Is Brett Jackson Going to Force the Cubs’ Hand in Center Field?

Brett Jackson is the best prospect the Chicago Cubs’ system currently has to offer.

The athletic center fielder entered the year ranked in the top 50/100 prospects in baseball, and, by midseason, most rankings had him cracking the top 50. I’d hazard a guess that, if those rankings were done again today, Jackson might be even higher.

Since dislocating his pinky early in the year, and taking a long road back, all Jackson has done is receive a promotion to AAA at age 22 (he’s 23 now), and make PCL pitchers lick his cleats. He currently sports a .297/.393/.615 line, which, even for the PCL, is great. He’s hit seven homers, a triple, and six doubles in just 25 games, and has swiped a few bags.

Sure, he’s struck out 30 times, but it’s not because he’s a free-swinger: Jackson has taken 15 walks, and, in his minor league career, consistently has an IsoD (the amount his OBP is above his BA) near .100. For the uninitiated, that’s awesome, and suggests that the high strikeout totals are more a product of Jackson seeing a lot of pitches than flailing away wildly at anything near the zone.

John Sickels featured Brett Jackson as his Prospect of the Day earlier today, and had some very complimentary things to say:

A left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, he’s listed at 6-2, 210 pounds and turned 23 years old last week. He has above-average running speed and makes good use of this in the outfield. He’s played center field primarily and has enough range and arm strength to handle the position. Jackson is aggressive on the bases and a talented stealer, swiping 61 in 80 career attempts, including 36 in 47 attempts in Double-A/Triple-A.

Jackson has above-average bat speed to go with his above-average running speed. His upper cut swing should deliver 20-homer power as he matures. He works counts and will take walks, but he’s vulnerable to strikeouts. He’s not likely to develop into a .300 hitter, but if he can hit .250-.270 in the majors as he’s done in the minors, he should draw enough walks to keep his OBP at more-than-acceptable levels.

So, with Jackson clearly performing as well as can be expected at AAA, the natural question is, “when will we see him in Chicago?” A call-up in September, when rosters expand to 40 is certainly possible. Although Jackson is not presently on the 40-man roster, there are a number of guys who could be bumped in favor of the Cubs’ top prospect.

If Jackson doesn’t get a cup of coffee in September, you can look for him in early 2012, assuming he keeps performing and stays healthy.

As an athletic center fielder, the emergence of Jackson naturally raises questions about the Cubs’ current center fielder, Marlon Byrd. Signed through 2012 to a reasonable $6.5 million, the Cubs opted to hang onto Byrd at the trade deadline, despite interest from a handful of teams. But, if Jackson is ready by 2012 or sooner, what happens to Byrd?

Bruce Miles and Phil Rogers each speculated in recent days that the Cubs might try to put together an August trade involving Byrd, opening up center field for Jackson (with apologies to the growing legion of Tony Campana fans). While that, or an offseason trade of Byrd might well be the ultimate approach, I suspect the Cubs will first work as hard as possible to deal Alfonso Soriano.

Soriano’s days as a starting left fielder are almost certainly numbered. But if the Cubs opt to move Byrd to open up a spot for Jackson, the Cubs could be left with a starting 2012 outfield of Soriano (or a question mark), Jackson, and Tyler Colvin (or a question mark). That certainly doesn’t inspire confidence.

I believe that, if the Cubs had their druthers, they would dump Soriano and slide Marlon Byrd into left field, where he can serve as a mentor to the young outfielders (and, not to mention, play above average defense). Then, if someone else emerges in the outfield from the minor league ranks, the Cubs could trade Byrd mid-season.

However it plays out, it seems likely that you’ll hear the calls for Jackson to start his big league career sooner rather than later. Given his pedigree, I wouldn’t particularly mind using an option year and starting his arbitration clock by calling him up this season. Plus, frankly, I want to see the kid play.

If the Cubs don’t open up a spot for him in August, though, I’m not sure how many starts he would actually get, given Mike Quade’s proclivity to put his own interests in winning the day’s game over the organizational interests in developing its young players. So, I suppose, let’s keep that in mind as we join the aforementioned chorus of calls for Jackson to join the Cubs in Chicago.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

98 responses to “Is Brett Jackson Going to Force the Cubs’ Hand in Center Field?”

  1. MichiganGoat

    If we don’t move Soriano or Byrd we should just keep him in AAA since we know Quade will put him behind Campana and possibly even Colvin on the depth chart. I would like Byrd around for next year for veteran presence and hopefully we move or dump Soriano and pick up an affordable veteran OF to compete with Colvin next year. I’d shutter at the possibility of a Campana, Colvin, Jackson outfield. It’s possible that next year could be worse if we don’t sign some quality players to put around the team.

