The wait is over. The Cubs are
finally going to play their first game. Of course, they don't count yet,
but it's still exciting to me. It is our first glimpse of the Cubs
future. Early on in the spring I'm always looking forward to seeing the
new players and the minor leaguers. Apparently, I'm not the only
one. Mike Quade said this in anticipation of his first game of the
"Almost always, it's the guys I haven't seen or the guys I haven't seen
recently, which we're talking about people we've acquired. I'm anxious to
watch Carlos play first and swing the bat. I'm anxious to see [Trey] McNutt
pitch, anxious to see where [outfielder Brett] Jackson is at with his
He goes on to say he's interested in seeing everybody play, of course, which is
the politically correct thing to do -- but it's interesting that his focus is
on the two best Cubs prospects. McNutt and Jackson. McNutt is an
intriguing prospect that we'll take a closer look at another time, but that
Quade is already "anxious to see where Jackson is at" is
telling as to how highly regarded he is by the organization. It's not
like the Cubs have a gaping hole in center field. Marlon Byrd resides
there and he was arguably the Cubs best and most consistent player last year.
Make no mistake, though. Brett Jackson is the centerfielder of the
future. Marlon Byrd, being the great guy that he is, has taken Jackson
under his wing.
"He's been really open to helping me out on a lot of different things,
giving me tips on baserunning first steps to steps in the outfield, and how I
put my head down when I run for a fly ball," Jackson said Thursday.
"He's been willing to work with me and help me get better and help me
prepare for the season."
I'm not sure many of us would be so eager to help our eventual
replacement. In a way, speeding up Jackson's timetable will cut Byrd's
own future short. There is a certain inevitability about Jackson as
the Cubs future centerfielder and Byrd knows it. But if there is one
thing Marlon Byrd has learned to do during his career, it's adapt. In his
career he has gone from can't miss prospect to near bust to all-star
centerfielder. It hasn't been the road he probably envisioned for
himself, but he has done what he has needed to do to stay in the league.
Now, just when he has finally established himself as a player, Byrd is once
again ready to adapt. He is not just making way for the next guy, he's
actually helping him out. It may seem foolish at first glance that he
would be so accommodating, but Byrd is no dummy. He knows the Cubs are
banking on Jackson taking over his position. Rather than fighting it,
Byrd is instead choosing to hop on board. He has taken to mentoring the
Cubs top prospect and it will almost certainly lead to him getting replaced
sooner rather than later, but it doesn't mean he will get left behind.
Byrd is ensuring his own future for the inevitable days when his skills on the
field begin to erode. There seems little doubt that he will always find a
place with the Cubs, or somewhere in baseball, as he evolves from all-star to
solid starter to role player/mentor to possibly coaching and managing.
So what of Brett Jackson's own future? According to Marc Hulet of
Fangraphs, Jackson, "has the potential to be an All-Star outfielder and a
20-20 threat." Jackson has the potential to be a leadoff man with
some sock in his bat. He is incredibly patient at the plate, recording an
OBP of .395. He'll take a walk, but he can also get ahead on the count
and make you pay if you throw him a strike. The biggest concern with
Jackson is his propensity to strikeout, which he did 27% of the time last year
at AA. There are also some that feel that he may eventually have to move
to left field, where his lack of 30 home run power would be considered less
than ideal for the position. The Cubs, however, feel that he will stay in
center field where his 20 home run power and leadoff skills become an even
bigger asset for the team -- and it seems Marlon Byrd is doing whatever he can
to make sure they are right.