Holy Smokes! Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters to Be Called Up Today (UPDATE: Baker Dealt, Campana Optioned)

Wow. It’s ok to be very excited about this.

After just this morning writing that the Chicago Cubs’ two top prospects at AAA Iowa – center fielder Brett Jackson and third baseman Josh Vitters – would be the subject of discussion for the next few weeks as the Cubs ponder their promotion schedule, it looks like the Cubs decided to step on the gas. According to miCubs, and later confirmed by Carrie Muskat, today, the Cubs have called up both Jackson and Vitters, for the series finale against the Dodgers.

There’s no word on corresponding roster moves (Jackson is not yet on the 40-man roster, by the way), but I think some safe guesses would be a Luis Valbuena DFA and Tony Campana heading back to Iowa. Joe Mather is probably also on the roster bubble. It’s possible there’s a trade in the works, too, but we’ve heard nothing about that right now.

It’s a bit earlier than either Jackson or Vitters was expected to arrive (Vitters does not yet have a full year at AAA, and Jackson hasn’t had a blow-out year he was expected to have there), but it’s not outrageously early for either one. Clearly, the Cubs have decided it’s time to see what they have in the two young men, on whom they might rely in 2013. Evaluating youngsters in September, when rosters expand, is always a tricky business, because the team is frequently playing another team full of its own youngsters. Calling the duo up now will give the Cubs both better data andmore data upon which to make their offseason decisions. It sounds like a very Theo/Jed/Jason move.

Jackson, 23, is ostensibly hitting decently at AAA Iowa: .256/.338/.479. But that line comes with a couple huge caveats. His BABIP is .372, which is higher than his career average (though, to be sure, Jackson will always have an elevated BABIP relative to the rest of the league, thanks to his speed, his left-handedness, and his high rate of line drives). And, relatedly, he’s striking out in more than a third of his plate appearances. I really can’t overstate how troubling that is. He does play quality outfield defense, and runs the bases extremely well, so there’s value there. But if he can’t get that strikeout rate down below 30%, he isn’t going to hit .225 in the bigs, and the value of his secondary skills becomes largely irrelevant (in other words, he becomes a slower Drew Stubbs).

Vitters, 22, is hitting .304/.356/.513 at AAA Iowa, where he is a bit young for the level. He’s walking more than ever, and showing more power than ever. Though you always have to take PCL numbers with a grain of salt, it’s fair to say Vitters is having the best offensive season of his career. The issue with him, however, has long been the defense at third base. Scouts say he just doesn’t have it – decent arm, but weak range and lead hands. I’m waiting to see for myself before passing judgment, but his 21 errors in just 95 games at third base this year certainly don’t impress.

Each will almost certainly become full-time players immediately (otherwise, what’s the point?). Vitters slots in easily at third, and Jackson probably takes over in center with David DeJesus moving back to right field. Bryan LaHair, unless there’s a trade, might be eating some bench.

As for contract stuff, you needn’t worry: the call-ups come long after the cut-off for making sure the Cubs get an extra year of control over each (assuming they stay up from here on out, neither would be eligible for free agency until after 2018), and after the likely cut-off for Super Two status (i.e., neither will get four years of arbitration, instead getting just three (that saves the Cubs money if they become quality players)).

I’m pretty excited to see these guys in action, and you should be, too. But make sure you ground that excitement in reality: there is no reason to expect that these two will tear up the bigs immediately (like, for example, Anthony Rizzo). And, even if they do, there is always a period of regression as the league adjusts. These final two months of the year will be as much about evaluation and learning as they are about putting up great stats. They might struggle. Badly. But it’s still going to be fun to see them on the big club, and it’s going to be good to get a better idea of how they might perform if they were counted on to be starters in 2013.

UPDATE: The two roster moves are, as guessed, Tony Campana heading down to Iowa, and (as not guessed) Jeff Baker being traded to the Detroit Tigers. At Iowa, Campana can slide back into Brett Jackson’s now-vacated starting spot in center field, and can get regular work. To the right team, Campana has so much value on the bench. That team, however, right now, is not the Chicago Cubs.

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

81 responses to “Holy Smokes! Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters to Be Called Up Today (UPDATE: Baker Dealt, Campana Optioned)”

  1. Ben

    I couldn’t be happier. They may not be “ready”, but it’s time to see what we have. This brings us one step closer to being a really competitive team in 2014. Give these kids a chance to play, and see if either of them can stick. I think Vitters will surprise people, and Jackon may not be as bad as people think.

  2. socalicubsfan

    Sweet! Congrats to both players and their families. Kinda cool Vitters is from SoCal and the Cubs are out here!

