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josh vitters brett jacksonIn early August 2012, the focus of a great deal of Chicago Cubs attention was squarely pointed at Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters. The two were, at the time, among the top legacy positional prospects in the organization, and they were certainly the two that were closest to the big leagues. Each was a former first round pick, and each was dreamed upon as a future piece for the big league team. When would they make their debut, we wondered, and more importantly: how would they fare?

On August 5 of that year, the two were called up on the same day, and, in a demonstration of what that 2012 season was like, the call-ups were met with overwhelming excitement. I tried my best to describe, as of that day, where things stood with the two prospects:

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.

Unfortunately, the well-founded concerns associated with Jackson and Vitters proved prescient, as so often is the case with prospects (always remember that!). Jackson continued to struggle with serious contact issues, both in his call-up and in the ensuing 2013 season. Vitters, who also struggled in his limited time in the bigs, was eventually moved off of third base, and enters 2014 as an outfielder. Each battled injuries in 2013, though it’s important to draw at least one distinction: when healthy, Vitters hit very well in 2013. Jackson, who dramatically reworked his swing, unfortunately did not.

And now the two former top prospects are linked once again, as each has arrived early to Spring Training with the hopes of securing a big league job (as outfielders, and with a crowded bench, they could actually now be in direct competition). Even before that, however, there’s merely a hope that they can show they’ve still got a future with the organization. Each is currently on the 40-man roster.

There are a handful of great write-ups on Jackson’s and Vitters’ offseasons, and where their minds are at right now as Spring Training begins: Patrick Mooney on Jackson here, Carrie Muskat on Jackson here, and Jesse Rogers on Vitters and Jackson here. Among the takeaways:

  • Jackson isn’t completely abandoning the swing changes implemented last year, though he’s trying to make them feel a little more natural for him. “The changes I was trying to make last year had all the right intentions and all the right cues for me to become a better player,” he said, per Cubs.com. “However, I was fighting my nature, I was fighting who I was as a natural athlete, and I think that made my time at the plate a struggle.”
  • Jackson is definitely a gifted natural athlete, but the Cubs had to do something, given that Jackson’s “nature” was to have serious contact issues. Maybe last year’s changes were just the first step along the path to Jackson reworking his swing in a way that will work for him. He needn’t completely cut out the strikeouts to be a valuable piece, at least on the bench, long-term, given how well he does everything else (speed, defense, power).
  • It seems like the best case scenario for Jackson is a demonstration in Spring Training that his new swing is finally paying dividends, and securing a starting job in the Iowa outfield. From there, he’ll have an opportunity to rework himself into the organization’s plans, while remaining on the 40-man roster. At 25, there’s still a potential future for Jackson, but the first half of this season might be his last chance to prove it.
  • As for Vitters, I think it’s important to point out that, at 24, and after a great deal of success at AAA, his bat still projects as big league-capable – anywhere from bench-caliber, to starting caliber (even in a corner outfield spot). His “down” 2013 season was entirely the product of a variety of injuries, and he hit extremely well when he was on the field. It’s not inconceivable that, if his transition to the outfield takes, Vitters could be a better near-term option as the starter in left field than Junior Lake.
  • Vitters took the offseason off, in terms of playing games, and instead focused on the mental side of the game with the Cubs’ sports psychologist, per Rogers’ piece. I’ll be very interested to hear/see how Vitters looks in the outfield, and whether he’s carrying forward the bat he’s shown the last two years at AAA. If the power and plate discipline continue to improve, as it looks like they have, Vitters will have a future in the big leagues in some capacity. It could start as soon as this year with the Cubs. But, starting the year back in AAA as a starting outfielder (likely left field) definitely shouldn’t be viewed as any kind of step back.
  • In the end, the big league emergence of Jackson or Vitters should probably be viewed as a bonus, rather than something the organization is counting on (the fan mindset, at least, should be very different today than it was in August 2012). The good news for these guys is that there are absolutely near-term jobs to be had in the big league outfield, with many of the top prospects currently either in the infield or a couple years away.
  • VittersStartingLF

    I think Vitters should start in LF everyday and see what he can do. Same with Lake in CF. Sweeny can back up both of them. Jackson will hopefully play well enough in Iowa to get his chance to play later in the season after trades and injuries.

    • Noah_I

      But Sweeney’s likely a better player than either Lake or Vitters right now, and you won’t build trade value for Sweeney if he’s playing twice a week. Plus, Vitters has almost no experience in the outfield. I just don’t see the harm in starting him down in Iowa, hope he can get off to a good, healthy start, and let him play the outfield every day for a month or two to adjust.

      Maybe it’s just that I expect Lake to fail so miserably this season that I don’t think playing time in left field is going to be an issue down the road. My guess for the Cubs’ outfield on August 1:

      LF Vitters, CF Jackson, RF Kalish

      • Napercal

        What did Lake do last year that leads you to expect him to fail miserably? He hit well, he has great speed and he has all the tools to be a good defensive outfielder. For the life of me, I can’t understand all of the negativity surrounding Lake on this site!

