Cubs tell Brett Jackson wait until next year

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Cubs tell Brett Jackson wait until next year

Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011
Posted: 9:02 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow@CSNMooney
The Cubs think Brett Jackson is straight out of central casting.

Hes their natural, a California dude who played his college ball at Berkeley. Hes the left-handed bat the organization is constantly searching for. Hes a good quote and he wont mind talking in front of the cameras. Hes not afraid of the bright lights.

Thats how Cubs people have talked about the 23-year-old Jackson, who could be roaming center field at Clark and Addison as soon as next season.

The Cubs made three more September call-ups from Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday reliever John Gaub, infielder DJ LeMahieu and outfielder Lou Montaez. Jackson was nowhere to be found at Wrigley Field.

That wasnt a surprise, because the Cubs had been downplaying the possibility for weeks, even though Jackson may have the highest ceiling of all their position-player prospects.

There are concerns about the 40-man roster, and starting the clock on his major-league service time. Those are decisions for the next general manager.

But Jackson the 31st overall pick in the 2009 draft is living up to the hype. Hes part of the player-development system Tom Ricketts has so much faith in that the chairman gave a new four-year contract to farm director Oneri Fleita. It wouldnt surprise anyone if Ricketts made a similar deal with scouting director Tim Wilken.

Jackson finished his second full professional season which began at Double-A Tennessee by hitting .297 with 10 homers, 26 RBI and a .939 OPS in 48 games at Iowa.

The skys the limit, interim general manager Randy Bush said. Its not out of the realm of possibility that this guy comes to camp and makes the team. Thats how quickly hes progressing.

Jackson will skip the Arizona Fall League. Hell play for Team USA and travel to Panama for the World Cup and Mexico for the Pan American Games. The hope is that a high-intensity environment, the pressure of international competition, will help him grow.

Were thrilled with his progress, Bush said. Hes getting better and better. For him to have made the jump to Iowa and perform as well as he did was outstanding. He just needs at-bats.

Hes such an interesting guy. Hes got speed and his powers already emerging. Hes patient. Hell take a walk. He brings a lot of things to the table that are pretty exciting looking forward.

Jackson wouldnt have played very much in the majors this month because right or wrong manager Mike Quade is loyal to his veterans and the Cubs are already committed to finding out about Tyler Colvin.

The Cubs also didnt want to have to protect Jackson from the Rule 5 draft because they already have to add around six players to the 40-man roster this winter. That group is headlined by Josh Vitters and Matt Szczur.

Vitters the third overall pick in the 2007 draft recently turned 22 and finished his Double-A regular season hitting .283 with 14 homers and 81 RBI in 129 games. Szczur got a unique contract and 1.5 million this season to give up his NFL ambitions and concentrate on one day becoming the true leadoff hitter the Cubs have lacked.

But no one seems to be coming as fast as Jackson, who walked around Fitch Park during spring training like he belonged. Around the clubhouse, the Cubs once saw similar traits in Starlin Castro.

He carries himself with a certain confidence, swagger, Bush said. Not in a bad way. (Its) just (understanding what hes) going to be able to do.

The outfields crowded now, but Marlon Byrd will be on an expiring contract next season (6.5 million). The Cubs have seemed willing to eat a large portion of the 54 million left on Alfonso Sorianos contract (if a taker can be found).

Colvin, another first-round pick, hasnt established himself yet. Reed Johnson could make sense on another one-year deal as the guy to mentor Jackson.

Is Jackson ready to make an impact in 2012?

Thats up to him, Quade said. We never had that conversation about Tyler Colvin before last year and what a spring he had. Im sure hes confident off what he was able to do for a little bit of time in Triple-A. Hell get a good look in spring training next year. He should. Hes earned that. But whether hes readywell see.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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.”

Never say die: Cubs battle back for wild walk-off win over Pirates

Never say die: Cubs battle back for wild walk-off win over Pirates

It would have been so easy for the Cubs to just chalk this one up as a loss and head home.

But this 2016 Cubs team isn't built that way.

They showed what they're made of again Monday, walking off the Pirates, 8-7, in front of 38,951 fans at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs had plenty of chances to score all game, including in extra innings as Javy Baez was thrown out at home plate to end both the 10th and 12th innings.

In the top of the 13th, the Pirates finally broke through, loading the bases with nobody out against Rob Zastryzny and scoring a run — but only one run.

In the bottom of the 13th, the Cubs got their offense going again as Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant led the inning off with singles to put runners at the corners. Anthony Rizzo then singled through the infield to tie the game and drive home Fowler.

Ben Zobrist was intentionally walked to load the bases with nobody out, setting the stage for Miguel Montero's walk-off single to start the Cubs' homestand off on a positive note and send Zastryzny home with his first MLB victory.

It capped off a game in which almost 465 pitches were thrown and took more than five hours to complete.

"We got in late last night," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I got back about 3 a.m. So these guys — they're coming off West Coast to the Central Time Zone, they're tired, we had to show up today early for a picture — that happens sometimes — and they came out and played until Midnight.

"Of course you want to win that game. That's a tough game to lose. But understand the effort that you saw tonight based on a lot of fatigue. And that's probably what I'm most proud of."

