Bears

The Cubs Way: Brett Jackson is still thinking big

775350.png

The Cubs Way: Brett Jackson is still thinking big

Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo became fast friends and sent each other text messages last winter: We got to make this team.

Cubs executives had other ideas, a long-range plan that had them ticketed for Triple-A Iowa out of spring training. They would polish their game, so that whenever they were called up to Wrigley Field, theyd never go back down again.

While Rizzo has crushed it in the Pacific Coast League, building buzz for his eventual promotion, Jackson still has something to prove.

Jackson entered Tuesday hitting .243 with five homers and 18 RBI through 46 games. The 23-year-old outfielder had also struck out 64 times in his first 181 at-bats.

Jackson recently sat down with Comcast SportsNet in Des Moines, telling Luke Stuckmeyer that he can see the light at the end of the tunnel, both for himself and the entire organization.

Certainly, I dont think Im off to the start I wished for, Jackson said in an interview airing on SportsNet Central on Tuesday at 10 p.m. But I think statistics can indicate something thats not necessarily true.

The punch-outs are something, but I think every day Im moving in the right direction to become a better player. Every day Im excited to come to the park and see how Ive grown and see how I make those adjustments. Id certainly rather be making those adjustments in Iowa than Chicago.

(Its) a struggle (that) in the long run is going to make me grow as a player and advance my potential.

Jackson is intelligent and self-aware, a 2009 first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley. He fits Theo Epsteins ideal vision of a player who may not do one thing extremely well (like hit 30 bombs), but can make contributions across the board, grinding out at-bats, running the bases and covering a lot of ground on defense.

The skys the limit, said Cubs pitcher Randy Wells, whos spent time in Iowa this season. Hes going to be a big-time player. Hes got every tool that you need.

Jackson doesnt lack for confidence, and many in the organization have noticed the way he carries himself in the clubhouse, that sense of belonging when he walks through the room.

Jackson and Rizzo are supposed to set the tone for future Cubs teams, as glue guys in the lineup and the clubhouse, the idea being that their personalities and work ethics will rub off on teammates.

(Jacksons) a great talent, Iowa manager Dave Bialas said. He competes very well. You never have to get on him about running out a groundball, because hes playing hard every day.

People who were around the Iowa team last season remember how Jackson struggled when he first came up from Double-A Iowa in the middle of July, before turning it up last August, hitting .351 with six homers, 19 RBI and a 1.023 OPS in 28 games.

Jackson was also said to be pressing when former general manager Jim Hendry scouted the team last summer, thinking he was close to being called up. One team official noticed his sense of urgency to get to the big leagues, almost from the moment he signed.

Every night I go home, Jackson said, I feel that Im like an adjustment away, (that) Im on the cusp of going off as a hitter.

Jackson talks a good game, and isnt afraid of the television cameras or the media hype or the fan expectations that will come with his arrival on the North Side.

Its motivating, Jackson said. Thats one of the pleasures of playing for a Chicago Cub team, or a New York Yankee team, one of those big organizations in a big city.

Baseballs not the same without pressure. Its not as fun without pressure. We take that pressure and we run with it. We thrive off it. I enjoy it.

At times, yeah, you get down on yourself. (But) thats how you make the adjustments. Thats how you grow.

We want to do big things in Chicago and were not settling for anything less.

General manager Jed Hoyer made it clear that no one will be promoted from Iowa just to shake things up or try to rescue the offense. Each prospect in the organization was given an individual player plan, outlining goals and expectations for this season.

So Jackson will have to complete the checklist. But he was untouchable in the Epstein compensation negotiations with the Boston Red Sox. And recent first-round picks Andrew Cashner (San Diego Padres) and Tyler Colvin (Colorado Rockies) were traded away last winter.

That leaves Jackson as an eager spokesman for The Cubs Way.

Its an attitude, Jackson said. (You) talk to guys that have been with the Yankees before and (look at) the way the Yankees and Red Sox carry themselves: (You) know youre going to win going into a game.

