Cubs

As Cubs eye outfield options, Brett Jackson expects a breakthrough

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As Cubs eye outfield options, Brett Jackson expects a breakthrough

Maybe Brett Jackson had to hit what manager Dale Sveum called rock bottom.
Thats an overstatement, because its not like the Cubs were surprised when Jackson was so over-matched last year (59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats). They promoted him from Triple-A Iowa in August so that he could see what it takes at this level and forget whatever stubborn ideas he had in his head.
The Cubs are not going to write off a 24-year-old plus defender who has shown a unique combination of power, speed and the willingness to literally run into walls. But they are insistent that Jackson will start this season in Iowa as they continue to weigh their options in the outfield.
Sources said theres mutual interest between the Cubs and Scott Hairston who hit 20 homers in 377 at-bats with the New York Mets last season and a strong opposition to signing free agent Michael Bourn because it would mean losing a second-round draft pick and sacrificing part of their signing-bonus pool.
The Mets have reportedly rejected Hairstons demands two years, 8 million and there could be reasons to sign here. Hairston spent part of his childhood in the Chicago suburbs. His grandfather Sam and father Jerry Sr. played for the White Sox. His older brother Jerry Jr. graduated from Naperville North High School and played for the Cubs.
Hairston is said to be a good clubhouse guy. He was part of the San Diego Padres team that won 91 games in 2010, Jed Hoyers first year as general manager. Between Hairston, David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz and Dave Sappelt and Alfonso Sorianos need for days off at the age of 37 the Cubs could take a mix-and-match approach in the outfield.
Jackson listened during his exit interview at the end of last season, when the Cubs told him hed be ticketed for Des Moines. He applied those lessons during a November minicamp with Sveum and hitting coaches James Rowson and Rob Deer at the teams complex in Arizona.
But Jackson still expects to force his way into the picture.
I have every intention of making the team, he said over the weekend at Cubs Convention. I have no intention of going to Iowa. Im going to keep working the way I always do. Im confident in my ability and who I am as a player and who Ive become as a player. I know what I need to do and Ive set my mind on that goal and Im not stopping until Im there.
Jackson should have the swagger (2009 first-round pick) and smarts (Cal-Berkeley education) to make those adjustments, like using his top hand more and smoothing out his swing path.
But the front office views Triple-A as the finishing school it was for Anthony Rizzo, who looked so lost in San Diego in 2011, tore up the Pacific Coast League for a half-season and then generated 15 homers and 48 RBI in 87 games with the Cubs.
We want (Jackson) to start in Iowa, Hoyer said. Things can happen over the course of a spring with injuries and whatnot, but I think we saw hes got some things he can work on in Iowa. I look at it very, very similarly to the way I looked at things with Rizzo.
(Jackson) can take some of those lessons back to Iowa. If he takes the same attitude Anthony did, I dont see any reason he cant do the same thing.
The strikeouts have become the thing with Jackson, but hes still an all-around player who can work the count and prevent runs in center. He walked 22 times during that 44-game audition, and 11 of his 21 hits went for extra bases. He thinks hes on the verge of a breakthrough.
Strugglings always going to test your confidence levels, Jackson said. Certainly it isnt easy to struggle, but Im a firm believer that struggle is what makes the man, makes the player. I wouldnt be where I am today I wouldnt have learned what I need to adjust for this season if not for last season.
The way I struggled is turning out to be an important lesson for me as a player, to help me evolve as player, to be the player I want to be.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Checking in with Joe & Theo at the Winter Meetings

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Checking in with Joe & Theo at the Winter Meetings

Tony Andracki goes 1-on-1 with manager Joe Maddon at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. The Cubs manager touches on his efforts to put art back into the game, his biggest challenge in 2019, the Cubs' sense of urgency and his thoughts about Matt Nagy and the Bears (:30).

Plus, we catch up with Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, who discusses internal team leadership, whether or not the Cubs are close to a deal and how Maddon is changing up his coaching style (5:45).

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Where do Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo fit in Cubs leadership equation?

Where do Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo fit in Cubs leadership equation?

LAS VEGAS — All this talk about the Cubs' desire for more leadership on the roster has raised several questions and chief among them is wondering what it says about the core players already on the team.

If the Cubs have a leadership void — as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have said this month — does that mean players like Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Javy Baez are not leaders?

Epstein confirmed Tuesday afternoon at the MLB Winter Meetings that the Cubs feel they have plenty of leadership on the roster, but they're looking more for that one guy — a veteran who has been around the block and isn't afraid to call somebody out or hold teammates accountable. The David Ross or Jon Jay mold, as Hoyer said Monday.

Rizzo is the face of the franchise and the driving force in the lineup every day, but he's still only 29 and developing as a leader. 

Heyward isn't real vocal, but when he does speak up, it carries a lot of weight — as the famous Rain Delay Speech indicates. 

Zobrist can talk hitting for hours and it's easy to see him becoming a coach whenever his playing career is done. But he isn't super vocal by nature, either.

Baez is an interesting case as he is quickly becoming an impactful leader for this team. In the process of putting up a huge breakout 2018 campaign that earned him a second-place finish in NL MVP voting, Baez became one of the most outspoken players in the dugout and clubhouse.

His instincts and baseball IQ are off the charts and he sees the game on a whole other level, which lends a different viewpoint to the squad. 

When the Cubs were handed a disappointing and abrupt early offseason, it was Baez that stood at his locker for nearly a half hour, ranting about how the team lacked urgency and an edge for most of the year.

Baez is starting to emerge as a true leader, but March 28, 2019 will only represent his third big-league Opening Day and he still has played in just 527 games at baseball's highest level.

"Javy is as respected as anyone in that clubhouse and is just starting to find his voice," Epstein said. "That's probably the next step for him — speaking up a little bit more. But by the way he plays the game, how much he cares about winning, how tough he is, he's got everyone's respect and attention."

Epstein said Rizzo is making it his personal mission to take his leadership to another level.

Epstein and Hoyer and the rest of the front office are taking responsibility for the "miscalculation" that the 2018 Cubs did not need — or have room on the roster — for one of those leaders.

Now they're trying to fix that for 2019 by attempting to add the right guy into the mix.

But what type of leader are the Cubs seeking?

"It's really certain leadership you need from the right bench guy who's not expecting a ton more playing time, who's content at where he is in his career — he's just completely invested in winning, invested in his teammates," Epstein said. "Those little difficult conversations that you have to have sometimes. Or bringing energy on a day where the everyday guys are dragging.

"That's an important role on a club, but please don't take it the wrong way that we think there's some deficiency with our position players. We have incredible guys and a lot of character there and some leaders — they're just continuing to grow into it."

What is it that Ross provided this club that they haven't been able to duplicate since he left?

Here's a perfect example:

"David was unusual, because Dave would grab guys walking off the field after a play," Joe Maddon said Tuesday. "And I would be entertained in my corner watching this whole thing unfold. I would address it afterwards. There's nothing wrong with that. I know that some of the guys were afraid to come in the dugout. And still that's OK, because they knew David was on their side.

"Yes, we want that. I would say that every team out here wants that and they're hard to find."