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.

Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks destroys another NL lineup as Cubs top Pirates

Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks destroys another NL lineup as Cubs top Pirates

Kyle Hendricks continued his systematic destruction of National League lineups on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, shutting down the Pittsburgh Pirates during a 3-0 victory that highlighted his Cy Young Award potential.

Hendricks, who leads the majors in ERA, sliced his number down to 2.09, throwing seven scoreless innings as the Cubs continued their march toward a division title and what they expect will be a deep run into October.

Hendricks (13-7) has grown from a nominal fifth starter into someone near the front of a playoff rotation, neutralizing entire lineups with his curveball and four-seam fastball — which make his changeup and two-seam fastball that much more effective — while turning opponents into very-good-hitting pitchers (sub-.600 OPS).

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On the one-year anniversary of Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter/onesie press conference at Dodger Stadium, Hendricks didn’t allow a hit until Gregory Polanco’s soft single to center field leading off the fifth inning.

Hendricks had faced the minimum through four innings and wound up throwing 99 pitches, 61 for strikes, giving up only two more hits and not allowing any Pirates to go past second base.

The Cubs (84-47) gave Hendricks — a pitcher already working with a quiet confidence and a specific game plan in mind — an early lead when Anthony Rizzo slammed a Chad Kuhl fastball off the small video panel above the right-field wall for a two-run homer in the first inning.

Whether or not Rizzo can catch up to Kris Bryant in the MVP race, Hendricks has to be among the leading Cy Young candidates, given his remarkable consistency (18 straight starts with three earned runs or less) and strong second-half push.

Why Jake Arrieta almost quit baseball — and what that means for Tommy La Stella

Why Jake Arrieta almost quit baseball — and what that means for Tommy La Stella

There were times Jake Arrieta felt like quitting baseball, wondering if this really was the best way to support his family as he bounced between the Baltimore Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, Va.

It wasn’t just his dream anymore. Arrieta had to think about a wife (Brittany), a young son (Cooper) and a daughter (Palmer) on the way. He had a business background at Texas Christian University, an inquisitive, engaging personality and enough confidence and connections to launch his next act.

The year after being Baltimore’s Opening Day starter, Arrieta found himself back in Triple-A by late April 2013, the fourth season he spent time on that level.

“We were at a point where I had other things that I could segue into and establish a career elsewhere,” Arrieta said Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of his no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, where the Cubs popped champagne bottles and partied in their onesies, showing the full force of their personalities. “Not that I wanted that to happen, but I didn’t want to continue to go through the things we were going through and moving from place to place in the minor leagues at 25, 26 years old.

“Baseball is something that I’ve loved to do since I was a little kid, but it’s not everything. I had to reevaluate some things. I knew I could always pitch this way, but there were times where it seemed like maybe I wasn’t going to get to that point.

“It’s just part of life that we had to deal with.”

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That big-picture perspective should help Tommy La Stella once he returns to the Wrigley Field clubhouse — possibly as soon as this week when the rosters expand for September — and goes into damage-control mode.

Arrieta has remained in frequent contact with La Stella since the reserve infielder/left-handed pinch-hitter refused to report to Triple-A Iowa in late July, moved back to his home in New Jersey, told ESPN he would consider retirement if he couldn’t play for the big-league Cubs and finally ended his holdout in the middle of August.

“I really care about Tommy,” Arrieta said. “He’s ready to kind of explain to the team what he was going through, because there’s a lot of confusion, rightfully so. But I take the baseball aspect completely out of it and I look at it from just a human-being perspective. I can relate to him on a lot of different levels.

“I know that there were things that he was going through and dealing with (that) we may not agree with and understand.

“But we don’t have to. There are certain things that he’s needed to deal with — and he’s at the point now where he’s willing and able to convey the message to the guys in this clubhouse.

“He can help us win games, so he’s a guy that we definitely need in this clubhouse. He’s ready to address the team — (and) move past it and get back to being a part of the team.”

Arrieta’s late-blooming career is a testament to willpower and perseverance, taking advantage of that change-of-scenery trade to the Cubs in the middle of the 2013 season and evolving into the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner.

Even during a season where he has at times struggled to command his fastball and felt out of rhythm, Arrieta is still 16-5 with a 2.84 ERA for the best team in baseball, yet another sign of how much he has grown as a person and as a pitcher.

Going AWOL wasn’t the answer then — and it wasn’t a smart play for La Stella now — but at least Arrieta recognizes those anxieties and insecurities. Maybe that sense of leadership will help smooth over any awkwardness inside a laissez-faire clubhouse known for its late arrival times, loud music and Party Room.

“On a long drive — or when the game’s over, just sitting there thinking about where I see myself in the near future — it wasn’t there,” Arrieta said. “I wasn’t going to just continue to pitch in the minor leagues for another five or six years. If I wasn’t good enough to get the job done, I would move on to somewhere (else) where I was.

“There’s a lot out there other than baseball. But, obviously, this is ultimately where I wanted to be. It was just a point in life where there was some uncertainty there. And you address it, you deal with it and you move past it.”

Why the Cubs skipped Tim Tebow's showcase

Why the Cubs skipped Tim Tebow's showcase

The Cubs have built the scouting-and-player-development machine Theo Epstein promised when he took over baseball operations at Wrigley Field, assembling the game’s best team with homegrown talent, shrewd trades and big-money free agents.

The Cubs will kick the tires on just about any idea that might make the organization incrementally better, which makes their absence from Tim Tebow’s showcase on Tuesday so telling.

The Cubs skipped Tebow’s workout on the University of Southern California campus, sources said, viewing it as a promotional stunt for the former NFL quarterback and 2007 Heisman Trophy winner. With all due respect, as Joe Maddon might say, whenever the manager quotes Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby character in “Talladega Nights.”

Tebow’s name recognition and high-powered representation (Creative Artists Agency) helped him reportedly draw scouts from 27 major-league clubs to watch him run the 60-yard dash, react in the outfield and take batting practice.

Tebow — who won two national championships at the University of Florida, works as an ESPN analyst and stays involved with faith-based charities — hasn’t played baseball since high school.

“I saw his swing on the video — it was a decent hack,” Maddon said. “At 29 years old, it’s not easy to pull off, but good for him. If he wants to give it a run, go for it.”