There are certain players that go into their at-bat knowing theyre going to win, whether they win that at-bat or not. Thats the attitude that were going for in Chicago, (what) Theo talks about.

The Cubs Way is something I want to be a part of its something that I believe in.

Rizzo appears to be on the faster track, but pretty soon it will be time to start the Jackson Watch.

Bears could develop “twin towers” personnel package at WR with Robinson, White

Bears could develop “twin towers” personnel package at WR with Robinson, White

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Coaches are loath to give away competitive information, which can cover just about anything from play design to flavor of Gatorade dispensed by the training staff. But Matt Nagy offered an intriguing what-if personnel grouping that his offense could confront defenses with in 2018. It’s one that has been overlooked so far, for a variety of reasons.


The what-if personnel pairing is Allen Robinson and Kevin White as the outside receivers, a tandem that would put two 6-foot-3 wide receivers at the disposal of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Bears have not had a tandem of effective big receivers since Alshon Jeffery (6-3) and Brandon Marshall (6-4) averaged a combined 159 catches per year from 2012-14.


White’s injury history has relegated him to found-money status in many evaluations, and he has typically been running at Robinson’s spot while the latter was rehabbing this offseason from season-ending knee injury.


But Nagy on Wednesday cited Robinson’s ability to play multiple positions and clearly raised the prospect of his two of his biggest receivers being on the field at the same time.


“The one thing you’ll see here in this offense is that we have guys all over the place in different spots,” said Nagy, who credited GM Ryan Pace with stocking the roster with options at wide receiver. “Ryan did a great job of looking at these certain free agents that we went after, some of these draft picks that we went after and getting guys that are football smart, they have a high football IQ and they’re able to play multiple positions.


“When you can do that, that helps you out as an offensive playcaller to be able to move guys around. Is it going to happen to every single receiver that comes into this offense? No. But we do a pretty job I feel like at balancing of where they’re at position wise, what they can and can’t handle, and then we try to fit them into the process.”


The organization and locker room can be excused for a collective breath-holding on White, who has gone through his third straight positive offseason but whose last two seasons ended abruptly with injuries in the fourth and first games of the 2016 and 2017 seasons.


White was leading the Bears in with 19 receptions through less than four full games in 2016, then was lost with a fractured fibula suffered against Detroit. The injury was all the crueler coming in a game in which White already had been targeted nine times in 41 snaps and had caught six of those Brian Hoyer passes.


White’s roster status has been open to some question with the signings of Robinson and Taylor Gabriel together with the drafting of Anthony Miller. All represent bigger deep threats in terms of average yards per catch than White (9.2 ypc.) at this point: Robinson, 14.1.; Gabriel, 15.1; and Miller, 13.8 (college stats).


But Trubisky’s budding chemistry with White was evident throughout the offseason. And the second-year quarterback has studied what Robinson has been and seen some of what he can be.


“We know he has great hands, he’ll go up and get it,” Trubisky said. “Explosive route-runner. The more reps we get, it’s all about repetitions for us, continue to build that chemistry. Just going against our great defense in practice is going to allow us to compete and get better.”


Folding in the expectations for an expanded presence at tight end (Trey Burton), “targets” will be spread around the offense. How often the Bears go with a Robinson-White “twin towers” look clearly depends in large measure on White’s improvement as well as his availability.


Opportunities will be there. The Kansas City Chiefs ran 51 percent of their 2018 snaps, with Nagy as offensive coordinator, in “11” personnel (one back, one tight end, three receivers, according to Pro Football Focus. Whether White earns his way into that core nickel-wideout package opposite Robinson is part of what training camp and preseason will determine.


“[White] has had a good offseason and just like our team, he needs to carry that momentum into camp,” Pace said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, he’s very focused. The real expectation, just be the best he can be. Focus on himself, which is what he’s been doing.”

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."