    1. hardtop

      im with you goat. byrds under contract, he does it all pretty well, and he’d be a good mentor while still contributing.
      byrd, jackson, colvin/johnson in the outfield doesnt sound too sucky to me, though who knows how jackson will do in the bigs, and if colvin will get his groove back. of course, this may be a workable combination for 2012, but in 2013 we are still short an outfielder or two…

  2. Chuck

    I think the writing is on the wall for Soriano – he will no longer be on the Cubs roster in 2012, either via a near total salary dump trade or an outright cut. He simply doesn’t fit either plan the Cubs would take in 2012 and beyond: trying to put together a contender short term via free agents or rebuilding.

    Also, by not trading Byrd at the deadline, it gives a lot of weight to the idea of sliding him into LF and starting Jackson in center. I would be a huge fan of that move as Byrd would provide some consistancy the lineup would definitely need in 2012 with youngsters Jackson, Colvin, Castro, Barney in the everyday lineup as well as whomever is playing 1B, 3B, C (if Soto is dealt). This is the lineup I would like to see in 2012:
    Castro SS
    Jackson CF
    Aramis 3B
    Fielder 1B
    Soto C
    Colvin RF
    Byrd LF
    Barney/Baker 2B
    Pitcher

    Staff: Garza, Dempster, Zambrano, Cashner, Wells (no changes)

    That means your only work in the offseason is:
    1. Find a taker for Soriano so you can save a couple mil a year on his salary
    2. Sign Fielder
    3. Sign a reclaimation project SP to add some depth to your rotation
    4. Either pick up Aramis option or re-work his contract to 2 years, less per year.

    1. Toosh

      I like your ideas, but I think the Cubs need at least one more SP. And not a reclamation project. They have the money and/or players to get a quality starter.

    2. hardtop

      I like it! Or, rather, I could live with it.
      Except, swap fielder for badass starting pitcher. Adding 10-12 home runs to a team with the worst pitching in baseball is a waste… of 125 million dollars, in this case.

      1. Jeff

        You are going to have to point someone to that badass starting pitching. I don’t see any available. Edwin Jackson is probably the best available, Mark Buehrlie and CJ Wilson would both be nice additions, but they are both probably staying put. I’ve heard that the Angels might try to trade Weaver if it looks like he won’t sign long term, but I have a hard time coming up with a package they would take, there really isn’t a whole lot of shine left in the minors. Who wants to see Jackson, or Sczur, or both traded after what Hendry traded away last offseason? I just don’t see a whole lot the Cubs can do this offseason about the rotation besides signing a reclamation/stop gap and hoping it works.

        1. MichiganGoat

          Agreed there are no Aces or #1 pickers available a handful of 2/3 types but nothing to get overly excited about and we have few quality pitchers in the minors to pick up.so our off season will be making a run at Fielder or Pujols and maybe a couple of average pitchers (one definate starter and a couple of minor long relief spot starter types). If Weaver is available it will take a package better than Garza and we don’t have that because Hendry has made no moves to strengthen our farm system. The more I look at next year the more questions I have (outfield, pitching, 2B, 1B, and 3B). Outside of Casto, Soto, and part of our rotation there are very few positions that are settled- not exactly a team ready to make a run.

          1. Jed

            Cj Wilson is ten times better than jackson

            1. Jeff

              I don’t think Texas can afford to let CJ Wilson walk after not getting Lee to re-sign last year. He’s definitely better than Jackson, but he’s 31, and will probably get a huge deal from the Rangers.

              1. ron

                What does the Texas farm system look like for starting pitchers?

        2. Lou

          I actually think CJ Wilson staying put is very debatable. I think the Rangers could have a hand in how successful the offseason rebuilding plans are for the Cubs. Think about it. Feliz is having a season on par with Marmol, which is actually worse for him because he’s younger slightly than Marmol and doesn’t rely on one out pitch. That doesn’t inspire confidence necessarily for the Rangers to acquire Marmol. But it might. Why? Because unlike Marmol, Feliz was brought up to be a starter, and if the Rangers don’t make the playoffs, they may cut payroll. Which means, Feliz in a starter role and CJ Wilson hits the open market. Like to see the Cubs sign him if that ends of being true. Also, given the fact that the brass down there probably wants to see more playing time for Mitch Moreland–that could mean a trade given that the Rangers are offensively loaded. I like to see the Cubs swoop in there. If we could get the Rangers to take Marmol, we could very likely get a solid major league bat. Also, given that Bell is likely to stay in SD and Papelbon is likely to stay in Boston, it adds to Marmol’s trade value. Why trade Marmol? Well, Carpenter I think surprised all of us (certainly me) with his stuff. And we don’t know what we’re going to get from Cashner. I like one of them to get the nod over Marmol–especially if it could land us an offensive upgrade. Just my two cents.

