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Brett Jackson is the Chicago Cubs’ top prospect for a reason. He’s a fast, disciplined, powerful, athletic center fielder who’s had success at every level of the minor leagues, and is just 23.

Jason McLeod is the Chicago Cubs’ Scouting and Player Development Chief for a reason. When Tom Ricketts finagled Theo Epstein as the team’s baseball president, Epstein immediately wanted, together with Jed Hoyer, one man to join him in Chicago: Jason McLeod. The two worked together in Boston where McLeod engineered some of the best drafts in baseball.

So, when you combine Jackson and McLeod, you get one big ball of happy for Cubs fans.

And McLeod is a big fan of Jackson’s. From Dave van Dyke:

So what should Cubs fans expect when they finally get to see Jackson, who mostly has served as left-handed leadoff hitter in the minors but also has raw power?

“An exciting player,” [Jackson] replied without hesitation. “I value myself as a team player and someone who can really ignite an offense at the head of the lineup or in the middle. I’m capable of hitting for power and driving runners in, plus there’s nothing like getting on base and being driven in by somebody too.”

In other words, he believes he can do it all. And maybe he can.

McLeod, the man who bypassed him in the draft for the Red Sox, says the question on Jackson at Cal-Berkeley was “his overall hitting ability … but I loved his athleticism. He just looked the part (of being great). There weren’t too many guys walking around who had that physical package.”

The package now has matured to 6 feet 2 and 210 pounds. In his full two minor-league seasons, Jackson has shown the expected speed (51 steals) and power (32 homers, 55 doubles, 144 RBIs), but he also has struck out a lot (264 against 146 walks).

“The thing with Brett is his upside is so big because he has the strength and speed and can play defense and really throw,” said McLeod, who hasn’t seen Jackson play in person since college. “Ultimately, his bat is going to tell who he is, whether he’s going to be a superstar or complementary player.”

Once again, I love how this front office is, at once, optimistic and candid. Jackson’s ceiling is enormous, but, if he doesn’t cut down on the strikeouts, he might be no more than a “complementary player,” as McLeod rightly points out.

Even with a dynamite Spring, Jackson will not break camp with the Cubs short of a couple injuries. He could use some more time at AAA, and the Cubs could use a couple months to delay his service clock and assure another year of team control down the road (not to mention hopefully avoiding Super Two status, which will save them millions in the future). But that’s no reason not to be excited about Jackson’s future.

And, then, let your mind dream about a future outfield featuring Jackson, Yoenis Cespedes, and Matt Szczur, which would be, if nothing else, the best defensive outfield in baseball…

  • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

    Even with the high K rate, if he can keep up his 12% BB rate and put up 20 homers a year that will do a lot to help him be successful in the majors. Hopefully, Jaramillo’s agressive approach will get him to swing at more of the borderline pitches and learn to drive them.

    Edit: thank you for not using the “I just hit a home run so now I am hungry and will unhinge my jaw to eat that tasty mouse I see” picture

    • EQ76

      Good defense and 20+ HRS is something we haven’t had out of an OF in a long time.

  • Ron

    I like defense.

  • Justin

    How good is Cespedes defensively? Most of what you read is about his offensive ability.

    • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

      Conservatively, Cespedes appears to be above average in center and very good in the corners. With the Cubs he would eventually wind up in one of the corners. Jackson, Ha, and Szczur are all likely to be better in center.

      • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

        Agree, if Jackson and Szczur can stick in the majors (a big IF) then your outfield would probably look: LF: Cespedes CF: Szczur RF: Jackson — and that my friends, would be a FANTASTIC outfield for the money

        • SouthernCub

          Why would you place the weakest of the 3 defenders in CF?!

    • Kyle

      I’ve seen some people describe him as “average” in center with concerns that he might have to move to the corners if he puts on any weight in his late 20s. A lot of other people think he’s above-average in center.

      Everyone agrees he’s at least above average in the corners.

      • DocWimsey

        Have people seen Cespedes play corner positions? Some guys who are very good in CF have some problems in LF or RF simply because the ball slices much more, especially from opposite field hits. And, of course, sometimes slower guys who get great reads on the depth of a ball hit at them are better CFers than faster guys who don’t. (Byrd is a pretty good example of that.)