        • http://bleachernation.com woody

          It seems that the caricature of Lake these days is similar to Castro. Based on what Lake did last year what is not to like? The guy busted out of the gate like a champ and I remember during the series with the dodgers the announcers were comparing his success with Puig’s. Then he lead the Dominican winter league in hitting before the FO shut him down. You know that while a lot of players are taking it easy and playing golf etc. guys like Valbuena and Lake are playing baseball. I can see some of the criticism regarding Castro based on that awful season and the mental lapses, but the criticism of Lake i just don’t get it. The guy hits .295 a in a half season at the MLB level and is hitting .365 in winter ball and then gets kicked around by all the people here. I’m wondering what all this criticism is based on? Certainly it isn’t based on past performance. When I see Lake I am amazed at the similarities in his build and tool set to Soriano. And if the cubs do surprise in 2014 and out perform the gloomy forecast I believe that Junior Lake will be one of the reasons why.

          • Napercal

            Thank you for that full-throated defense. Lake’s continued development is one of the only things to look forward to at the major league level this season.

          • Kyle

            “Based on what Lake did last year what is not to like? ”

            The swing-and-a-miss tendencies.

            He swung and missed more often than just about any hitter in baseball last year. He managed to be insanely productive when he did happen to make contact. History tells us that when you have such a dichotomy, the likely continuation is that the swing-and-miss continues but the productivity doesn’t.

            • Rich H

              26.8% is not one of the worst in baseball. Is it too high for what he is? YES! But his KRate is not nearly at as high as say Adam Dunn at 31.1%, or Mark Reynolds at 30%.

              • Patrick W.

                It’s not just strike outs.

                Adam Dunn over his career has had 11.5% of his pitches seen as swinging strikes. Last season Junior Lake’s swinging strike rate was 16.3%

                Last year Adam Dunn had 12% Swinging Strikes, Mark Reynolds was 15.2%

                • Kyle

                  And that portends striking out more in the future than he was at that point.

                  His peripheral peripherals were saying that his peripherals were lucky. We’re one step further down the rabbit hole.

                  • Patrick W.

                    Agreed. He also swings a lot more than Adam Dunn. He swung at 34% (24% for Dunn) of the pitches he saw outside the strike zone last season. That’s just huge. I don’t see how he gets better at that. His contact in the zone is fine, but his aggressive approach will likely lead to more strikeouts without the needed offsetting home runs.

              • Kyle

                I didn’t say K-rate. I said swing-and-miss.

        • EQ76

          Of all the bodies of water, it’s likely that Lake is one of the weaker. Lake does not have the power of a rushing River or the strength of an Ocean’s tide. I would put Lake ahead of Creek and Pond though.

          • http://bleachernation.com woody

            I guess that last bong hit went to your head!

            • EQ76

              haha.. just trying to shed some light on why some may not be so “high” on Lake.

        • Noah_I

          It’s that Lake strikes out in about 27% of his plate appearances and only walks in 6% of them. His success last season was wholly dependent on a BABIP near .380. The list of players who struck out 27% of the time, walked only 6%, and were able to maintain a BABIP anywhere near that is exceedingly small, if such a list exists at all.

          Odds are Lake’s BABIP drops, and even if it drops to .330 he’s a replacement level player at best.

          • Rich H

            There will be some normalization of his BABIP there is no doubt about that but his walk rate is only part of the equation with Lake. He consistently gets on base other ways like HBP and using his speed.

            I do think that Lake has become the anti-hero for all the smart Cubs fans because of the success he had was not really sustainable the way he went about it. After years of Cubs fans getting excited about marginal talents that have a good break out campaigns there is a large percentage of guys that just look at his numbers and wonder if it is smoke and mirrors then assume a serious regression is right around the corner.

            Besides Keith Law can’t be wrong about Lake.

            • Patrick W.

              If Lake continues to swing at 1 out of every 3 pitches he sees outside the zone and only makes contact on 1 out of every 6 pitches he sees outside the zone, he just won’t get the pitches he needs to be very successful. He just can’t get hit by enough pitches.

            • hansman

              Yes, there are a lot of us that have looked at Cubs players that have succeeded in year 1 and then went on to be craptacular thereafter and learned what is something that we can base the future on.

              We have learned that BABIP is a useful tool to look at a player’s performance and determine if it is sustainable. Generally this means that players that were really good or really crappy in one year had a skewed BABIP and a lazy analysis can conclude (and generally be correct) that Lake will have a decline in productivity.

              Even if he is a high-BABIP player, very few players can maintain an insane BABIP one way or the other and, most likely, he will fall several tens of points in BA which means his OBP will fall below .300 and his SLG will fall closer to .400.

              Now, he could buck the trend of all of the other players ever and maintain a ridiculously high BABIP when he does so many other things poorly, but it isn’t likely.

              Add on that it appears his defense isn’t good enough for CF, he is going to be a below-league average hitter in LF. I give him this season and he will be shipped to some other team’s AAA team where he will get called up for half a season, post another high-BABIP season and Cubs fans will wail and gnash their teeth that Theo let Babe Ruth walk.

    • Jason P

      I’d be all for that when June rolls around and the Cubs are 15+ games out. Until then, I want to see the best team possible on the field just for that tiny sliver of chance the Cubs surprise.

