03/01/12 12:30 PM ET
Cubs, fans eager to see prospect Jackson
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"To watch him the other day in person for the first time, to see how the ball comes off his bat and just the athleticism -- that guy bounces around with athleticism," Sveum said. "He's one of those guys you look forward to seeing."
Cubs fans are eager to see what Jackson can do, too.
The team's No. 1 Draft pick in 2009, Jackson has been either No. 1 or No. 2 among prospects in the Cubs' organization for the past three years. Jackson, 23, may be closer to the big leagues than top dog Anthony Rizzo, whom the front office has penciled in to start the 2012 season in the Minor Leagues.
Jackson began last season at Double-A Tennessee and was hitting .295 on May 11 when he dislocated the little finger on his left hand sliding into the second-base bag. The finger is still crooked from that experience.
It was bad timing for Jackson. On May 21, Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd was hit in the face by a pitch from Boston's Alfredo Aceves.
"I pushed myself to come off the [disabled list] with Marlon hurt and everything, and my timing was a little different after a few weeks of not playing," Jackson said Tuesday.
Jackson returned to the Smokies' lineup May 30, and he hit .217 in 22 games in June. It was tough to get a good grip on the bat; Jackson is a left-handed hitter and the injury was to his top hand.
"I struggled a little bit, but came back and finished strong," he said. "It was a really good adjustment period for me, and a good struggle. I had to endure and come out of it and make the right adjustments, and played well for a couple weeks in Double-A."
Jackson rebounded and hit .273 in 11 games in July, and he was promoted to Triple-A Iowa, where he did finish strong, batting .297 with 13 doubles, 10 homers, two triples and six stolen bases in 48 games.
"I hate to make an excuse like an injury," Jackson said. "I take accountability for not playing well. It was just a strange period. If something's off a little bit, it could be off. It was awesome to endure that struggle and come off it and finish strong in August and into September. It was a good experience for me as far as a long season and getting through nicks and pains."
The Cubs called up outfielder Lou Montanez to help fill in while Byrd was sidelined for six weeks. Did Jackson think he'd get the call?
"I thought maybe I had a chance," he said. "I knew [Byrd] was going to be out for awhile. I happened to get hurt a few days before that. You never know what can happen. It makes too much sense to not think about what could have been, and be more concerned with what I can do now and the year at hand, and not what happened in the past."
So, he's moved on. Instead of dwelling on what might have happened, Jackson is focused on making a good impression on Sveum and the Cubs' new front office.
Jackson didn't want to shut it down once the regular season ended. He and player development director Oneri Fleita discussed possibly playing in Puerto Rico, where Cubs coach Pat Listach would be managing, or playing in the Arizona Fall League. But then Team USA called and invited Jackson to play in the Baseball World Cup in Panama and the Pan American Games in Mexico in October. He had played for the USA Baseball Pan American Qualifying Team in 2010.
"It's something I wanted to do," Jackson said about playing for Team USA. "It's a great organization and we had a great experience the first time. We played almost the same amount of games as I would have in the [Arizona] Fall League, with a little more of a cause, more fans, different environment. That turned out to be a better experience for me than the Fall League."
Jackson didn't get as many at-bats because of a minor foot injury. He said he could have played, but he felt he was "85 percent."
"To play at 85 percent and put my team in jeopardy of not having the best possible outfielder they could have or the most speed they could have [didn't seem right]," he said. "There were obviously capable players who were 100 percent."
The U.S. team came home with the silver medal in the Pan Am Games after losing in the championship to Canada.
Now that the international competition and injuries are behind him, all Jackson has to do now is deal with the hype. He is a five-tool player, and if you watch him in drills, it's easy to see the athleticism that Sveum sees. There are still some areas he needs to work on. For example, Jackson apparently didn't know his second-round match in the bunting tournament was being held Wednesday. Another player had to get Jackson, and Sveum told the outfielder that if he won, he'd have to split the prize with the messenger.
The Cubs' outfield appears set, with Alfonso Soriano in left, Marlon Byrd in center and David DeJesus in right. But Sveum is keeping an eye on everybody, and the scrutiny will be more intense when Cactus League games start Sunday.
"I'm not looking too far ahead," Jackson said. "I'm looking to play my game and play to the best of my ability. If people at the top like what they see, which I think they will, we'll let them make those decisions.
"I like to focus on things I can control," he said. "That's how I approach my work ethic every day -- how early I get to the field, how long I spend in the gym, what I do in the cage and during practice. That's what I'm focusing on now. I'm not focusing on trying to make the team or starting in Iowa. We'll let those decisions be made. It's baseball for me, and I'm always going to play 110 percent."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.