        And, of course, there are those guys who just play the outfield well: perhaps Cespedes is one of those.

  • jr5

    I like Jackson. If he can stick in center as an average defender (or, hopefully, an above-average one) it makes a huge difference in how well his bat needs to play for him to be a really good player.

    And as high as McLeod seems to be on his defense, I’m hopeful he will.

    Either way, the respective developments of Jackson and Rizzo are going to go a long way to determining how quickly the Cubs can be a really good team. If you can run three young, cheap, really good players out to the field every day, two of them at premium positions (Jackson in center, Castro at short) and the other an above average defender at first, that is such an advantage. Especially for a big market team, which can then allocate resources elsewhere, like the rotation.

  • SteveO

    I know I’ll catch some hell for this, but I don’t think Szczur will ever amount to much. He will be 23 this year and has never been above A ball.

    • JB88

      Maybe not, but you have to remember that he has been playing professional ball for a very short period of time. There is no reason to think that Szczur won’t move up to AA at some point this year, with an expected arrival date in the majors sometime in late 2013.

      • SteveO

        Why is that an excuse? You can’t say he doesn’t have the experience and then say he’ll be MLB ready in two years. Nothing about last season says Matt Szczur should be playing a full season of AA ball or even see 300 AA at bats in 2012. He is at least 3 1/2 seasons away from a call up. He’ll be 26.

        • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

          This is where you have to blend scouting and stats. While his stats last year weren’t impressive, it was his first year concentrating solely on baseball. Considering that, along with the fact that scouts rave about his tools and athleticism. He should be able to start the year in A+ and if he does well there, he will earn a promotion to AA, if he does well there and in Spring Training next year he could easily start the year in Iowa.
          Granted, a LOT of things could happen to derail that between now and then but he is a very talented athelete (read some of the football scouting reports and you will see what I mean) but I think a Sept 2013 callup is not out of the question with a Sept. 2014 callup at the latest.
          With a prospect like Szczur you can’t get too antsy about his age, unless it takes until mid-season 2013 for him to be in AA.

          • JulioZuleta

            This is the first offseason that he has been able to dedicate to baseball. I think there’s potential to be some big growth this year. But, I will admit that for part of me is very skeptical that he’ll be a major league starter.

        • Scotti

          Szczur played all but one month of last season as a 21-y/o in Peoria (low A). His slash line was .314/.366/.431/.796. Very impressive for a guy with speed. The “age appropriateness” issue really has nothing to do with age but, rather, experience. Rich Hill and Brandon Guyer also got late starts (both had later starts that The Rat–Hill was in low A at 23 and Guyer at 22) and their ages have not been an issue. Pre-Steve Blass, Rich Hill was considered one of the best young left-handed arms in MLB baseball and Guyer got a brief call up in Tampa after having hit .333 over the last two and a half years (over 1,000 AB in high A, AA and AAA).

          Back to Szczur… In 1 1/2 years in pro ball he’s got 548 AB and has a .303/.350/.431/.781 career slash line. Again, impressive for a guy with speed and he’s been in leagues where he has been very EXPERIENCE appropriate. Szczur also makes contact–he struck out a measly 10% (exactly) of his plate appearances last season even with struggling a bit after his mid-season promotion. 10% is exceptional in today’s game.

          Re. “He is at least 3 1/2 seasons away from a call up. He’ll be 26.” You just picked those numbers out of thin air, didn’t you? 3 1/2 years has him repeating a new level somewhere. If he follows Guyer’s progression–one level per season the rest of the way with a call up when he’s in his AAA year–then he’ll be looking at a call up in 2 1/2 years and he will either be 24 or have JUST turned 25. Ain’t nothing wrong with a guy who had a late start showing up just days after turning 25. If he progresses faster then, obviously, he gets up sooner but that depends a lot on the team’s needs as well. There is nothing in his play thus far that would indicate that he won’t handle regular promotions.

          Regarding who Szczur is as a prospect, well, he obviously makes excellent contact, he has, IMO, plus speed (but not plus, plus speed) that translates very well to the sport of baseball (he accelerates very well), very, very good size and build and a swing that should produce, at least, average MLB power (Keith Law smokes crack) and he’s got the tools of a true center-fielder. It’s important to remember that he has already played in the Futures Game so he’s very well regarded in the organization and around the league. I think there is a very good chance that he is a MLB starter and a decent chance that he hits enough to be a star.