      • Brandon

        I’m with you on that.

  • When The Musics Over

    What happened to Hansman?

    • hansman

      I heard he got tired of having the same discussions over and over and over and over. Rumor has it he checked the comments after a week and realized he missed out on a lot of copy and pasting.

      • Patrick W.

        I’d like to point out that today is the first day I’ve discussed how mediocre I think Junior Lake is going to be.

        • Rich H

          Mine as well even though I don’t think he is going to be replacement level like some.

      • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

        You too? Me too? Except I didn’t have any hamburgers on my hiatus.

  • Blackhawks1963

    This is the last gasp for both VItters and Jackson. I’m not hopeful on either. If not for being former 1st round draft picks then the reality is the world would have already written off both. Vitters enters his 8th year in the organization and its still unclear what he is. Plus he doesn’t have a position on the field. Meanwhile, Jackson has spent three consecutive seasons at Triple A, to include a demotion to Double A last year. Yet he still can’t make contact in 30% of his at bats.

    • Funn Dave

      Agreed.

      • Norm

        Disagree. I think if Vitters were a 10th rd pick no one has been talking about for the last 6 years, people would be saying give him a chance at the big league job.

        • Noah_I

          The one caveat I’d give to that is they might not be clamoring to give Vitters a STARTING job if he was a 10th round pick, but they’d be saying “what’s the harm in having him be the 5th outfielder?”

          Outside of those of us who really followed prospects, not many people knew who Logan Watkins was before last season or so.

    • http://bleachernation.com woody

      I didn’t realize that Vitters was entering his 8th year in the organization. That seems like an eternity for a first round pick. Could you imagine any of the top five prospects we have now languishing in the minors for seven years? It seems to me that whoever was scouting and choosing draft picks back in that era didn’t have much skill or luck. Based on the picks of Almora and Bryant it looks like this administration is making much better choices.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        By all accounts, there was another factor: the Tribune Corp. didn’t want Hendry spending ton of money on prospects. So, the Cubs constantly drafted guys a round or two earlier than other teams would have because that let them give 2nd round money to 1st round picks.

        People often forget that the idea of paying a lot of money to people who do not yet have impressive resumes is simply bizarre to a lot of the people who control the money. In the corporate world (and the Trib. is a corporation), you just don’t do that.

        That written, Hendry’s refusal to accept that key tools like pitch recognition were, in fact, key tools is a big reason why so many Cubs prospects flopped over the years. I’m not sure that money would have helped there.

        • Kyle

          That’s just wrong, Doc. It’s really wrong. Completely ahistorical.

          The Cubs under the Tribune consistently paid market price (and often far above) for their first-round picks. Some people have rather shakily claimed that the Cubs didn’t spend enough on later-round picks, and there’s some room for wiggle there because comprehensive records on later-round pick signing bonuses aren’t easy to find.

          But claiming that the Cubs under the Tribune were cheap with first-round picks is like saying that Epstein’s strategy is based around signing veteran free-agents to long-term deals. It’s completely the opposite of the truth.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Really? I keep reading *here* that the Trib. Corp tied Hendry’s hands when it came to shelling out bucks for prospects, at least up until the last year. So, which story is it?

            (I honestly can find either story credible: paying out huge dollars to unproven kids is a highly iconoclastic way to do business almost entirely unique to sports; on the other hand, Hendry’s scouting philosophies seemed to be archaic beyond belief. The two stories are far from mutually exclusive, too.)

            • Kyle

              Don’t believe everything you read on here. People are *really* invested in the narrative that the everything we do now is the opposite of everything the Tribune did.

              The Cubs under the Tribune were huge first-round spenders. Heck, they gave Mark Prior the biggest draft contract in history at the time (and he still holds No. 2 to Strasburg).

              There are two places where the “Tribune was cheap with draft picks!!!!!” myth comes from:

              1) In 2010, under Ricketts, the Cubs went extremely cheap with Hayden Simpson.

              2) In the mid-2000s, a strategy emerged where teams began spending a ton of money to induce signing from middle-round high-school kids who might otherwise go to college. The Cubs were actually one of the pioneers of this strategy, and but they weren’t completely 100% sold out on it the way we are 100% sold out on acquiring prospects now.

              • DocPeterWimsey

                OK, I’ll stand corrected and go back to what I thought before I was swayed here by the “Trib is Evil” sentiments! I’ve learned my lesson: I’ll never let my mind be changed again. :-)

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            “The Cubs under the Tribune consistently paid market price (and often far above) for their first-round picks. Some people have rather shakily claimed that the Cubs didn’t spend enough on later-round picks, and there’s some room for wiggle there because comprehensive records on later-round pick signing bonuses aren’t easy to find.”

            I could be imagining this, and it’s really something I should know off-hand, but did I read somewhere that the Cubs the least in the draft in baseball from 2000 to 2010? I feel like that can’t be right, but it might be floating out there somewhere (accurate or not).

            • Kyle

              If that’s floating around, that’s terrible, because it is definitely false.

