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.

This is the identity of the 2017 Cubs so far: 'Up and down, up and down'

This is the identity of the 2017 Cubs so far: 'Up and down, up and down'

MIAMI – The Cubs are the defending champs, but at the moment they really don’t have much of an identity beyond that, unsure what they can count on from one game to the next, waiting to get healthy and still searching for that sense of rhythm 45 percent into the season.

This is a 37-36 team dealing with injuries near the top of the rotation (Kyle Hendricks), the middle of the lineup (Ben Zobrist) and the heart of the defense (Jason Heyward) while a World Series legend (Kyle Schwarber) gets a few days to clear his head before reporting to Triple-A Iowa.

Just when it looks like the rotation is gathering strength, the offense went missing again during Friday’s 2-0 loss at Marlins Park, the night after the Cubs scored 11 runs in Miami and talked about it as the type of game that can create momentum.

“The difference 24 hours can make,” manager Joe Maddon said.

But this has been building for almost three full months. The Cubs have been shut out six times already and at the .500 mark at 15 different points this season.

The good news: John Lackey hit 94 mph and has put together back-to-back quality starts for a starting five with a 2.35 ERA the last two turns through the rotation. The 10 games before that, the Cubs rotation put up a 5.65 ERA, but neither trend has really changed the overall picture in a weak National League Central. 

“That’s where it all starts, for sure,” Lackey said. “If you’re going to be a consistent winning team, you got to have good starting pitching, because the offense can kind of come and go.

“You got to remember they’re pretty young. We got a lot of guys still learning, still making adjustments in the game. But the talent’s there, so you like our chances in the end for those guys to do good stuff.”  

The bad news: Lackey had no margin for error as the Marlins needed only three hits to score two runs (one earned). Lackey gave up his 21st home run – he allowed 23 in almost 190 innings last year – in the third inning when Giancarlo Stanton launched an 83-mph pitch 458 feet beyond the garish pink-flamingos-and-palm-trees sculpture.   

Defense was supposed to be the constant with this team, but the Marlins manufactured an insurance run in the sixth inning when Dee Gordon stole second base off Lackey and catcher Miguel Montero threw the ball away, setting up Christian Yelich’s sacrifice fly.   

“I certainly have all the confidence in the world in everybody here,” reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant said. “Last year was a great year for us. Everybody just seemed to be hitting at the right time, pitching good at the right time. Everything clicked.

“This season hasn’t been that way. You look at many players – and many Hall of Fame players – they’ve had some down years here and there. It just kind of seems like as a group we’re a little down right now, but plenty of time to turn it around.”

Ian Happ and Javier Baez accounted for four of the six hits against right-hander Jose Urena and three different relievers as the Cubs hit into three double plays, struck out seven times and followed the same pattern.  

“Our offense is just like you saw – up and down, up and down,” Maddon said. “It is youthful. Listen, I don’t want to keep saying that, but it’s true. It just is. These guys need more at-bats to figure out what to not swing at and how to battle.”

Joe Maddon on Ian Happ: ‘Pound for pound, man, he’s got as good a power as I’ve seen’

Joe Maddon on Ian Happ: ‘Pound for pound, man, he’s got as good a power as I’ve seen’

MIAMI – The Cubs factored Ian Happ into their preseason plans, hoping he could give the team a shot of adrenaline at some point and play well enough to be marketed as a trade chip in a blockbuster deal for pitching.

But the Cubs couldn’t have projected this for late June: Happ batting third behind Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, the switch-hitting presence and middle-of-the-order force needed with Ben Zobrist on the disabled list and Kyle Schwarber about to get a mental reset at Triple-A Iowa.

“Pound for pound, man, he’s got as good a power as I’ve seen, when you look at the size and how far the ball goes,” manager Joe Maddon said Friday at Marlins Park. “It’s a unique combination of size and strength. You normally see a bigger guy with that kind of juice."

Happ (6-foot, 205 pounds) also patrolled right field that night – one of four different positions the rookie has handled so far – with Gold Glove defender Jason Heyward also on the disabled list and the Cubs in scramble mode.

The Schwarber demotion is a reminder of how hard this game is, how quickly it can spin out of control and how small sample sizes can be misleading, even on the biggest stages against some of the best pitchers on the planet.

But check out Happ’s first six weeks in The Show projected as a 162-game average on Baseball-Reference.com: 46 homers, 97 RBI, .916 OPS and 199 strikeouts.

“He’s just really interesting,” Maddon said. “Now you’re seeing him hit better from the right side, too, which is really going to matter. That really makes him a threat. You put him in the lineup based on that.”

The shorthanded Cubs have needed Happ – at the age of 22 – to protect Bryzzo Souvenir Co., add another layer of Zobrist versatility and learn it all on the fly for a team with World Series expectations.

“He’s pretty self-confident,” Maddon said. “There’s times I can tell when it’s beating him up a little bit when he goes through some of those funks where maybe he’s chasing pitches out of the zone. But he seems to rebound very quickly. Strong-minded. Strong-willed. Very confident individual.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs hopeful Kyle Hendricks returns before All-Star break]

Two weeks into Happ’s big-league career, Maddon got questions about how long the Cubs will be patient and what they would need to see out of him before thinking about a return trip to Des Moines.

Though Happ was hitting .207 as recently as last week, his average has jumped roughly 40 points. He’s homered eight times in his last 14 starts. Fifteen of his 21 RBI have come with two outs. His OPS hasn’t fallen below .741 at any point this season.

“That’s adjusting,” Maddon said. “You get here, nobody really knows you, they throw you pitches, you hit ‘em well. And all of a sudden, you stop seeing those pitches. You’re not going to see them again until you stop swinging at the stuff that they want you to swing at.

“He’s done a pretty good job of laying off the bad stuff. That’s why it’s coming back to him. He’s really reorganized the strike zone here.”

That whole process sped up on Schwarber, who lost the swagger and the ability to crush fastballs that made him such a dangerous hitter. Happ doesn’t have it all figured out, but by the look on his face and the sound of his voice, you would have no idea whether or not he’s hitting. 

“Unbelievable guy,” said Happ, who’s tight with Schwarber. “He’ll go down, rake, be back soon and do what he’s capable of doing, which is hitting the ball hard all over the ballpark. He’s done it his whole life. And he’ll continue to do it.”