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.

Kyle Schwarber has rocky start to Triple-A stint

Kyle Schwarber has rocky start to Triple-A stint

The Cubs gave Kyle Schwarber time to sort things out by sending him down to Triple-A Iowa, and Schwarber's first game back in the minors shows he may need some time.

Schwarber's first game with the Iowa Cubs was a forgettable one. He struck out in his first three plate appearances before singling in his last at-bat. He struck out looking in the first inning before striking out swinging his next two times up.

Schwarber batted third in the lineup and played left field. Iowa won 1-0 against the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

He last played for Iowa in 2015, but only spent 17 games there. He hit .333 with three homers and a 1.036 OPS in that short stint. Before getting sent down Schwarber was hitting .171 with the Cubs with 12 home runs, but also 75 strikeouts in 64 games.

Cubs show why they are defending champs while Nationals still have something to prove

Cubs show why they are defending champs while Nationals still have something to prove

WASHINGTON – The Cubs already visited the White House. The Washington Nationals are still the team with so much more to prove.

Dusty Baker needs this October to cement his spot in Cooperstown, the way Joe Maddon put the final bullet point on his Hall of Fame resume. Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant took different routes out of Las Vegas, but only one has the World Series ring to go with the Rookie of the Year/MVP hardware. While the clock is ticking on Max Scherzer and that championship parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Jon Lester megadeal essentially paid for itself.

Cubs vs. Nationals is supposed to be a circle-your-calendar event. Except the Cubs rolled out a Cactus League lineup on Monday night and Nationals Park featured rows and rows of empty seats amid a crowd of 29,651 where the celebrity vibe became more George Will than A-Rod and J-Lo.

The Cubs still hung on for a 5-4 victory that might have been their best under-the-circumstances win in a season that will hit the halfway point this weekend, showing why they’re the defending champs.

“It is exciting – don’t get me wrong,” Maddon said. “It’s just that we’re attending with a different group than we thought we would be attending this party with.

“And that’s OK, because these guys now are getting the kind of experience that is going to be very beneficial to us in August and September.”

A rash of injuries forced the Cubs to start Jeimer Candelario at third base and Mark Zagunis in right field and Javier Baez kept making highlight-reel plays while Addison Russell rested his sore right shoulder, leaping to grab to a Harper line drive and racing across the left-field line and sliding into the wall to make another spectacular catch in foul territory.

“Games like this is what we need right now – competition,” said Baez, who struck out in his first three at-bats and finished at 2-for-5. “Playing tight games like this will make us make adjustments better and be more in the game.”

With Kyle Schwarber more than 1,000 miles away in Des Moines and hitting the reset button at Triple-A Iowa, Willson Contreras became the leadoff hitter of the day and launched Gio Gonzalez’s fifth pitch of the game into the left-field seats.

The young Cubs manufactured their next run in the eighth inning when Baez stole third base and scored on Albert Almora Jr.’s perfectly placed bunt into the no man’s land between the pitcher’s mound and the first-base line. The bullpen is Washington’s Achilles’ heel and showed with a three-run meltdown in the ninth inning.

Eddie Butler – who began the season in the Iowa rotation – neutralized a powerful Washington lineup while getting just one strikeout in five innings. Maddon pushed a lot of bullpen buttons, not going to Wade Davis for a four-out save and then summoning the All-Star closer when Hector Rondon couldn’t work with a five-run cushion.

In a dramatic finish, Davis survived giving up three hits, a walk and a wild pitch, striking out Ryan Zimmerman with a curveball to end a game that lasted 3 hours and 54 minutes.

“To play so well and not win that game would have really been awful,” Maddon said.

The Cubs needed this with Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg looming the next two nights. But for all of their talent and regular-season dominance – three division titles since 2012 and close to a 100-win pace this year – the Nationals still haven’t won a playoff series in a city where the Senators once won it all in 1924.

This could be an epic matchup in October, bursting with stars and pumping with bad blood. Just listen to Baker during his pregame media briefing, responding to a question about a power hitter like Anthony Rizzo batting leadoff: “I ain’t worried about the Cubs. They can do their thing.”

Or Baker dismissing Maddon’s mind games and the possibility of intentionally walking Harper when Ryan Zimmerman is a Triple Crown contender: “It’s a new time and a new day.”

The last word from Maddon, who keeps insisting the 39-37 Cubs have a hot streak in them and that he digs the youth movement: “If this was a spring training lineup, we might get a call.”