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The Cubs opened up a 3-0 lead on Pirates rookie starter Steven Brault early, but they could have easily had more, narrowly missing home runs in the first (Zobrist) and third innings (Jorge Soler).

The Pirates, meanwhile, came roaring back against Jake Arrieta. 

First, Josh Bell hit a solo homer just over the basket in left field in the fourth inning. Then Gregory Polanco deposited a three-run shot down the left-field line in the sixth inning, two batters after it appeared the Cubs had gotten a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play. Home plate umpire Tripp Gibson disagreed, calling the pitch Ball 4 to Bell and putting two runners on with nobody out instead of two outs and nobody on. Arrieta was irate, staring down the umpire and prompting a visit from Maddon, who proceeded to get in Gibson's face at the base of the mound after calming down Arrieta.

"That's an entirely different baseball game right there that occurred on that particular pitch," Maddon said. "Everything turned on that particluar pitch.

"But I'm not gonna denigrate the umpire. We had plenty of opportunities — PLENTY — to win that game in a normal fashion or earlier. We had so many great at-bats to set it up and then we could not seal the deal."

Arrieta was also saddled with a pair of runs in the seventh inning, with Travis Wood letting two inherited runners score on Josh Harrison's two-out double to make it a 6-3 Pirates lead.

The reigning NL Cy Young winner finished with a tough-luck line that flashed six earned runs in 6 1/3 innings on five hits and three walks.

Then the Cubs began their comeback.

In the eighth, Jason Heyward doubled and Willson Contreras homered to straightaway center.

With one out in the ninth, Soler sent a charge into Tony Watson's offering to tie the game with a blast to center.

That set up Montero for the storybook ending.

"The resiliency of our team is incredible," Arrieta said. "That's what you need down the stretch. ... Just a crazy ballgame all the way around."

Cubs: Theo Epstein believes Kris Bryant can follow in Dustin Pedroia's MVP footsteps

Cubs: Theo Epstein believes Kris Bryant can follow in Dustin Pedroia's MVP footsteps

Joe Maddon has been trying to find a chance to give Kris Bryant a day off.

But how do you sit the hottest hitter on the planet?

Bryant just finished a torrid road trip in which he staked his claim to the National League MVP Award by hitting .417 with a 1.365 OPS, five homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs in nine games. 

That pushed his season line to .305/.398/.588 (.986 OPS) with a league-leading 35 homers and 107 runs plus 89 RBIs.

So is he the Most Valuable Player in just his second season in "The Show"?

"I don't want to get too wrapped up in individual awards," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "He's an outstanding player having a great year. It's never too early.

"(Red Sox second baseman) Dustin Pedroia is another guy we drafted over a decade ago and he did the same thing — Rookie of the Year in the first year and then MVP the next year. It can be done.

"(Bryant is) helping us win in so many different ways. Obviously coming up big of late, which is great to see. He deserves all the accolades that are coming his way and that may eventually come his way.

"But I think he'd probably be the first one to tell you he wants the team awards; he wants the team recognition in the end. The only one that really counts is winning your last game and the parade. Everything else is nice to fill the trophy case, but that's what everyone here is all about."

Bryant will undoubtedly split some MVP votes with teammate Anthony Rizzo (.946 OPS, 25 home runs, 89 RBIs), but the Cubs third baseman/outfielder woke up Monday morning leading all of baseball in WAR on FanGraphs' page.

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Even the Cubs admit Bryant has progressed beyond their realistic expectations.

"I would never have held him to this standard," Epstein said. "I wouldn't say, 'This is his development path. He's gotta go be maybe the Most Valuable Player in the league in the second year.' But at the same time, it doesn't surprise me.

"He's always been outstanding at making adjustments. Very cerebral player. Makes great use of his down time, whether it's the winter where he can work on swing adjustments or even the time between at-bats or pitch-to-pitch. He's just really, really good at making adjustments and thinks about his own game at a really high level.

"He's such a good athlete, he's able to take it right out on the field."

Bryant has also surprised Epstein and the Cubs with how he's evolved as a player.

"In some ways, surprising," Epstein said. "I thought he would always hit five to 10 opposite field home runs a year at a minimum, and he hasn't this year — that was his first one of the year the other day at Dodger Stadium.

"But he's added the ability to turn on the inside pitch and hit it in the air and keep it fair, so he's hitting more home runs as a result. So I never saw that coming.

"It's interesting the way his swing and his game have evolved."

In discussing the difference between 2016 Bryant and the rookie model, Maddon pointed to a decrease in strikeouts (from 30.6 percent in 2015 to 22 percent) and a smoother product on defense.

"The biggest for me is consistently shorter swing. More contact," Maddon said. "He's had smaller windows of chasing pitches out of the strike zone compared to last year when he did it more often.

"But recently, he's been using the outfield gap, which is really impressive. So offensively, that's what I'm seeing. Defensively, better feet on the infield.

"You'd see a lot of the patting of the glove as the feet were moving. I see it on occasion now, but not to the extent I saw it last year. He's still a great baserunner.

"So primarily — shorter hack, greater contact, less chase, right central is coming back into play right now and better feet on defense. That's what I'm seeing."

Put it all together and you have an MVP frontrunner entering September.