          1. jeff

            They are working on the extension as we speak according to Thad Levine through Jim Bowden.

      2. dreese

        I really think a big problem, not the only one, with our pitching struggles is Riggins. If we secure a quality pitching coach next year I think our rotation will improve a lot.

        1. ron

          What is Leo Mazonie doing these days?

    3. Randy Cutright

      There is no way you go into next year with this pitching staff. You have no assurance that Cashner will be healthy or that Wells will ever return to form. The reason the Phillies dominate is pitching. I am ok with some younger talent but with money coming off the books, they need to bolster the SP and bring in a couple of bats thru trade or free agency. I think other than Grabow, I can live w/ the bullpen.

      1. Chuck

        I actually agree, but I unfortunately I don’t think the FO will.

        As many others have posted, there aren’t really too many good arms available this offseason as far as free agents and they’ll cost too much money anyway, so I’d like to see the Cubs go this route:

        Trade 1 or 2 out of this group: Soto, Marshall, Marmol, Wells, Barney to get MLB ready quality starting pitching with some #1/#2 potential.

        Let’s face it, aside from Garza, there is nobody on this staff or knocking on the door that will lead the Cubs to the promise land. They should be dealing from their positions of strength (C depth, bullpen) to address the starting staff.

  3. CubsFanatic

    Its time to give the kid his shot. Hes more than earned it.

  4. Bob

    I say keep him in AAA because he will not play in the bigs everyday right now with Quade in charge, but if something changes then bring him up if not let him play everyday so he won’t turn out like the past top Prospects of the cubs

  5. Jeff

    Don’t minor league seasons end near the beginning of September? Iowa isn’t going to be in the postseason this year, so there really isn’t a reason for Jackson to not be in Chicago for the end of the year. Sitting on the bench in the majors has to be better than sitting on the couch at home or heading off to a Dominican or fall league somewhere doesn’t it?

  6. Chris

    See, Jackson is the logical option. When in recent history have the Cubs done the logical thing? They’re going to opt for the hard working and (dare I say) “scrappy” Campanarama to appease the masses professing “OMG INSIDE THE PARK” as their main selling point. Meanwhile, Jackson will either hangout down in AAA or sit on the bench, trying “earn” his spot in the Quade regime.

    BUT, if there’s a Front Office Fire Sale (or as I like to call it, The Great FOFS of 2011), maybe the Cubs will start dealing with reason and actual stats rather than things like “scrappiness,” “likability” and “good clubhouse guy.”

    1. MichiganGoat

      Love Campanarama! I heard someone call him Campanapaloza both are perfect.

  7. Matt Murton

    As the team keeps making it rain cash-moneymoney on all of these young, powerful 1B prospects like Vogelbach (from the tape I’ve seen of him at 1st, I’m scared. He throws rainbows to third and would have the same amount of range if a piano was strapped to his back), Shoulders (yeah yeah I know Rock can play 3rd too), and Gretzky (still not convinced he’s going to sniff an .100 average in the minors), it keeps making more and more sense to not spend a ridiculous amount of money on Prince or Albert for 7 years. These other kids could be up relatively soon, and it makes no sense to invest so deeply in an eventual logjam at first. I think Ricketts might be on the same page here (hence the interest in Pena for a year or two more). Honestly, I’m not as nuts about the idea of Prince or Albert as I was earlier in the year, especially if they’re going to be going through the pinnacles of their respective careers on a sub .500 team. The more I think about it, the more I’m liking the idea of sucking it up and then eventually reaping the benefits of this:

    C: Geo or Clevenger or whoever else decides they’d like to be a major league catcher
    1B: Vogelbach/Riding/Shoulders/Vitters (?)
    2B: Barney/Lemahieu/Flaherty
    3B: Baez/Vitters/Flaherty
    SS: Castro (he’s damn good enough to be a starting shortstop. He’s better than all of you)
    LF: Colvin/Campana (Juan Pierre style)/Vitters (?)
    CF: Jackson/Szczur/Crawford
    RF: Colvin/Abreu (LOLZ)

    Pitching is another story. Not to mention that this is assuming that half of these prospects pan out to be anywhere near as good as they could be. That being said, I’m starting to get pretty pumped for what could be with a little investment in some starting pitching and a big ol’ bat somewhere in that lineup. Thoughts?

