The list of non-roster invites to the Chicago Cubs’ spring training is interesting, to say the least. The likes of Reed Johnson, Angel Guzman, Braden Looper and Augie Ojeda ring more than one bell each.
Most interesting, though, is a kid who hasn’t sniffed the majors yet. Speedy left-handed hitting outfielder Brett Jackson, the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, is in this group of veterans and top minor-league prospects.
If the Cubs are going to craft a much-needed classic leadoff man out of Jackson’s talents, this will be the start. At the very least, Jackson will have a chance to impress the brass for a callup later in the season. And if all goes exactly right with a monster spring, Jackson could force his way onto the Cubs, adding to the stream of fresh blood filtering its way into Wrigley Field.
The Cubs’ No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, Jackson hit .297 with 32 doubles, 14 triples, 12 homers, 66 RBI and 30 stolen bases in 128 games between Single-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee in 2010.
You hope Jackson won’t move Tyler Colvin aside with a strong camp. You want both to succeed, bringing the Cubs fresh-blooded youth, enthusiasm and the kind of left-handed hitting that was in too-short-supply for too long.
Right now, though, four players are being shoehorned into three outfield spots — Colvin, gilded Alfonso Soriano, All-Star Marlon Byrd and defensively gifted, helicopter-swinged, very well-compensated Kosuke Fukudome. With four years of megabucks payouts left, Soriano was unmovable. Fukudome’s departure via trade could have cleared the picture somewhat, but apparently GM Jim Hendry found no takers.
So Jackson will have to force the issue with a monster spring. I liked the description of Jackson by young infielder Darwin Barney — that the kid is a Steve Finley-type of player. You and I and everyone in the Cubs organization would take a Steve Finley. If Jackson is anywhere near that, some incumbent outfielder’s gotta go.
Jackson would either make it as at least a platoon starter in center field (Byrd would move to right) or go to Triple-A for more experience. There is no way he’d come to Chicago as a backup. That’s a job for Johnson, who would be assured of an outfield spot if not for Fukudome. Now he has to battle for the fifth and final outfield job with speedy Fernando Perez, who came over from Tampa Bay in the Matt Garza deal.
Ojeda wants to sneak aboard as a utility infielder, although that would require a failure by Barney, a home-grown Cub and organizational favorite. The 36-year-old Ojeda once was a Wrigley Field legend, his generously-listed 5-foot-9 frame having given fans the impression he was an Everyman transplanted to the majors. Back in 2001, when the Cubs held first place ’till mid-August, fans changed “Augie…Augie” for a fielding gem or slap hit before moved on to Minnesota and Arizona. He’s be a sentimental favorite, but the Cubs are trying to get younger, not recycle cult heroes from a decade ago.
You’d think Guzman was a left-hander with all the comebacks he’s trying to craft with the Cubs. Once a top-of-the-organization prospect, Guzman seemingly has spent more time injured than on the mound. But he’s still just 29, and he had a good year as a setup man in 2009. He’s worth a look for middle relief.
But if I was lucky enough to get back to Mesa after a three-year absence, I’d keep my eyes on Jackson. It’s always best in the Cubs Universe to look forward rather than the other direction.