Cubs

Brett Jackson, 'Linsanity' and going to the next level

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Brett Jackson, 'Linsanity' and going to the next level

MESA, Ariz. Brett Jackson looked him over and wondered: Who is this dude? Does he play soccer?

This was last fall at SPARTA Performance Science near San Francisco, before Jeremy Lin made the cover of Sports Illustrated two weeks in a row. The SportsCenter highlights didnt run every night and Linsanity hadnt yet taken over Twitter.

All of a sudden, hes like (the) hottest ticket in town, Jackson said Wednesday. Its unbelievable.

The Cubs think Jackson could be the next big thing, but it wont happen overnight. Baseball America just named him the No. 32 overall prospect in the game, and the projection is that the 23-year-old outfielder will be in Chicago sometime this season.

The new front office will have an Ivy League influence and be driven by data. Jackson went to Cal-Berkeley and trained in Silicon Valley, hoping to fit into Theo Epsteins vision.

You want to take yourself as far as you can, Jackson said. You want to be the best player you can be. If Im a special player in the big leagues, then Ive worked hard enough and Ill continue working. You dont want to settle for anything. You dont want to settle for average.

Lin was searching for an edge during the NBA lockout, which brought him to the high-tech gym that counts Philadelphia Phillies All-Star second baseman Chase Utley among its clients, and helps train players for the NFL combine.

Using proprietary software, SPARTA tracks and monitors the athletes body, and designs workout plans around that. A recent Bloomberg television report said it helped Lin add almost 15 pounds to his frame and 3.5 inches onto his vertical.

Then again, Lin bounced around from the Golden State Warriors to the Houston Rockets to the New York Knicks last December before exploding into a global star. There is an element of timing or luck involved, even for a Harvard graduate.

Jackson only saw Lin a few times at the gym, and can only hope hell also be in the right place at the right time.

Since taking over baseball operations, Epstein has traded away recent first-round picks Andrew Cashner and Tyler Colvin, and everyone in the organization has been looked at in a different light.

It didnt faze Jackson, the 31st overall pick in the 2009 draft, and untouchable from the start of the Epstein compensation negotiations. Jackson was actually roommates with Boston prospect Lars Anderson this offseason and learned all about the Red Sox Way.

Jackson may never hit 30 bombs a year in the big leagues, but he can run, hit and field, and has a .393 career on-base percentage in the minors. That is the type of across-the-board player Epstein likes to target. As manager Dale Sveum said: That guy just bounces around with athleticism.

After Wednesdays workout, Jackson sat in a corner of the clubhouse joking around with Anthony Rizzo, Matt Szczur and Josh Vitters. You wondered if it was a glimpse into the future.

Rizzo (No. 47) and Szczur (No. 64) also made Baseball Americas top 100 list, while Vitters is still only 22 years old, waiting to fulfill his potential as the third overall pick in the 2007 draft. Instead of making a late push for Prince Fielder, the Cubs traded for Rizzo to be their first baseman.

Great dude, Jackson said of Rizzo. Hes texted me the last couple weeks before we got here, saying, We got to make this team.

That probably wont happen out of camp. More likely, theyll be ticketed for Triple-A Iowa. But if all goes according to plan, pretty soon theyll both have to find a way to handle the insanity of playing for the Cubs, and all that goes with it.

Figure it out as you go along, Jackson said. But when it comes down to it, its just about playing baseball. Its about being a good teammate, having fun and thats why I play. Theres a lot in it here with this club and the history and everything. So its easy to work hard when theres a cause, something to believe in.

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

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Scott Changnon

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

On the latest CubsTalk Podcast Scott Changnon and Tony Andracki discuss the state of the Cubs offense, the value of Javy Baez and Addison Russell and what it means now that the starting rotation looks to be finding its form.

With 17 games in 17 days (most of which come against contending teams), the Cubs started things off right with a series victory in St. Louis.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

Even though they didn't finish off the sweep of their division rivals in St. Louis Sunday night, they're still only a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and for the best record in the league. A +95 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157), Boston Red Sox (+102) and New York Yankees (+98) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-13 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.