Cubs’ Brett Jackson hopes adjustments lead to success
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Twitter: @gwittenmyer@ February 14, 2013 1:25PM
Brett Jackson reacts as he strikes out for the fourth consecutive at-bat Monday. | Lenny Ignelzi~AP
Updated: February 14, 2013 4:36PM
Anthony Rizzo, one of those fresh, young face-of-the-franchise guys for a Cubs team in transition, stood before a dozen media members Thursday morning, stared into the TV cameras and talked about the Cubs’ big plans, and his part of them as he enters his first full season in the big leagues.
A few feet away, almost literally in the shadows, outfielder Brett Jackson quietly got dressed for practice.
Quietly is not how Brett Jackson typically does things. And the shadows have never been the ultra-confident, California kid’s natural habitat.
But one year after he and Rizzo were two of the hottest topics in camp — inextricably linked for six weeks as spring training’s rising-star prospects for a young, rebuilding team under new management – they find themselves in far different places.
Rizzo has become the cornerstone first baseman whose respectable slugging exploits have been exaggerated in Cubs marketing campaigns over the winter.
Jackson has become the once-brightest prospect whose astounding strikeout numbers last year have put him at a crossroads for a team that may not even have a job opening for him to try to win after adding two veteran outfielders over the winter.
``I’m more confident now than I was then, and I have every intention of making this team out of spring.’’
If that sounds counterintuitive – at least – well, ``Yeah, you’d think so,’’ Jackson says, explaining, ``I think I used my struggle in my 60 games or whatever it was as motivation and – not that I needed more incentive – but as incentive to become the player I know I can be. The fact that I struggled was an eye-opener in the sense that it showed me not that I can’t do something, but it showed me how I can do something.’’
Jackson said he was ``mentally and athletically 100 percent prepared’’ for his big-league callup in early August last summer but admittedly, physically, his swing cost him – as in 59 strikeouts in 120 big-league at-bats, and 217 between Class AAA and the majors overall.
Only the White Sox’ Adam Dunn (222) struck out more in professional baseball last year.
``What last year gave me, if nothing else, was the ability to figure out what I needed to change,’’ Jackson, 24, said.
So did manager Dale Sveum, hitting coach James Rowson and assistant hitting coach Rob Deer – all of whom worked with him to make changes to his swing when he traveled to Arizona in November for the special hitting sessions.
Even now, Deer – the slugging outfielder whose strikeout totals were legendary as a player – works and talks with Jackson every day, keeping him confident and focused on the adjustments the club wants to see.
The difference in his stance and swing – lower hand position, more compact swing – are noticeable even to the amateur observers.
``It was a challenge to make that adjustment, but I’m very content with the way it’s come to be over the off-season and how it’s feeling in the first few days of spring,’’ Jackson said. ``I feel I’m ready to compete.’’
As Jackson talks, he glances over his shoulder at Rizzo holding court and recalls Rizzo’s .141 struggles in his two-month debut in 2011 with San Diego.
``I look up to him in that sense, the way he put behind himself what happened in 2011,’’ Jackson said, ``and used that as motivation to show people what he’s capable of. He did that.
``It’s a perfect example of the situation I’m in. I don’t think I need more motivation, but I have that motivation.’’
And the continued belief that he’ll join Rizzo as a cornerstone piece for this team.
``Absolutely,’’ he said. ``I don’t discount myself as a player based on the small sample size of the games I played.
``Physically I’ve made an adjustment, and mentally and athletically as an outfielder and as a hitter I think I’m becoming someone who can really help a team win, can really help the team the way a game changer can.’’
It’s why he put in the work with the manager and coaches in November, why he was at spring camp weeks before position players were scheduled, why he plays the game at all, he says – just as Rizzo finishes his impromptu press conference.
``It’s not to be in front of 100 cameras,’’ Jackson says, ``It’s to be winning 100 games.’’