By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) The weekend ended with the Chicago Cubs surprising many fans by calling up prospects Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters without much warning. Jackson started in center field and went 2-4 in his MLB debut, while Vitters pinch-hit in the seventh inning, flying out to right.
So who are these kids that many are so excited to see?
Jackson, a 2009 first round pick, was ranked the franchise’s second-best prospect by Fangraphs’ Marc Hulet prior to the start of the 2012 season. The 2012 print edition of Baseball Prospectus says the following:
“In the early 2000s, the Tigers had a young left-handed outfielder who was considered to have no outstanding strength and who struck out too much. Fast forward to 2011, and Curtis Granderson led his league in runs scored and RBI. One anecdote won’t change Brett Jackson’s stars, but—like Granderson before him—Jackson is a high-energy player who carries the reputation of not having a standout skill. Yet, other than making contact, he’s above average in all aspects of the game, and he compensates for his whiffs by taking enough pitches to rack up the walks.”
Now, don’t go proclaiming through the streets that the Cubs have the next Curtis Granderson just yet. Jackson has a lot of fine-tuning in his game to do, and to expect the final product to be Granderson-esque is asking a lot. But notice BP’s observation at the end there—he strikes out a ton. 158 in Iowa this season, actually. You’ll be hearing about Jackson’s K’s ad nauseum for a while if not for his entire career.
Please, I implore you, do not be hung up on that. Do not fall into the “Adam Dunn Trap” like on the other side of town, the one where foolish fans focus on a player’s strikeouts instead of more important numbers that show he’s actually quite productive. Notice that BP mentions Jackson will get his walks. I understand it’s difficult to not get angry at a guy for striking out often, but appease yourself by paying attention to how he’s getting on base as well. Also know that he has the potential for 20+ home runs and 20+ stolen bases in a full season of play.
Defensively, Jackson is considered an above-average outfielder with an average but accurate arm. You should not expect him to be much of a liability out there after he gets used to the Wrigley conditions.
Third base was long the position that the Cubs infamously just couldn’t seem to fill after Ron Santo was gone, but rarely was there any discussion of how icky the list of names to patrol the middle of the outfield on the North Side has been. Think really hard about the list of great modern day Cubs center fielders, I dare ya. In a few years you may finally be able to add Brett Jackson to that very short list.
And speaking of third base, that just so happens to be Josh Vitters’ position. The problem with Vitters, though, is he plays it fairly ugly. Here’s Baseball Prospectus on him:
“Normally, fielding percentage is a statistic to be avoided in any serious discussion, but Vitters has struggled to keep his over the .900 mark as a third baseman (.906 in his minor-league career)…”
Ouch. But there is a reason Vitters was ranked by Hulet in the preseason as the twelfth-best prospect in the Cubs’ system.
Like Jackson, he’s a first-round pick (third overall in 2007), and his .304/.356/.513 clip at Iowa this season is nothing to sneeze at. In late June, Kevin Goldstein of BaseballProspectus.com and ESPN wrote, “Third base has become a tough place to find offense, and while he doesn’t look like a future star, Vitters should provide some batting average and power down the road.” Manager Dale Sveum has said that Vitters will platoon with Luis Valbuena at third and likely see most at-bats vs. lefty pitchers.
The probable limited duty for Vitters is something with which I take issue. Yes, he’ll be an adventure in the field, but with a team going nowhere in 2012, should a prospect have playing time compromised by a guy like Luis Valbuena? I mean, I like to make “Dis Valbona kid” jokes on Twitter when he drives in a run, but really? It’s a safe bet that Vitters is neither going to grow into an All-Star nor probably even be a staple at the corner at Wrigley for years to come, but sitting on the bench does nothing for him.
So are you going to see two cogs in the rebuilt Cub machine? Maybe in Jackson, but not as likely in Vitters for any long period of time. Both guys are going to struggle at times in 2012, but be sure to understand that now is the time for them to try to grow into major league ballplayers, not be game-changers.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.