So one thing that caught my eye yesterday in the BA top prospect list but that I failed to mention was the last line of Brett Jackson’s profile (subscriber link).
He should open 2013 as Chicago’s center fielder unless he tanks in spring training.
You can’t just dismiss it as speculation because we know Jim Callis talks to a lot of Cubs people when putting this list together. However, it seems that earlier we’d heard from the front office that Jackson was to start the year in AAA, though they’ve allowed that he has a shot to win the job in spring training.
Even if they’re not going to be open about it, what if the Cubs want him to win it? And if he did win it, how would that work exactly?
Here is how the 2013 OF looks so far..
LF: The home of Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs one and only RH power hitter at this time. There was some speculation earlier that perhaps the Phillies were interested but that appears to have died down. The Phillies, in fact, appear to be done per their GM Ruben Amaro, Jr., who said, “We’re likely going with what we’ve got.” The word “likely” leaves the door open, but it does tell me this: they don’t like the offer the Cubs made, which was Alfonso Soriano for Domonic Brown. If they did, why the need to bluff? Is it a last-ditch effort to bring the price down for Sori? Possible, I suppose. If the Cubs are going to settle for less, i.e. Darin Ruf or John Mayberry, Jr., then it’s not worth it to me. While Soriano doesn’t have long term value for the Cubs, neither do those guys. They’re stop gaps (yes, I know how many HRs Ruf hit, won’t happen in the bigs). The thought here is if you want to go with a stop gap, then Soriano is your man. For all intents and purposes, this deal is dead right now. Barring a new suitor, Alfonso Soriano is your LF’er.
RF: Jed Hoyer recently said that the lion’s share of the RF at-bats will go to Nate Schiehroltz. It seems likely that if he does get a rest, then it will be vs. LHP. This is where Dave Sappelt should get many of his ABs.
CF: Here is where it gets difficult. The default guy here is David DeJesus. It pains me to say this about DeJesus because he’s one of my favorite players. His approach, style of play, and clubhouse presence is exactly what the Cubs need. However, he’s no longer a CF or even a full-time player. What DeJesus is these days is a very good 4th OFer: Not enough defense for CF, not enough bat for the corners, doesn’t hit LHP but on the other hand… he’ll grind out some ABs, hit RHP well, and play good defense on the corners. DeJesus can still play a huge role on this team, I just don’t know if his best value is as an everyday CF’er, and with the corner’s apparently filled this leaves the Cubs in an awkward spot.
Then there’s Brett Jackson.
He’s not going to win a Gold Glove in CF but he’ll be at least average there, perhaps better, and certainly fearless. That keeps the Cubs defense relatively strong up the middle. His strikeout issues have been well-documented, most recently here by J.J. Cooper of Baseball America. The Cubs think they have diagnosed the problem, but that’s only the beginning of a grueling long road to actually fixing it. I have no doubts that Jackson will put whatever work he needs and more on his end of things.
So let’s say Jackson looks great in the spring. Let’s say he’s making more consistent contact while keeping the rest of his game average to above average across the board. Could he be the answer? He’ll play the defense the Cubs like and if his minor league splits are any indication (.279/.366/.574), he doesn’t seem to struggle against LHP, so there’s a reasonable expectation he can play everyday as long as he can hit.
I specifically like the idea of putting a better OF defense out there in the early months, when the park plays big, and Jackson can help with his defense, along with his ability to take walks and then use his legs to create runs.
So where does that leave DeJesus? I know many of you might say trade him, but why not hang on to him? Give Soriano a day or two off every week, give Jackson a couple of day off to work him in slowly, and perhaps even use him in RF if Shierholtz needs a break. I think you can get him 4 starts a week, which translates to over 100 per season — and that’s not even counting the times he’ll fill in for injuries. Utilizing his versatility and giving him good match-ups as much as possible maximizes his value and it keeps Soriano rested and Jackson from getting overwhelmed, not to mention the tremendous insurance he’d provide. I don’t know how happy this would make everybody, but when you don’t have a real superstar in the outfield, maybe the alternative is to use them all in such a way that maximizes their value.
That kind of set-up probably can’t last forever but the Cubs can see where they’re at in June and make changes accordingly, maybe a trade of Soriano is in order and DeJesus takes over in LF. Maybe Jackson shows he needs more time in AAA, perhaps even before the season starts. Maybe teams prefer to trade for DeJesus instead of Soriano or maybe Nate Schierholtz doesn’t have the kind of breakout season the Cubs expect.
One thing you can say, there’s nothing certain about this OF other than it’s going to change, one way or another, over the next year or two, perhaps even sooner than that.