Jackson could be next Cubs call-up


Jackson could be next Cubs call-up

The day after the trade deadline signaled a clear shift in focus for the Cubs. After trying to showcase their players to contending teams, the next two months will be auditions for 2013.
If the Cubs are looking for a jolt of energy after trading away several popular veterans, Brett Jackson is waiting at Triple-A Iowa. The front office and the coaching staff are already thinking about it.
There were discussions leading up to Tuesdays deadline. There were meetings scheduled for after Wednesdays 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field, and during Thursdays off-day in Los Angeles.
That happens to be Jacksons 24th birthday. The sense is that the Cubs are trying to accelerate the process of figuring out what they have really got in the 2009 first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley.
I dont know if there is any so-called risk involved in it, manager Dale Sveum said. Everybodys always worried about the failure part instead of the guy coming up here and maybe being a better player in the big leagues than he is in the minor leagues.
Its stuff worth thinking about. Its something were really dwelling over right now what were going to do the next month before the September call-ups.
Jackson is an athletic outfielder who began the day hitting .253 with 15 homers, 25 stolen bases and an .814 OPS and 152 strikeouts in 391 at-bats.
Everyone looks at that big number, but Jackson fits Theo Epsteins vision of a well-rounded player who may not be spectacular in one area but still makes contributions across the board.
The Cubs president says you shouldnt fixate on the strikeouts and overlook Jacksons overall game.
With Jackson, the question becomes now primarily (about) his development, Epstein said, and what buttons we can maybe push to help get him to that next level, as far as that one issue that still faces him as a player.
Epstein mentioned the individual player plans every prospect in the organization received this season. There are boxes to check before being promoted as well as a loophole.
There are other instances where youre actually looking for a change of scenery, Epstein said. Youre looking for some sort of change to actually trigger further development. So theres no hard-and-fast rule for every players promotion.
Jackson turned it on last season after being promoted from Double-A Tennessee and actually put up better numbers at a higher level. People throughout the organization have noticed his sense of confidence and how he acts like he belongs.
The strikeouts are a problem, Sveum said, but on the other hand sometimes players just get to the big leagues and they hit better. You cant even explain it.
Hanley Ramirez I remember when we had him in Boston. He never put up any minor-league numbers and the next year hes in the big leagues and he wins Rookie of the Year.
Some guys struggle with the third deck in the stadium and other guys perform a lot better with the third deck. Its (difficult) predicting how guys are going to handle this kind of atmosphere."
Ramirez must be some sort of urban legend around the Red Sox. Because while Kevin Millar was trying to earn a roster spot with the Cubs in 2010, he was asked about Ramirez at a time when Starlin Castro was opening eyes in spring training.
The funny thing about Hanley is he didnt put up great offensive numbers (in) Double-A, Millar said then. He stepped up to the big leagues and then turned into a beast.
At the big-league level as weird as it sounds it becomes easier. When I say that, you get the better equipment, the better field, better lights.
Certain kids (get) better at the big-league level, and Hanley Ramirez was that guy.
In 2005, Ramirez hit .271 with six home runs and 52 RBI in 122 games for the Portland Sea Dogs. He exploded after being traded to the Florida Marlins in the Josh Beckett deal, which was engineered in part by future Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer.
Ramirez had that breakout season in 2006, batting .292 with 17 homers, 59 RBI, 51 stolen bases and 119 runs scored in 158 games.
No ones saying that Jackson is going to duplicate that performance. But it sounds like the Cubs are talking themselves into letting him take a shot.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.