              I think there was something about us getting one of the lowest *WAR* from draft picks in that range. And if you don’t count Jeff Samardzija’s reworked MLB deal, we were one of the lower spenders from like 2006-2010, when we had a lot of late-first-round picks and the ignonimous Hayden Simpson draft under Ricketts.

            • baldtaxguy

              I want to say I read some stats in OswagoChris’ book on Cubs relative draft spending by decade. Maybe I imagined it.

            • Edwin

              It’s possible the Cubs spent the least in the draft 2000 through 2010, but also paid market price for picks.

              Maybe the Cubs had fewer overall, or fewer top picks comapred to other teams due to a combination of winning, signing FA, and failing to take advantage of getting extra comp picks (compared to teams like Boston or Tampa Bay). Also, the year of the picks could make a difference to. Teams picking higher in 2008-2010 are probably spending more than teams picking higher in 2000-2002 just due to inflation.

              This doesn’t mean the Cubs were/weren’t cheap in the draft, just that it’s probably worth a closer look than just summing up total spending over a 10 year stretch. You’d probably need to figure adjust for # of picks, where the picks were, and inflation.

              • Kyle

                It still doesn’t add up.

                The wide plurality of draft spending is on first-round picks. If you have a high first-round pick, which the Cubs often did, you’re probably spending more on it than some teams will spend on their entire draft.

                Not to mention the Cubs had five first-round comp picks in those 10 years, so it’s not as if they ignored that side of things.

                • Jon

                  Also, in 2000 the Cubs spent to get a “difficult sign” Borus Client in Bobby Hill. (2nd round)

                  (who later netted the Cubs Aramis)

                  The narrative of “Low-draft spending Cubs” fits in well with the “worst farm system in baseball that Theo took over” though…

                • Edwin

                  I actually agree with you, I don’t think the Cubs were “cheap” in the draft, especially not as much as some fans seem to think. I just think when evaluating drafts, it’s helpful to look how many picks the Cubs had compared to other teams, where those picks were, and to keep inflation in mind when looking at spending.

                  • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

                    Regardless of the money the Cubs were atrocious in finding and developing talent especially with first round picks- Prior being the exception.

                    • Kyle

                      Correct. The Cubs were pretty bad at developing or perhaps picking the right guys.

                    • Edwin

                      True. Although, I’d be curious to see how the Cubs did with their picks in relation to league average for expected WAR based on either draft position or signing bonus. Still far below average, I’d assume.

                    • YourResidentJag

                      Except that not a lot was made of the fact that the Cubs before Theo had one of the smallest FOs in the majors, until Theo got here, that is. Sorry, but why would Hendry want to try to accomplish more than he could? He would want to delegate more tasks to others in the interest of have more resources and voices to improve scouting and drafting?

                  • BT

                    Right. Don’t listen to Tim Wilken, who actually ran the Cubs draft and said the Cubs were routinely in the bottom third when it came to spending on the draft. Guys on this message board probably have a better idea that he does.

                    • Kyle

                      Were we last or bottom-third?

                      Are we talking about 2000-2010 or whatever unspecific period Tim Wilken was talking about in that quote?

                      The goalposts, they are mobile!

                    • BT

                      Now the Cubs have to be LAST in spending for the point to stick, and I’M the one moving the goalposts? You really are the worst Kyle. Hilarious. But the worst (I have no statistics to back that up by the way).

                      I’ll make a brand new point with brand new goalposts, how’s that? The Cubs did not spend a lot on the draft under the Tribune, despite occasional outliers like Prior and Shark. That fact seems to be backed up the the guy who ran quite a few of those drafts. Since you and Jon seemed to be making marginally different points, and since you will hold me to a ridiculous standard if I try to wrap them both into one response, this post stands on its own.

                    • Kyle

                      If you are going to mockingly appeal to Wilken’s quote, then you should probably be certain that Wilken’s quote applies directly to at least one of the scenarios being discussed. It fails that standard.

                    • BT

                      “The narrative of “Low-draft spending Cubs” fits in well with the “worst farm system in baseball that Theo took over” though…”

                      It applies to Jon’s standard. As much as I love you Kyle, you aren’t the center of the universe.

                    • Kyle

                      That sounds like a major design flaw.

              • DocPeterWimsey

                Look, I’ve already changed my opinion on this once today. If I have to do it twice in one day on the same topic, then I’ll pull a frontal lobe.

                • Fishin Phil

                  Were you planning on pulling one of your own frontal lobes, or are you looking for volunteers?

    • andyb

      I’m not that knowledgeable on Vitters, but hasn’t the knock on him always been his glove, and that he was a pretty good hitter? Since he moved to the outfield, shouldn’t there be some hope that he can stick?

  • Funn Dave

    I think there’s a curse on any players we bring up in duos. Jackson & Vitters, duh. Starlin & Rizzo came up around the same time, and despite Castro’s initial success, they have not recently performed as well as we might have hoped. Lake on the other hand comes up on his own, and the BABIP gods decided to bless him. I demand at least two weeks b/w players for Baez, Bryant, Alcantara, and Olt.

    • http://waittilnextyear.net NateCorbitt

      Castro came up a full 2 years before Rizzo. If that’s “around the same time”, by your logic, no one should be called up at all, because you hope to bring someone up every couple years.

