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

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

Chicago Cubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.