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.