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Thoughts on Jay Jackson to Bullpen

Matt Swain

Illinois engineering student, way too emotionally invested in the Cubs.

As you may have seen on today's Around the Minors post, Jay Jackson pitched last night out of the Iowa bullpen, with J.R. Mathes, Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman, Thomas Diamond and Mitch Atkins filling out the rotation.

It's been suggested by Paul Sullivan and ESPN's Bruce Levine that Coleman and Jackson could be called up soon by the Cubs. Sullivan doesn't cite any sources in his blurb, but that's the kind of simultaneous speculation that results from hearing something substantial, and it seems to be confirmed by Jackson's appearance last night.

Jackson is the Cubs 5th ranked prospect; an 8th round pick in 2008 out of Furman who has rocketed through the system quickly. He's succeeded at every stop along the way, showing excellent control as well as good strikeout numbers. 

2008 20 3 Teams A-A+-A- CHC 4 2 2.88 13 5 50.0 40 17 16 4 13 72 1.060
2008 20 Boise A- CHC 0 0 5.00 3 1 9.0 7 5 5 1 1 14 0.889
2008 20 Peoria A CHC 2 2 3.00 6 1 24.0 22 8 8 3 5 37 1.125
2008 20 Daytona A+ CHC 2 0 1.59 4 3 17.0 11 4 3 0 7 21 1.059
2009 21 3 Teams AA-A+-AAA CHC 8 7 2.98 24 24 127.0 109 48 42 11 46 127 1.220
2009 21 Daytona A+ CHC 2 2 1.64 7 7 38.1 31 12 7 3 4 46 0.913
2009 21 Tennessee AA CHC 5 5 3.70 16 16 82.2 73 35 34 7 39 77 1.355
2009 21 Iowa AAA CHC 1 0 1.50 1 1 6.0 5 1 1 1 3 4 1.333
2010 22 Iowa AAA CHC 2 3 2.50 7 5 36.0 24 10 10 5 8 24 0.889
3 Seasons 14 12 2.87 44 34 213.0 173 75 68 20 67 223 1.127
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/12/2010.

Jackson doesn't have much left to prove in the minors, having compiled a 2.98 ERA over his career. This year hasn't been a particularly strong effort when you consider that his .196 BABIP indicates he's been more than a little lucky, but overall he's put together an excellent career.

Jackson's scouting report is excellent also, as he complements a low-90's fastball with a slider, curveball, and changeup, all of which rate as above average. He's a superb athlete who played in the outfield in college, and it allows him to field his position ably. He also can still can swing the bat a little.

My initial reaction was negative to this move, but the more I think about it, the less I mind it. Let's looks at the good and bad sides of a move like this.


  • Like I mentioned, there's not much for Jackson to do in the minor leagues. He's already got a deep and well-developed repertoire, has succeeded at every level the Cubs have at their disposal.

  • The Cubs need bullpen help, and Jackson is clearly a better pitcher than Justin Berg and James Russell are. He should improve the team.

  • It keeps his innings down, and hopefully helps him save some mileage on his arm during the injury nexus (pre-25 years old).

  • Allows the Cubs to slowly integrate him onto the major league team, avoiding unwanted or unnecessary attention and pressure (see Castro, Starlin) and using him in low leverage situations to help him get used to MLB batters. The White Sox did the same thing in the past with Mark Buehrle, and the Cubs had success doing it with Carlos Zambrano.

  • The strongest part of his game is the quantity of quality pitches he throws, and it seems like they may be somewhat wasted in the bullpen. His velocity doesn't quite fit the prototype of a dominant relief pitcher, though it may play up in shorter appearances. He doesn't have an out pitch, which also could work against him.

  • Jackson's future long-term is in the rotation, and you risk jerking him around and messing things up. He's a much better pitcher than Jeff Samardzija, so any comparisons with Spellcheck are unwarranted, but his case does raise the question of what would happen if he failed in the pen. Now he gets demoted, and most likely goes back to starting in the minors. Will the fans be less likely to want him back? Will the manager (be it Lou or otherwise) be less likely to trust him? Will he be able to regain his success as a starter? It probably doesn't have much of an effect, but you are introducing a lot of new risks.

  • Doesn't Andrew Cashner fit better here? I know they want to keep him as a starter, but don't they want to keep Jackson as a starter too? EDIT- See comments for further discussion on this point.

So you can see how I'm kind of split on the move. It's certainly not a terrible idea, and there is a lot of good that could come from it. I don't think I would do it myself, since I see Jackson as a huge part of this team's future and since I don't want to get caught up rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and do something that could potentially take him too far out of his comfort zone.

But Jay will very likely be fine, adjust to the big leagues and challenge for a rotation spot as soon as next season. And in that case, his arm having taken a little break could prove valuable.

I'd also like to note that in Casey Coleman's case, I'm far less concerned about moving him around because he doesn't have nearly the ceiling Jackson does. With his mid to upper 80's fastball and terrible strikeout numbers, if everything works out for him he'll be a bottom of the rotation pitcher, so I don't have any problem with using him more liberally in the pen.



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1 Comment

Matt Swain said:


toonsterwu left a comment on Around the Minors as I was writing this that I'd like to excerpt here, because it's both relevant and a great point that I hadn't considered. With Cashner just getting stretched out as an SP, moving him back to the pen could be disastrous. So that kind of invalidates one of my cons and makes the move look better, I guess.

"The one thing I will say in defense of this move is this - if this gives Cashner more time in the minors as a starter (as it should), then okay. That is, I prefer Jay getting called up for pen duty to give Cashner more time. I'm more confident, because of track record, that Jay could bounce back to rotation work the following season, whereas I feel like Cashner needs more SP experience and innings now to have a better shot to be a starter long term."

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