    1. Jeff

      Laugh about Abreu if you want, but he has been Carolina League player of the week a couple of times this year, and had a pretty outstanding July. He’s young still, he’s got really big power potential, and he’s improving. He could end up being a heck of a pick up if he continues to develop.

    2. MichiganGoat

      Having a plethora (and yes I say we have a plethora and even know what it means) of 1B prospects is not a bad thing if you can trade them effectively for other pieces in the future.

  8. Brian

    I’d like to see Jackson spend another year in the minors, just because of the Cubs track record of bringing up prospects too soon, only to have them falter. It’s not like he’s not ready, but I’d rather wait until 2013 to bring him up and know he’s ready than believe he’s ready only to see MLB pitchers exploit the things you fix in the minors.

    1. Jeff

      If he’s playing this well at Triple A, there is no need for another season there.

  9. pfk

    We have 3 decent starters. Cashner is very iffy and unproven and is a high probability arm problem. Wells isn’t an answer either. We need at least 2 more decent starting pitchers. A few years ago we kept depending on Wood and Prior and it always was an unfulfilled dream. If we bank on Cashner and Wells we run the same risk. If they perform and stay healthy – great, but we need insurance. No such thing as too much pitching.

  10. Seth Majewski

    if colvin doesn’t work out, which wouldnt be a total suprise the cubs could go after matt kemp in next year’s free agency. an outfield of jackson, kemp, and szcur/colvin would be fine with me.

  11. Mike S

    Say Jackson is called up and plays…where do you hit him? If you hit him first you take Castro out of his best spot in the lineup and if you hit him 2nd behind Castro you basically take away all of Jackson’s speed w/ Castro in front of him…Maybe 6th (which tends to lead off innings in the middle of the game) but is he good w/ RISP?? Ideally Jackson would be your leadoff hitter because of his speed and OBP…

  12. RoughRiider

    The biggest reason not to bring Jackson up is to save a spot on the 40 man roster. He’s not going to be a difference maker this year so there is no reason to rush him. Let him take September off and then play some winter ball. He can be a Non-Roster invitee in spring training and if he’s ready then put him on he roster. There will be some players that aren’t on the 40 man roster that will need to be protected from the minor league draft or risk being lost.

  13. Andrew

    I think if Jackson does come up and eventually start you would bat him 2nd in the lineup because from what I’ve read he has an above average OBP and although he strikes out a lot he also takes pitches and walks and that’s what the guy batting 2nd is supposed to do. It would look like…
    SS Castro
    CF Jackson
    3B Ramirez
    1B Fielder
    LF Byrd
    C Soto/Clevenger
    RF Colvin/Campanapaloza
    2B Barney
    P Dempster, Edwin Jackson, Garza, Wells, Cashner (sp)

    1. Chris

      That’s actually not a terrible looking line up. If Barney has a good year next year and Ramirez doesn’t stink we might actually break .500 (and if the NL Central doesn’t improve, that would almost make us competitive.)

      1. MichiganGoat

        Those are huge if’s! Barney will not start next year like he did this year and has sophomore slump written all over him,and it’s not a guarantee that ARam will be back next year and more importantly do we want his April/May production for 16M? There are question throughout this lineup and expecting .500 is a still a high expectations for next year. Let’s not get fooled by the if’s like we did this year.

        1. Toosh

          Exactly.

    2. Chris

      I would flip Jackson and Castro though. For my reasoning, see Mike S’ response.

    3. CubFan Paul

      BOOO!@edwin jackson

  14. Mike S

    Your number 2 hitter doesnt necessarily have to take a lot of walks, he needs to be the guy who strikes out the least…I have always said Castro is an IDEAL number 2 hitter. He lacks speed to be your leadoff hitter and has the OBP to bat second in front of your best hitter…I think Jackson should eventually bat leadoff (where it is ok to strike out) Your leadoff should be the fastest guy with the best OBP…

  15. willis

    I’d hit him first. Castro is tits at the top but is also damn good in the 2 spot. Jackson is almost ready if not already there. Soriano, God willing, will be waiving bye bye sometime this fall. The only logical thing to do is open up a spot for Jackson. If they can somehow hold on the Johnson for cheap, there’s a four man outfield (Byrd, Jackson, Colvin, Reed) who is badass defensively and can be adequate at the plate.