          • Kyle

            I think it’s pretty clear with what we know now that Rich Hill was never a good pitcher and that his brief flirtation with usefulness was a mirage based on luck. The strikeouts were nice, but he always walked too many and gave up too many home runs. His 1.5 respectable-looking seasons came on a huge amount of BABIP luck, which predictably didn’t sustain itself.

            Honestly, if Rich Hill and Brandon Guyer, who both suck, are the best you can do for the “starting late” crowd, I think you may have underminded the point you were trying tom ake.

            Though I do agree with the point: Szczur gets a little bit of a pass because of his lack of experience. That said, it cuts both ways. It raises his ceiling and lowers his floor, because we just don’t know if that experience will manifest itself in improved skills or not.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              You also always have to wonder whether there was some development at key ages that was missed, and cannot be achieved later in life.

              Samardzija is just now figuring out how to be an effective pitcher.

    • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

      I’m with ya. I think the fact that he donated bone marrow kind of creates a bias of wanting him to be better than he actually is. The Tim Tebow effect!

    • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

      as far as break out impact or all star caliber… i tend to agree. to be 18-20 in low A ball is one thing. you hit 23 you better make your run and quick or start thinking about being a career minor leaguer. but you know if your just average with the bat and the glove and the wheels are above average you can still become a fixture in the majors at CF. i think we get a much better idea of what exactly we got in this kid, this year.who knows maybe he goes to boston as comp. in the next two weeks and we never hear from him again.

    • Kyle

      I don’t like to make definitive “will” or “won’t” statements on prospects, but I am a lot more bearish on Szczur than most people. I know he hasn’t been a full-time baseball player very long for his age, but that’s not really a great thing. Those formative years are key for developing the kind of hand-eye coordination and pitch recognition skills that are necessary to be a MLB hitter. It may be like learning a language: starting late means you may never catch up.

      • Mick

        In Szczur’s defense, it wasn’t his choice to start in A ball. Because of his production he was promoted to AA late last season, batted .364 in the post-season and helped Daytona win their league championship.

        • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

          He also struggled in 182 reg season PA in A+ with a walk rate even Josh Vitters can beat.

        • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

          He started in Low A and was promoted to High A, not AA.

          Szczur doesn’t worry me. It is not uncommon for college hitters to spend a full season at the single A level before they start moving up. He finished up in High-A and had some success there, so I’d say he’s right on track. He’ll start 2012 in High-A and get promoted to Double-A as soon as he merits it. He should start 2013 in either Tennessee or Iowa, but either way he could easily be in position for a second half call up.

          Scouts pretty consistently have said that he made surprisingly good progress for a two sport guy last season. The tools are absolutely there, so if the scouts are happy with his progress in polishing those tools, I see no reason to be worried yet.

          Now if he hits .215 in a full season at Daytona in 2012, that’s a different story.

          • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

            I don’t see the success in High A that you see…

            • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

              Look past the season numbers. He struggled for the 100 ABs or so (not uncommon when a player is promoted and is facing a higher level of pitching), but he finished the season fairly strong and put up some nice numbers in the playoffs. He was a big part of Daytona’s success in the FSL Playoffs.

              • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

                eh, 192 plate app’s is already a small sample. I don’t think I’d want to to draw any conclusions (that he improved) because he had a good 10 games at the end of the season.

                • JB88

                  But it is okay to conclude that he struggled based on the same limited sample size? Failing to understand the logic on that one …

                  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

                    I”m not concluding anything other than he sucked in High A in 192 at bats.
                    I’m not going to take 30 at bats at the end of the year as a sign of improvement.
                    You said: “There is no reason to think that Szczur won’t move up to AA at some point this year, with an expected arrival date in the majors sometime in late 2013.”
                    I disagree, I think there is PLENTY of reason to think that won’t happen, and it all starts with his approach.

      • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

        very difficult to make a definitive statement. but the clock is ticking. i think he is indeed behind in his development.

  • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

    is there really no other info on concepcion? so the agent says last week” this weekend or at the latest, the start of next week”. well its almost the end of this week and we have no additional info on his client? has anyone seen anything or heard any news aside from the “non- update” that im sure brett was unimpressed with as he was posting it. thanks anyway brett, we all know your a bloodhound always fallowing the cubs sent.

  • Kyle

    Since you love being corrected, Brett, the [McLeod said] should be a [Jackson said].

    Unless McLeod is the one who sees himself as an ignition for offenses. It had me kind of confused on first read-through.

  • ferrets_bueller

    That quote has me seriously confused about the identities of McLeod and Jackson.  Are they secretly the same person?

    • JulioZuleta

      Yeah, I noticed that too. I guess the secret is out now.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        The ambiguous pronouns were an issue, and I didn’t help things in trying to clear it up. It should be fixed now.

  • cjdubbya

    Anyone else reporting Nats are talking Marlon Byrd and a prospect for Jon Lannan? Hot Stove Cubbies guy is talking that on Twitter – anyone else read that anywhere?

    • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

      another average pitcher, 27 years old, that just lost in arb. well im not sure how i feel about that. byrd is a FA at the end of this year, and well just dont see that as in the clubs best interest one way or the other. mabe youth wise it does, but last time i looked byrd was a pretty good CF regardless of his age. this guy lannan well what can he offer the team aside from depth in the rotation, maybe the bullpen?

      • Kyle

        Yeah, I’m not real interested in Lannan. He’s a nice little pitcher, but we are actually doing pretty nicely on rotation depth. He’s only got two more seasons until free agency. I want longer-term assets for Byrd.

        • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

          plus they want us to send a prospect in the deal… forget it

        • JB88

          He is an extreme ground ball pitcher, though. A quality in its pitchers that this FO seems to be putting a lot of emphasis in acquiring.

          • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

            i knew someone would say that… and you are right. and mayme the thought process is pitchers are also easy to deal at the deadline for prospects. but i dont see the FO giving up anything aside from byrd to aquire another SP. also i think byrd is gonna have a nice season, in this his FA year to try and show the league hes worthy of another contract

    • ferrets_bueller

      That guy has as much credibility as my left big toe.

  • KidCubbie

    Nats sign Edwin Jackson to one-year deal. So much for the cubs picking him up.

  • North Side Irish

    Jim Callis wrote on BA and Twitter today that the 2012 Draft has a clear top five and then a drop-off…and the Cubs pick 6th. Obviously still a long way off and things will change, but I’m excited to see what McLeod’s first draft looks like.

    • Chaz

      The draft is so far away that I can’t imagine there are any clear cut favorites. They will completely change come draft day

    • hrubes20

      I think there is a clear-cut top 6 in the draft right now, not including the likely possibility of a HS senior or two pushing themselves to that spot. Dylan Bundy wasn’t a top 5 player at this point last year and ended up being the best HS pitcher in the draft and the #4 overall pick.

      My top 6, in no particular order, would be Giolito/Appel/Buxton/Gausman/Zunino/Marrero. I am not a fan of Marrero, but I still think he’s a top 6 pick. Hopefully to someone above the Cubs.

      • North Side Irish

        Callis didn’t have Gausman in his group, but he’s certainly got a chance to be there. Callis was talking a lot of draft stuff today on Twitter, but it’s all for fun right now. There’s still an entire season to be played…someone will come out of nowhere and someone will blow out their arm.

        It’s not a great draft and the HS class is stronger than the college one. Throw in trying to figure out the new draft rules, the FO will be earning their money this year.

        • hrubes20

          Most definately. Should be fun to follow. My early impressions are that it is a perfect draft for the Cubs this year. A likely top-tier of 6-7 guys (Cubs pick #6), following by a group of guys where the 20th pick is likely very similar in talent to the guy at the 43rd pick (Cubs compensation for Aramis). Throw in 3 more picks in the top 100, and you definately should have some great additions to the farm.

  • Idaho Razorback

    I wouldn’t trade Byrd for Lannan and a prospect unless the prospect is quality. With this being a free agent year for Byrd and him doing that martial arts thing, I think he will have a great year. Wait until the trade deadline to deal him.