  3. Crockett

    Man, I’d much rather DFA Mather than Valbuena. He provides such a valuable LH bat with a bit of pop for the bench and is young still. Much rather have him vs. Mather going forward.

    1. willis

      I agree with this. Plus he plays better defense. His average is down but he would be an ok pop off the bench.

      Love the move. Why not? Let’s turn the page and get this ship headed in the right direction.

      1. Joshua Edwards

        According to BR, Valbuena has already accumulated a 0.8 dWAR–that’s good defense for a short-timer!

        How come no one else picked up on him? His offensive WAR is -0.5. (Ohhhh, right.)

        1. Crockett

          Yep. He shouldn’t start…we agree. But I can think of many worse options for the bench.

  4. Cub Style

    I’m excited to see Vitters at 3rd. Not excited to see Jackson swing and miss.

  5. Mrp

    Great news, hopefully we get to see them start today. I’m not expecting a whole lot out of them, but it is nice to finally turn the page and see what they can do.

  6. Fastball

    Hope they do well. We dont have anything else thats good and is close. If they dont pan out its going to be a long wait

  7. rhino70

    YES!!!!! Glad to see both of them coming up!

  8. Nancy Thomas

    RATS – we were hoping to see them play in Las Vegas today! Should be an interesting last two months – I’d hate to see Campy sent down, tho – he is so entertaining!

    1. CubbieBlue

      agreed, excited to see these guys play in the majors but mather and valbuena should go down and keep campana up he is so valuable off the bench basically a Dave Roberts type (huge for the Red Sox in there curse breaking World Series run)

  9. fromthemitten

    reliable sources (voices in my head) indicate that Soriano’s going to the Orioles for Bundy and Machado and Valbuena is going to the Orioles in a separate deal for one of Sidney Ponson’s used jockstraps. I’m saying they straight up HUSTLED the Orioles on that Valbuena deal…

  10. Dylan

    Aww….I was planning on shooting a couple I-Cubs game this week with Jackson and Vitters there. Now I don’t know who I should be watching closely with the I-Cubs?

    Sappelt? Coleman? Raley? Bueller? Bueller?

    But, congratulations to the two! They’ll do a solid job. Sure they won’t be amazing, but it’ll still be great to see what they can do.

  11. Hee Seop Chode

    Wow, this team got real young real fast! The Cubs are now 26 and under throughout the infield, and younger than that if you exclude Barney.

  12. Jesse

    Poor Tony..He cant get a break.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      If Campana could catch fastballs with his bat or anything other than routine flyballs in CF, then he wouldn’t need to catch breaks….

  13. Crockett

    Tony? I’m missing something.

    1. Cub Style

      Campana is going to continue to not play.

      1. Crockett

        Ohhh right.

        Well, he’s bad.

        1. Cub Style

          Nevermind, he’s playing in Iowa now haha

  14. Jesse

    And Hopefully this isnt like Rizzo LAST year.

  15. Deez

    I’m happy for both, but Vitters is the guy I want to see what he has. They talk about his mediocre defense, now, we get a chance to observe. Just hope both of them can hit to stick!

  16. Fastball

    I think Mather and Valbuena are Dfa’d. Valbuena goes back to AAA Mather will go on waivers and either be traded or released

  17. nkniacc13

    Id like them to DFA/trade Baker

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      You would DFA the guy with the team’s 2nd highest OPS against LHP?

  18. Joshua Edwards

    I think BJax is no worse than the LaHair/Campy platoon stuff, so his bar of expectation is pretty low. And compared to LaHair’s recent ABs, Jackson won’t look any worse than the other K machines in the lineup, so that’s fine. Might as well take the defensive upgrade and let the kid cut his teeth.

    Same thing with Vitters. Sure, Luis plays great defense but he is not a consistent hitter. And these are the Cubs: we watched Aramis plod around 3B for years. If Vitters is ready to hit they might as well let him figure out if he can be a ML hot corner man or has to move to the OF. He’s not going to provide Valbuena’s defense (far from it) but I think he’s earned the right to be the top guy on the depth chart.

    Time to find out what they look like in real life.

  19. Fastball

    I think Sveum will get Vitters defense squared away. He has improved Barney and Castro a greay deal. If yheu dont stick right off its ok. Not many fly on the first try

    1. Turn Two

      I think this is a fair point.

    2. art

      Fastball, Castro and Barney always had the tools to improve, Vitters according to all the reports I’ve read never had those tool, on defense.

  20. DocPeterWimsey

    Valbuena is a perfectly consistent hitter. He is bad plus/minus sampling error. A guy is not “good” when he gets a hit and “bad” when he does not, after all.