    And screw the maybes in the organization, you go hard after Pujols or Fielder. Get the sure thing and let the other guys develop. You can’t not sign one of those two because one of these kids drafted may be an ok player in 5 years. And if they do blow up in the minors, you use them for bait to get strong arms in return.

    And others have said, counting on Wells and Cashner next year, like we did this year, is playing a losing hand. Neither is dependable right now. And until they show us something that proves otherwise, going after an arm somehow is a must.

    1. hardtop

      “You can’t not sign one of those two because one of these kids drafted may be an ok player in 5 years.”

      well the good news is, neither of them will be very effective in 5 years. If we sign Pujols, we’ll be paying him to golf or play for someone else for the last 3 to 5 years of his contract, exactly like we are about to do with Soriano. Prince might be borderline useful at 32/33 years old, if he grows 4 inches and manages to not suffer from a heart attack before then. So, just in time to bring up Rock Shoulders ;) what a great name. i can hardly wait for 2018.

      1. willis

        I pretty much hate anything more than a 5 year deal, but to ink either one of those two it’s going to have to be at least 6. If we are a player in those sweepstakes, I don’t care about the money, I care about the years. Something like 6/$150 mil would be worth it. And then yes, one of these could be mashers will be ready to kick ass by then, and only in their early to mid 20s. Perfect plan. 2018 here we come.

  16. Vince

    Forget about getting Fielder, milwaukee will never give him up, they’ll find plenty of beer money to keep him and Braun. The Cubs should dump Quade because he’ll stand in the way of playing Jackson full time.

  17. jt

    I think Milwaukee offered dough boy 5/100 before the start of the season and he turned it down. With the way he’s been contributing to his team’s success this year I could see them possibly upping that offer and keeping him. You have to figure he’s going to be wanting at least 6-7 years at 20+. Whoever said 6/150 is probably pretty close. If that’s too rich for the brewers there aren’t a lot of teams in the NL that need a 1st baseman and that could take on that kind of salary. If he doesn’t stay in Milwaukee I think he will be a cub.

  18. RY

    i wouldn’t count on wells to be able to fetch a glass of water let alone win consistently next year. Who are the top five free agent starting pitchers heading into next year?

  19. ry

    oh great, wanger is looking for his first win since 2009, i am sure the cubs will oblige him. ramirez scratched with back spasms

  20. RoughRiider

    Brett,
    I feel compelled to write this. I’ve visited other blogs, mainly concerning the Cubs. This is the best by far of any that I have seen. I may not agree with everything that has been said but it’s a good place to have your say, get and sometimes give some information, and vent a little. We don’t agree on everything. Who does? But there is no doubt that 99.9 of the people who comment are true blue Cub fans. And I truly respect that you allow comments to be posted without waiting for your approval. I salute you and my fellow followers of your blog.

  21. ry

    well the shitty cubs wouldnt stay away for too long; not much worse in baseball than getting no-hit so far by none other than chien ming wang! nice job cubs bats!

  22. awesome

    Jackson still has to prove he can hit ML pitching, Colvin still hasn’t proved anything, i can’t see Ricky signing Fielder and releasing Soriano, too much money. Byrd has no power, Wells may be better in the Pen, Cashner hasn’t proved he’s a ML SP. and Quade is a new line-up everyday minor league manager.

    under Quade, Castro, Soto, Aram, and Byrd will start.

    under Quade, Jackson will ride the bench for months as a learning process,

    Barney may start again, all the rest will platoon under Quade.

  23. miggy80

    FYI, Jackson was 3-5 with 2 runs scored a BB and a K and a stolen base. LeMahieu was 3-4 with a double two RBI’s and a walk

  24. Joe Cartwright

    Mike Quade wants to win?

  25. Ramy16

    Wow rough riider great post I as well totally agree! Brett and people like yourself make this a great place for true blooded Cub fans!..Brett just don’t allow shit bird fans on here

    1. Matt Murton

      Not to be confused with Byrd fans

  26. Ramy16

    Quade is a minor league mngr at best…there’s no way in hell he should manage the Chicago Cubs..Brett by the way..who do you think is the best GM we’ve had if any?..i was going to say Dallas Greene..that was a great trade on his part to get Rick Sutcliffe

  27. ricosanto

    When they get rid of Sorry,one can hope, Colvin actually would be better in Left and Byrd in Right.Or if you trade Bryd ,Right Field could come from a trade or free agent. I wish we could have got Pence for Right.