  • oswego chris

    wow…you guys are fast…I don’t like to throw trades out there but I was goinig to propose the Byrd for Lannan thing myself…I would do this in a New York minute…never have enough starting pitching…and you could have some serious tradeable surplus if you made this trade…

    • KidCubbie

      And just maybe that frees up a CF spot for Jackson. I know the cubs want to wait and start his clock later this year, but just maybe…..

  • OHBearCub

    I like the young outfield which will be do talented I wood compare y to the Rangers.
    I hope Vitters shows up to play third. Maybe Junior Lake can play second with Barney as our utility infielder. I wouldn’t mind Soto being traded for more depth. Would be a nice ball club of athletic high ceiling kids.

    • ferrets_bueller

      “I like the young outfield which will be do talented I wood compare y to the Rangers.”

      Not to be an ass, but…..what???…does that say?

       

  • http://bleachernation.com ricosanto

    I think Theo next year will go after , very hard , Andre Ethier, .Putting in Czure, is way too much premature.How about an OF of Cepedes in LF, Jackson CF, Either RF. I think Czaure will be more like Reed Johnson.

    • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

      these are my exact words on both… man you are good! i think its no mystery that theo is very high on ethier, and makes a big play on him. as for szczur i would have to be flattered by the reed johnson comparison. i love the way reed plays the game. if his tools matched his heart the guy would be the greatest of all time!

      • Brady

        Also if the skills matched the awesomness of his goatee he would be fantastic as well.

    • ferrets_bueller

      I dunno about Ethier…maybe if he’s going to play LF, but he’s an absolutely horrible RF.  He’s the biggest example of the ridiculousness of the Gold Glove award in the 2011 class.

      • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

        but boy do we love his swing!!

      • DocWimsey

        Yeah, that one did make you wonder what games the guys who play & coach the game are watching!

        But I also agree with loyal100more: Ethier is a great hitter. He can flub a few balls in left for the Cubs if it gets us his OPS.

        • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

          and that swing is so cherry that you know he will put up impressive career numbers, making solid contact will never be an issue for him… not a bad long contract guy, his skill set probably wont change drasticly through out his career.

      • yield51

        I’m hoping Ethier isn’t in Chicago next year. Like it or not, it doesn’t look as though Soriano is going anywhere for a while, so he would need 300 AB’s or so. All indications are that Jackson will most likely be ready next year. We would still have DeJesus for at least another year (3rd option). It seems as though most people around here want to hang onto Sappelt and see what he can do. While Campana will never be an everyday player, he does have value pinch running late in games. Cespedes? There seems to be a logjam in the outfield (granted none of which have a tremendous ceiling).

        I would rather see an addition of either Greinke/Cain/Hamels in the rotation. And maybe try to save David Wright from Citi Field. After Stewart/Vitters, there really isn’t anybody close to contributing at 3B, and both of those guys are big ?’s.

        • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

          i think one way or the other soriano is gone at the end of this season. ethier is a guy that signed long term WILL amass 3000 hits and 300 homers. the swing tells the story, all he has to do is stay healthy and he’ll be productive into his mid to late 30’s. having a guy like that on your club is every GM’s dream come true.

          • yield51

            Is this a joke? He WILL be 30 years old to start the season (April 10). He would need 213 hits/year and 20 HR’s/year for the next 10 years to reach 3000 hits and 300 HR’s. His single season high in hits is 162, and he has topped 30 HR’s once (31).

            • Jeremy

              I think they go after Cole Hamels really hard barring an extension not Either. Either would not fit into the youth movement the Cubs are trying to create.

        • ferrets_bueller

          I’ve made my feelings on David Wright known several times on here, and want no part of him.  He is a significantly changed player ever since being hit in the head- the swinging Ks and poor pitch selection are never going to revert IMO.

  • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

    brett jackson has a twin in hollywood… ryan gosslin

  • Scotti

    Coming to the party late here but you KNOW that McLeod has got to recognize that they made a mistake in by-passing Jackson. He strikes out (23.9% for his career) but he also hits for good power and he walks. The guy the brain trust in Boston passed Jackson over for (Reymond Fuentes) K’s (19.9%) doesn’t hit for power (and never will) and doesn’t walk.

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