and Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura were both killed in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic within an hour of each other, according to multiple reports. A Royals representative confirmed the death of 25-year-old Ventura.

The Cubs and White Sox took to Twitter to give their condolences:

Ventura was a member of the Royals from 2013-16 and won a World Series title in 2015 with Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis, who the Cubs acquired this offseason for Jorge Soler. Ventura also played with White Sox pitcher James Shields in 2013-14.

Marte, 33, played a majority of his seven-year career with the Cleveland Indians. He was teammates with Todd Hollandsworth (Atlanta 2005), Kerry Wood (Cleveland 2009-10), and Miguel Montero (Arizona 2014).

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."