      • CubFan Paul

        He’s new to the Cubs.

        • terencemann

          I think the moral of the story for all of those players (Castro, Rizzo, Jackson and Vitters) is that you don’t need to call someone up when they have a lot more to learn in the minors.

  • terencemann

    I’m not arguing that Jackson is a great player but he has only spent part of 3 seasons at AAA. He spent part of the season there at the end of 2011 (and there were rumors that the only reason they didn’t call him up was because he was slated to play in the Pan Am games so he couldn’t be on the 40 man roster), part of 2012 there before the call-up and struggled there in 2013 before being demoted. There is a trajectory to the first 2 seasons Jackson spent in AAA so it’s unfair to him to assume he sucks just because he was there in 3 different seasons.

    I think Vitters is the player with the lower ceiling becuase, as you mentioned, he doesn’t have a position and he has all sorts of issues as a hitter. Jackson just needs to make more contact. There’s a large gap between where Jackson was last season and where he needs to go but it’s just one gap as opposed to what Vitters is facing.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      The problem I see is that, although Jackson really only has one issue, it’s arguably the hardest issue to overcome, and the most important thing for a big league hitter to master. Without reasonable contact ability in the zone, you cannot be a big league player, no matter what else you bring to the table.

      • Napercal

        Unless you are a pitcher there is no argument that hitting is the most important thing.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Ha. I know. I meant, specifically, contact ability.

          • snakdad

            And it makes you wonder what “swing change” could realistically increase his contact rate enough to matter. Someone who’s whiffing that much just isn’t recognizing pitches, period. And it also makes you wonder about the previous regime’s scouts—this had to have been an issue from Day One even in the low minors.

            • terencemann

              I think Jackson’s main problem was outside breaking balls? His swing used to look like a t-ball swing in terms of the extreme upper cut. There are definitely better ways to swing a bat mechanically than what he was doing. The question to me is whether or not someone can learn a new swing after evolving their natural swing over the course of a decade or more.

          • Napercal

            Just giving you a hard time. Seriously though, is there a comparable player to Jackson – one with so much talent and contact issues who eventually got it straightened out? I remember Brad Komminsk as a guy the Braves thought would be the next Dale Murphy. He had all the tools but could not put the ball in play.

            • terencemann

              Drew Stubbs is a pretty good comp for Brett Jackson, I think. He walks at a slightly lower rate but was considered to have more power.

  • Tremendous Slouch

    Well if nothing else the external pressure on these guys to succeed is now next to nil. That’s not to say they won’t still put pressure on themselves as now it becomes an issue of now or never rather than the organization and long suffering fans are depending on you. But who knows maybe one or both of them can get comfortable and start to produce in their new found anonymity.

  • Jon

    If Brett Jackson ever gets you down, look it like this, at least we didn’t take Jared Mitchell at #23.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    I have more hope for Vitters than I do for Jackson. If Vitters does ok with the outfield assignment he could be a really valuable asset as a super utility guy that can play the corner infield/outfield positions.

  • Spoda17

    I really have no opinion on Jackson, I can’t figure that dude out… I would like to see Vitters get a real shot to prove himself one way or the other. I don’t think he was really give a legitimate chance in 2012. I don’t really want to actually say it, but this is a throw away year, let Vitters, and Jackson for that matter, have a legitimate shot. Or, trade them now when they may have a smidge of value.

  • okiecubhawk

    Vitters kind of reminds me of Alex Gordon. Could be that he is a late bloomer and a switch to the outfield will do him good.

    • Isaac

      Except that Gordon plays defense.

      • terencemann

        Yeah, Gordon mostly moved to make room for Moustakas.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Alex Gordon displayed excellent pitch recognition as a minor leaguer, walking over 15% of the time. Gordon also displayed much more power in miLB: he had an isoP of 0.25 compared to Vitter’s isoP of 0.17. That more than makes up for Gordon having a higher K-rate than VItters did (does).

      So, there is not much similar between these two other than they started at 3rd and didn’t stick there.

      • okiecubhawk

        Damn you and your facts. I guess the only similarity is possibly being “older” when breaking through and moving from third to the OF.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          heh, well, OK, I’ll give you that: if Vitters succeeds, then he’ll manage what Gordon did.

          Gordon also was a bit baffling to a lot of people, too. Part of what happened is that the his K:BB rates really kicked up once he hit MLB: he was a 4:3 guy in miLB and he’s been over a 2:1 guy in MLB. Now, most guys see that ratio increase – MLB pitchers are a lot better than miLB ones, and the good ones don’t graduate to another league – but Gordon is an exaggerated case.

          At any rate, I know that he drove a lot of Fantasy Baseball players nuts for years!

          • okiecubhawk

            Another thing with Gordon is that he spent his age 23 and 24 seasons in the majors. I can’t remember if he got hurt the next year or was sent down because he was sucking it up. Vitters really hasn’t spent any time in the majors and last year was basically a wash for him. He has put up good numbers though at every level. I wonder if the Cubs should just put him on the big league team and let him play or give him another go at AAA. He’ll only be 24 so it’s not like he is at a make or break age yet. The thing is that with the timeline of the plan this is the year to let him get a learning experience at the major league level, not next year. I guess he really needs to play will this spring and earn a big league spot.