    And AAA is real life. People really need to understand that!

  21. Dan

    YES!

  22. KidCubbie

    Anybody know if they are expected to start in todays game?

  23. There’s More: Jeff Baker Has Been Traded to the Detroit Tigers (UPDATES: Two PTBNLs) | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary

    [...] just tweeted that Jeff Baker has been traded, and more moves are coming. There’s one of your Jackson/Vitters roster moves. I’ll update this post as more comes [...]

  24. Luke

    Jackson is likely to work very deep into counts, and I think he will continue to draw his fair share of walks. Hopefully the Cubs’ hitting coaches can help smooth out that strike out rate, but it will always be high.

    Vitters has the potential to spray line drives all over the diamond. His key will be his defense. If he shows he can handle the position decently, he might be the starting third baseman next season. If he can’t, well, we’ll be talking about that all winter.

    1. atfinch

      Luke, would you say more of Jackson’s strikeouts are swinging, or are a good amount of them looking? Or is that too tough to tell?

      1. Crockett

        Doesn’t really matter, but I would assuming swinging. Usually guys who have good eyes do K on swings.

        Anyone else notice that Jackson’s BB rate has tumbled precipitously?

      2. DocPeterWimsey

        I think that the more exact question is, what proportion of BJax’s strikes are swings on pitches out of the strike zone? Given that he takes so many walks, it’s unlikely that he swings at too many pitches outside of the zone.

        1. atfinch

          The reason I ask is because maybe he’s just not aggressive enough, or maybe he’s guessing too much at the plate. I know there’s a little bit of guessing what the pitch will be in every at-bat, but I’m asking because is it something that can be coached? I have a lot of concerns that he’s never going to make contact enough to be a valuable player.

          1. DocPeterWimsey

            BJax is a “selectively aggressive” hitter, which is the classic moneyball approach. He has a very good eye and excellent power, but his contact skills are not great. He might improve his contact skills by shortening his swing, but that could come at the cost of power and walks.

            There is the idea that MLB coaching could correct that whereas miLB coaching could not. However, MLB coaching really is about tuning the piano; it’s miLB coaching that’s supposed to string the bloody instrument in the first place.

            1. Luke

              If he can shorten his swing with two strikes he can probably cut back on the strikeouts somewhat.

              The downside is he might turn what would have been a strikeout into an easy grounder to second for a double play. His speed should offset that risk a little.

        2. Crockett

          And this belies his large, unfixable flaw…putting bat on ball.

      3. Luke

        Now we’ll find out. Those sorts of numbers are inconsistently tracked in the minors. I am looking forward to getting some major league numbers on him.

  25. Bric

    Totally the right decision. Waiting ’til September is the same reasoning that got us Quade for a year of uselessness (but he was 23-14 as coach, right?)

    Sure, both kids have issues but one thing’s clear- 3 more weeks of AAA are going to answer those questions. Jackson’s been striking out for a year and half in the minors and leaving him in Iowa doesn’t seem to be helping. If they didn’t come up until September those questions wouldn’t be answered anyway. You know, sample size and all that.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      I certainly agree with the idea that 3 weeks of AAA won’t debug the flaws in either Vitters or BJax’s games. If nothing else, then this is a good PR move: fans always get irrationally excited about decent farmhands getting to the big show, even if they cannot name more than 3 players in the team’s minor league system. (I.e., the “Is Pat Cline up yet?” sort of fan….)

      1. Turn Two

        Haven’t seen this front office do anything yet for PR’s sake. Doubt that it’s the case here.

  26. atfinch

    Anyone want to take a guess as to what their jersey #’s will be? I have no idea what they are in Iowa (Vitters was 12 maybe?) but doesn’t guarantee they’ll be the same in the bigs anyway.

  27. willis

    Not sure what I’m happier about…these guys up or Campana going back to Iowa. Outstanding news so far today.

    1. atfinch

      Yeah, I agree, I wasn’t as big on Campana as others are. I wish he would have gotten more at bats but I just don’t think he gets on base enough to use his best asset, those wheels.

  28. cking

    So jacked to see the kids come up I got tickets for Thursday’s game against the Reds and next month against the Giants. Best weekend ever reading this article on the train home from lollaplooza man I love Chicago!

  29. SplitFinger

    I like this move! I know a lot of people are saying Vitters isn’t ready for the bigs but so what if he isn’t. This season is over and now is the time to do something like this. Jackson’s strikeout rate is a concern, but who cares at this point.(Again, the season is over for the Cubs)

  30. cas-castro

    Congratulations to Vitters and Jackson. More reasons to watch this team the next 8 weeks ..Let’s see what the kids can do.