MESA, Ariz. – A year that began with Brett Jackson hoping to become part of The Core ended in frustration at Double-A Tennessee.
So what happened on the way to Wrigley Field? The mixed messages that crossed up Starlin Castro and got Dale Sveum fired also got into Jackson’s head. Nagging injuries (shoulder, ankle, toe) couldn’t have helped his timing or his confidence. Maybe someone smart enough to go to UC Berkeley started thinking too much and feeling the heat as a first-round pick from the Jim Hendry administration.
Theo Epstein’s guys, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant, were assigned lockers on the other end of the Cubs Park clubhouse. Whatever. Jackson showed up on Sunday morning with a big smile on his face, ready to forget 2013 and rediscover what once made him such a hot prospect.
“Everything was with the best intention,” Jackson said. “Everything was to make me the best player possible. Dale was always in my corner and believed in me. Unfortunately, kind of ironically, along the way I kind of lost some belief in myself.
“In making those changes, I (fought) my nature, my natural swing. They had the best intentions, but I feel back to being myself. I feel rejuvenated and I’ve never felt this good coming into spring training.”
Fair or not, Sveum – who developed a reputation as a good hitting coach with the Milwaukee Brewers – got blamed for the regression of young players like Castro and Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs fired the manager, reshaped their coaching staff and overhauled the hitting program.
During a Q&A at Cubs Convention last month, Epstein pinned the decision to promote Jackson to the big leagues on Sveum, who wanted to get a better look in 2012 and figure out why he was striking out so much at Triple-A Iowa. During that audition, Jackson hit .175 with four homers, six doubles, 22 walks and 59 strikeouts in 142 plate appearances.
“I don’t look back,” Jackson said. “I try to find the silver lining in everything. I’m certainly grateful for Dale pushing for me to get to the big leagues. And whether I had success or not in those two months I was up, I think that was a beneficial step in me moving forward as a person and as a player.”
It became a thing across the last two seasons. Jackson hit .210 with 121 strikeouts in 367 plate appearances last year, splitting time between Iowa and Tennessee instead of moving to Wrigleyville.
“It’s something that I’m not going to acknowledge moving forward,” Jackson said. “I can’t put a finger on it. I think the last couple years have been a search for finding myself at the plate and overcoming the pressures I was putting on myself, the pressures I was getting externally.
“Obviously, the strikeouts were in the corner of my mind at that time, being told I was striking out too much. Not to put the blame on anyone but myself. I take full accountability. I’m confident in the adjustments I’ve made.”
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Jackson is 25 years old and hoping to put his game back together again. He’s athletic enough to play center field and fast enough to steal 100 bases in 497 career minor-league games. This offseason he did a few baseball clinics for kids back home in the Bay Area and remembered that the game is supposed to be fun. Let someone else deal with the hype.
“Last year just kind of fell apart,” Jackson said. “It was one of those snowball-effect years. (But) I’m grateful for it. It was a huge struggle, a huge challenge for me to overcome. I’m obviously not excited with the way it turned out, but I think those are the type of years that propel you forward.”