      • Isaac

        Agreed. Gordon was a better player in just about every possible way.

  • http://BN Sacko

    Send them to Baltimore and let them competete with Chocolate Pie.

    • Jon

      He’s a Pirate now.

      • Jon

        check that, in Japan now I believe.

  • Edwin

    Fun with Hindsight:

    Willis – “I still maintain that Jackson will be a very good major league player. He has too much talent not to be. And his defense will be an upgrade to anything in the OF right now. He’ll strike out a bunch, but he’ll work long counts and be much better than a .200 or .220 hitter in the biggs. ”

    and then a few posts later:

    “I certainly am the last person to have blind cub fandom…or whatever. I call things like I see them. I’m no expert, but I’ve seen Jackson 9 times here in Memphis since he’s been at Iowa. Also saw him some in AA.

    Two things-if I’m wrong I’ll gladly come on here and tell everyone I’m a crap spewing idiot. I have no problem with that.”

    • Edwin

      If there’s anything I’ve come to learn about baseball, it’s that I’m usually wrong most of the time. I really wanted the Cubs to sign BJ Upton, and I was completely positive that the Jeff Samardzija Starter experiment was a waste of time, and that he’d be a middle reliever again soon enough.

      • terencemann

        I was wrong about Samardzija, too. I was posting that they should be thinking about releasing him and moving on the winter before he had that great season as a reliever. I guess I’m kind of wrong on Jackson although I always fell in between his big fans and his biggest detractors.

        I was right that BJ Upton was a terrible risk to take for the Cubs but I didn’t think he’d be this bad and I hope he comes around. You just don’t pay a guy with his contact issues $75MM when you’re so far away from contending, though. Let a contender take that risk.

        • Edwin

          I just figured “hey, 27 year old OF who seems to put up 2-3 WAR per season, should be good fit for the timeline”. I didn’t think his K rate would bottom out as bad as it was.

          I just think it’s fun sometimes to look back and see how wrong I was about some things.

        • Jon

          Upton was also subject a ridiculously low BABIP last year(by his career standards).

          (are we allowed to count BAPIP in this instance ? )

          • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

            Yes if his was low compared to his career it’s a valid point, but he still wasn’t worth signing.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Sure. However, Upton’s problem is that his K rate is just obscene. It was really bad his last couple of years in TB, and it was obscene (over 33%) last year. Upton would need his BABiP to be even more lucky in the *opposite* direction to be a useful player with that K-rate. (Or hit 50 HR a year, take your pick….)

          • Jon

            [img]http://i59.tinypic.com/dysuw9.jpg[/img]

            • Kyle

              Awesome

            • Baseball_Writes

              This chart actually looks semi-interesting and semi-constructive at the same time. But, why can’t I see the whole thing? Is that actually how it shows up to everyone, or just me for some reason?

              • Jon

                Here is the direct link

                http://i59.tinypic.com/dysuw9.jpg

                It got chopped off for me too.

                • Baseball_Writes

                  Ha! That was pretty funny.

                • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

                  Because that’s exactly what we do, you cracked the case Johnny! Now what else can you add to your narrative?

                  • mjhurdle

                    Im still trying to figure out where Lake falls into that diagram…

                • hansman

                  It would be interesting to see where an average saber-minded baseball fan would flow out in their statistical analysis of a player.

                  That certainly wasn’t it.

                  • Patrick W.

                    [img]http://www.gliffy.com/go/publish/image/5372139/L.png[/img]

                    • Patrick W.
                    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                      I lol’d.

                    • Patrick W.

                      [img]http://www.gliffy.com/go/publish/image/5372139/S.png[/img]

                    • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

                      Very nice but you lose points for needing three tries.

                    • Patrick W.

                      I accept that.

            • DocPeterWimsey

              Of course, if you just ignore the stats affected much by BABiP, then it sort of obviates the whole need for this!

              At any rate, I’m not sure how citing a 33% K-rate factors into this: that is completely independent of BABiP. (My advice: don’t use stats strongly affected by BABiP in the first place!)

    • willis

      Man you dug deep for that one. Getting to see Jackson in AA and AAA around here so much, I was definitely a big believer in him. I thought he had every tool necessary to do what it took to be a very good player. And yes, I was dead wrong. He flopped, and then he went way away from what I expected last year.

      So when it comes to B Jax, I’m dumb. And yes I’m dumb about most things.

  • Dustin S

    If just one of Jackson/Vitters/Olt can have a bounce-back 2014 and really contribute at the ML level it would sure make this lineup more fun to watch. The offense still looks like the weakest link to me, so if somehow one of them could surprise and say Vitters or Olt do .280/20hr this year it would really change the look of the whole lineup.

    • terencemann

      .280 would be extremely high for any of those players. Even their sunny projections as of late don’t see them as more than .260 hitters. Olt is kind of lack Jackson in that he’s a low contact rate guy (although not as bad as Jackson was).

      • dAn

        I think Vitters has a shot at being a .280 guy in MLB. But not Olt or Jackson–those guys are never going to be high BA guys, but they at least draw walks, so that makes up for it somewhat.

