24-year-old Chicago Cubs outfield prospect Brett Jackson is certain that he will make the team’s 25-man roster out of Spring Training, even though manager Dale Sveum has already told him otherwise.
‘‘Barring injuries or anything, he knows. We’ve already told him,’’ Sveum said in an interview from Mesa, AZ. ‘‘He’s going to Triple-A.’’
Maybe Jackson’s overconfidence is merely incentive to continue his hard work in the offseason, which has become very apparent to local media and baseball analysts. In November, Jackson worked with Svuem, hitting coach James Rowson and assistant hitting coach Rob Deer on his approach at the plate, which now features a lower hand position in his stance, and a more compact swing as he drives through the ball. Jackson was also one of the first Cubs to report to camp, full weeks before the scheduled arrival date for position players.
Hopefully it works out for him, because he couldn’t hit anything when he was promoted to the Cubs last year, and if he is serious about making the ball club this spring, he needs to cut down on the “swing and miss.”
Jackson’s strikeout totals in 2012 were concerning, to say the least. In 407 at bats at Triple-A, Jackson whiffed 158 times, and in 120 at bats at the big league level, he struck out another 59. Add the two totals together and you have a player who went down on strikes 217 times. Throughout all the levels of professional baseball, only Adam Dunn compiled more with 222.
Though Jackson has shown the ability to compound his strikeout totals with a decent amount of walks over his Minor League career, it’s not so easy in the bigs. The competition is on a whole other level, and unless a player hits for a substantial amount of power or gets on base via the walk, he’s going to have a hard time finding playing opportunities because, after all, a strikeout is just a wasted at bat.
However, Jackson did show success in some areas during his call up. He showed that when he makes contact, he can provide some pop, with 11 of his 21 total hits going for extra bases, and he proved that he will do whatever it takes to make a play in center field, even if crashing into Wrigley’s brick wall is part of the outcome. His field demeanor was impressive as well. Despite his struggles, Jackson carried himself like a seasoned veteran, not backing down from any pitcher.
His attitude and work ethic set Jackson apart from other players in the organization. Though he was much higher on the prospect list at this time last season, it doesn’t mean he’s fallen off the table. He still has excellent tools to go along with his competitive drive. He can hit for power, he can run, and his outfield defense is at the Major League level right now. He just has to put it all together and figure out what kind of player he is going to be for the Cubs. He won’t hit 40 home runs, though 20-25 isn’t a ridiculous projection, and he could easily be a guy that can steal 30 bases in a year. If he finds a way to limit the strikeout totals, or at least drastically improve them, and establish himself as an everyday center fielder, he could even win some Gold Glove awards. That’s me being fairly optimistic however.
So indeed it is important for him to start the year in Triple-A, because he, without question, has things to work on, but I don’t think he’s too far off from proving himself at the next level. Remember Anthony Rizzo’s first career stint with the San Diego Padres in 2011? He hit a painfully low .141 in 128 at bats, with just one home run, but in his second chance in the MLB with the Cubs in 2012, he tore it up with 15 home runs in 337 at bats to go along with a respectable .285 batting average. Sometimes it takes a really poor performance in a player’s first opportunity for them to make the proper adjustments and improve, and Jackson is fully aware of this.
‘‘I look up to [Rizzo], the way he put behind what happened in 2011,’’ he told reporters yesterday, ‘‘and used that as motivation to show people what he’s capable of. He did that.”
Let’s see if Jackson can do the same thing. Look for an early June call up that sticks for the young center fielder.