As Cubs eye outfield options, Brett Jackson expects a breakthrough

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As Cubs eye outfield options, Brett Jackson expects a breakthrough

Maybe Brett Jackson had to hit what manager Dale Sveum called rock bottom.
Thats an overstatement, because its not like the Cubs were surprised when Jackson was so over-matched last year (59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats). They promoted him from Triple-A Iowa in August so that he could see what it takes at this level and forget whatever stubborn ideas he had in his head.
The Cubs are not going to write off a 24-year-old plus defender who has shown a unique combination of power, speed and the willingness to literally run into walls. But they are insistent that Jackson will start this season in Iowa as they continue to weigh their options in the outfield.
Sources said theres mutual interest between the Cubs and Scott Hairston who hit 20 homers in 377 at-bats with the New York Mets last season and a strong opposition to signing free agent Michael Bourn because it would mean losing a second-round draft pick and sacrificing part of their signing-bonus pool.
The Mets have reportedly rejected Hairstons demands two years, 8 million and there could be reasons to sign here. Hairston spent part of his childhood in the Chicago suburbs. His grandfather Sam and father Jerry Sr. played for the White Sox. His older brother Jerry Jr. graduated from Naperville North High School and played for the Cubs.
Hairston is said to be a good clubhouse guy. He was part of the San Diego Padres team that won 91 games in 2010, Jed Hoyers first year as general manager. Between Hairston, David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz and Dave Sappelt and Alfonso Sorianos need for days off at the age of 37 the Cubs could take a mix-and-match approach in the outfield.
Jackson listened during his exit interview at the end of last season, when the Cubs told him hed be ticketed for Des Moines. He applied those lessons during a November minicamp with Sveum and hitting coaches James Rowson and Rob Deer at the teams complex in Arizona.
But Jackson still expects to force his way into the picture.
I have every intention of making the team, he said over the weekend at Cubs Convention. I have no intention of going to Iowa. Im going to keep working the way I always do. Im confident in my ability and who I am as a player and who Ive become as a player. I know what I need to do and Ive set my mind on that goal and Im not stopping until Im there.
Jackson should have the swagger (2009 first-round pick) and smarts (Cal-Berkeley education) to make those adjustments, like using his top hand more and smoothing out his swing path.
But the front office views Triple-A as the finishing school it was for Anthony Rizzo, who looked so lost in San Diego in 2011, tore up the Pacific Coast League for a half-season and then generated 15 homers and 48 RBI in 87 games with the Cubs.
We want (Jackson) to start in Iowa, Hoyer said. Things can happen over the course of a spring with injuries and whatnot, but I think we saw hes got some things he can work on in Iowa. I look at it very, very similarly to the way I looked at things with Rizzo.
(Jackson) can take some of those lessons back to Iowa. If he takes the same attitude Anthony did, I dont see any reason he cant do the same thing.
The strikeouts have become the thing with Jackson, but hes still an all-around player who can work the count and prevent runs in center. He walked 22 times during that 44-game audition, and 11 of his 21 hits went for extra bases. He thinks hes on the verge of a breakthrough.
Strugglings always going to test your confidence levels, Jackson said. Certainly it isnt easy to struggle, but Im a firm believer that struggle is what makes the man, makes the player. I wouldnt be where I am today I wouldnt have learned what I need to adjust for this season if not for last season.
The way I struggled is turning out to be an important lesson for me as a player, to help me evolve as player, to be the player I want to be.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."