      • Kyle

        I don’t have much problem seeing Vitters hitting .280 in a good year.

  • dAn

    If there’s any hope for Jackson, it is the fact that his struggles happened in direct proportion to his exposure to the coaching of Dale Sveum. (Sveum worked with him a little bit in the spring of 2012 and then very closely after the 2012 season, when he re-tooled Jackson’s swing.) The most worrisome thing about Jackson’s situation is the fact that he is still trying to use the swing bestowed on him by Sveum, instead of going back to what he was doing when he was successful in AA and his first exposure to AAA.

    I do believe that focusing on avoiding strikeouts has messed him up mentally (and he seems to suggest that with some of his comments). Right about the time people started really talking about his strikeouts as a big issues (end of 2011), he began to go downhill. I know that the Cubs have a very intense program for evaluating each individual at bat with the players, and I wonder if the pressure of that and the emphasis on avoiding strikeouts really got him thinking about strike outs too much when he goes up to hit.

    Prior to 2012, he was striking out at a high rate, but it wasn’t such a high rate to be crippling to his MLB aspirations. I really wonder if the new management regime has been a little too hands-on with him and the effect has been to get Jackson thinking about strikeouts instead of being focused on hitting the ball hard. He needs to focus more on the positive desired outcome, instead of the negative fear. He will always strike out a lot, but if he can return to his 2011 form, he could still be a decent player.

    • Fastball

      Dan, If Jackson has learned how to keep his hands inside the plate instead of over and around it he will get rid of that big hole in his bat. His problem was he got away with a long swing his whole life and that is one of the hardest things to fix. It’s like working with Tiger Woods on his golf swing. You have no idea which one he is going to show up with from one week to the next. If the Cubs hitting instructors would have just focused on helping him with swing mechanics and never said a word to him about his K’s he would have come along much faster. From experience I have found that coaching kids you can’t get them worrying about more than one thing at a time. So he gets up to the plate and he is thinking about keeping his hands inside and where the hell he is going to start his load and release in relation to the pitchers wind up or motion. At the same time he is worrying about pitch selection. Way too much stuff going on in the noggin. Recipe for Failure Everytime.

      • http://bleachernation.com woody

        I have to agree with this analysis fastball. There is a separation between swing mechanics and pitch recognition. Whe it comes to a guy with a high strikeout rate it seems that both factors are involved. Castro is a good example. You take an instinctual hitter and ask him to be more selective and in turn that split second that occures between the instinctive level and the desired approach can be monumental. Castro must have been told to take on the first pitch last year. And it didn’t take long for opposing pitchers to exploit that. but in Jacksons case it seems that he needs to get the mechanics worked out first before they work on selectivity.

    • half_full_beer_mug

      It’s far more worrisome the amount of blame people continue to place on the ex-manager.

  • Fastball

    I think you start both of these guys in Iowa. But first I want to say it was a huge mistake bringing up Vitters in 2012 and then Sveum parked him on the bench. You can’t take a kid who plays everyday and hits everyday and park him on the bench. You throw him an occasional at bat and when he has completely lost his game rhythm for hitting you expect results and when he doesn’t produce something positive you let him sit even more. That was just F-ing stupid on Sveum’s part. And Jackson was no more ready to play CF in the bigs in 2012 than I was. My opinion is that move totalled set both of these guys back mentally and physically. Then they come into the 2013 season with nothing positive that they built off of. Then injuries came and they went from being somebodies to nobodies over night okay over the course of a season. I say plug them in the outfield in Iowa and leave them alone for about 2 months. I think what should happen is Vitters will come up and platoon in RF and be the back up 1B for Rizzo. Jackson may come up and play CF if his swing has improved. I don’t really see Lake getting bumped out of LF unless he has some struggles with certain types of RH pitchers. They could move Sweeney over to play some LF in those situations. But most importantly if Vitters comes up and plays a decent RF in June and July you could make an OF trade at the deadline for Schireholtz. At 24 Vitters still has a full big league career ahead of him. He has a good enough arm to play RF and he has one of the best swings in the organization. So I don’t piss on him just yet. I hope the best for Jackson. Would love it if he shocked the hell of me. I give him til June 1st to prove himself one way or the other at Iowa. Here is what I don’t want to happen. The Cubs FO just decide they don’t like either one because they didn’t draft them. They discard them both and they end up coming into their own playing for someone else. But that’s baseball.

  • Kyle

    You wrote this just because I poked you about Bailey, didn’t you? This is your revenge? Well-played.

  • Kyle

    Brett Jackson – Last season flailing wildly and missing at AA pitches. Could easily be waived and not missed.

    Josh Vitters – Mashed AAA the last two seasons, but in limited time because of injuries. Giving up on 3b means that he’s likely to be stuck as a tweener (has the bat to stick in the majors at a premium defensive position, but not the glove. Vice-versa for a high-offense position), but he’s still got a decent chance to contribute. Should probably be the 5th outfielder given the way the roster is currently constructed.

    Grouping them together is maddening.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Depends on the context of the grouping. In this piece, I think it was quite fair – and I did make sure to lay out the strong differences.

      Oh, and yes, I’m poking you.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I suspect Vitters has the bat to stick at a high offense position. He won’t be exceptional there, I think, but I think he has enough bat to stick in left field.

      While Jackson may be the current poster-child for “Don’t bank on prospects,” Vitters is probably the current poster-child for “Don’t give up on prospects too fast.”

  • B_Scwared

    I would feel better about Vitters if he wasn’t masquerading in his free time as an up and coming reporter under the pseudonym Chris Cotillo. [img]http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://wp.streetwise.co/wp-content/uploads//2013/12/chris1.jpg&imgrefurl=http://bostinno.streetwise.co/2013/12/02/how-18-year-old-chris-cotillo-become-an-mlb-insider-red-sox-rumors/&h=640&w=640&sz=85&tbnid=tgOqhzRs10L-qM:&tbnh=90&tbnw=90&zoom=1&usg=__gZi4EAGq-R9R4wu2iuP2eJd3ej8=&docid=gRgNqkYEMb_6CM&sa=X&ei=olMCU-mfD4a9yAGt8oHIAg&ved=0CDkQ9QEwBQ[/img]

  • pete

    “Unfortunately, the well-founded concerns associated with Jackson and Vitters proved prescient.”

    Not to be pedantic but Brett, I believe that you were proved prescient, and not your concerns. But, which speaks more highly of you, after all.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Hmm, if I concede you’re right, my grammar cred takes a hit. If I fight you, I don’t look as baseball bright as I could.

      But, in the end, you’re right, so it doesn’t much matter.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        “Prophecy speaks of a pair, one with great recognition but not contact, the other with great contact but no recognition, who will taunt the long-taunted faithful of the young ursines”

  • Ivy Walls

    As I said before Vitters is a Dark Horse to make the roster which will be gained or lost on the field of play. Lake or Vitters are almost interchangeable in that both are good hitters, not All Stars and both can play many positions, at least for an inning or part of a spot start. It would be grand if Renteria plays the hot hand with both while giving them 3-4 starts per week.

    I also think that Lake could be developed into a super-U, especially if he is able to play some IF this year in spots.

    I think as much as anything the roster will be a puzzle piece, and things seem to come together with Olt making it this year at 3B. Again that moves Valbuena to 2B against RHP where based on historic splits Roberts will get many starts against LHP’ers where he hits over .300. Thus one could see Renteria playing Olt at 1B if he is in the dugout and if Rizzo has not figured out LHP’ers, then Murphy or Bonifacio at 3B, Roberts at 2B and Vitters-Ruggiano-Lake in the OF

    But if Vitters is healthy I see him making it.

  • bnile1

    First post, so here it goes

    As per the converation above about spending from 2000-2010, I have had to research that before and in terms of draft spending the cubs were 28th in total spending during that decade(yes that’s including signing bonuses), The were also 28th in total international spending as well. I’m not sure it proved “cheap”, but it’s certainly strong evidence. they were also in the bottom in terms of % signed first 10 rounds, top 20 etc.(markers of how effective you were at signing your picks, doesn’t do much good to draft the best player if you don’t sign them). This was despite a higher than average percentage of college seniors(no leverage to hold out so they are usually much easier and cheaper to sign).

    IMHO this is directly responsible for the decline from 2008-2012, and why we’re here, fortunately that’s a trend that has disappeared under the currnet regime/ownership. Hopefully that leads to better results.

    • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

      Welcome to the madhouse and those numbers align with what I’ve heard before so now who is going to source this info so we can finally have a correct answer.

  • DarthHater

    If you plan on being embraced in this community, you’ll need to get over this fascination with facts and carefully reasoned analysis. :-P

    • DarthHater

      You’ll also need to learn how to use the reply button when you’re at the bottom of a page. :-D

      • Fishin Phil

        And reply to yourself often, it is a sign of vast intelligence.

        • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

          And shows everybody that his grasp of the force is dwindling.

          • DarthHater

            Great. I’m now being humiliated by wooden toys and barnyard animals.

            [img]http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7385/9322737514_6eca3ff54b_o.gif[/img]

      • bnile1

        It’s a learning curve, That’s why a rookie needs the Vets right??

        • bnile1

          Still didn’t get it right, replied to the wrong post from Darth , Should have been the reply about the reply button. Irony at work.

          • Fishin Phil

            But now you are replying to yourself already. You will fit right in.

  • http://deepcenterfield.mlblogs.com/ Jason Powers

    Since these fellas are long-in-the-tooth for prospects, an analysis of MLB WAR by age:
    http://deepcenterfieldmlb.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/father-time-in-baseball-age-curve-equals-parabolas-for-all-types-of-players/

    Comment or critique.

  • Blackhawks1963

    Funny how Vitters has virtually no experience in the outfield yet some say he should break camp as one of the outfielders.

    This isn’t a beer league softball team.

    • SenorGato

      The OF situation this year is worse than it was last year when Lake had only slightly more experience before his callup. That and I’m sure both the organization and Vitters have seen the move to the OF coming for at least a couple years now.

    • Kyle

      It’s the corner outfield. Anyone with a modicum of athletic ability can learn it over the course of an entire spring training.

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