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Cubs top prospects Brett Jackson, Anthony Rizzo have big plans

Center fielder Brett Jackshomered back-to-back intrasquad games over weekend. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Center fielder Brett Jackson homered in back-to-back intrasquad games over the weekend. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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With the January trade for Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs have four prospects on various major top-100 prospects lists. Cub prospects ranked by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus (Kevin Goldstein) and ESPN’s Keith Law:

Player BA BP KL

1B Anthony Rizzo 47 75 36

OF Brett Jackson 32 44 89

SS Javier Baez 61 66 95

OF Matt Szczur 64 — —

Updated: April 6, 2012 8:12AM

MESA, Ariz. — About a week after Anthony Rizzo’s first Cubs Convention in January, Brett Jackson started getting the text messages.

“Hey, we’ve got to make this team, man.”

Versions of the same message kept coming from Rizzo until the Cubs’ top prospects got to Mesa and started working on their big-league plans.

“As far as a timeline to get to the big leagues, I’ll speak for Anthony,” Jackson said. “I know him, and I know his work ethic. We’re going to keep working till that day comes, and when that day comes, it’s not going to end.”

Anyone still wondering when the Cubs’ new regime will see the team turn the corner toward the goal of “sustained success” might want to stay tuned for the day Rizzo and Jackson join kid All-Star Starlin Castro in the big leagues.

“That’s the hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We certainly hope both of these guys are a big part of our future here. That’s what the goal is, to build a team of young, controllable position players that we can build around. I think the best teams have that core of young players that come together, and that’s what we need to build.”

The Cubs drafted Jackson, a center fielder, in the first round in 2009. Rizzo, a first baseman acquired from the San Diego Padres in a trade for Andrew Cashner, is in his third organization in three seasons.

The common link, of course, is the Theo Epstein-Hoyer-Jason McLeod trio of execs who believe so deeply in his projections that they drafted him with the Boston Red Sox and essentially kept taking him with them as they moved.

The Cubs believe they have two future middle-of-the-order hitters with above-average fielding ability and leadership skills. It doesn’t hurt that they quickly have become friends, bonding as part of a group that includes first-round pick Josh Vitters, who played with Rizzo on the same select team of prospects when they were in high school.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to be part of something great here in Chicago,” Jackson said. “That gives you big purpose and meaning to everything we do, everything we work for. I know I want it, and I know I want more than just to get to the big leagues. I want to do big things.”

Rizzo, who already has put on power-hitting shows in batting practice, doesn’t always talk as boldly as Jackson. But he carries the same kind of confidence, even after a rough 49-game start to his big-league career last summer, when he hit .141 with one home run.

“I’ve had a taste of it, and that’s definitely incentive,” he said. “The grass is greener. I got there, and everything was better than I ever expected.”

Jackson made a quick impression. The left-handed hitter homered against left-handers in back-to-back intrasquad games over the weekend.

The Cubs plan to send both to Class AAA Iowa to start the season. But their timetables seem anything but certain.

“Going in, we’ve talked to them. They know their roles,” manager Dale Sveum said. “But the bottom line is you still finish the conversation with, ‘You play every day to make the team and to open our eyes.’ They’re special guys that don’t come around all the time, with tools and ability — impact players. It’s going to be interesting. I hope they do make our decisions tough.”

Whenever their day comes, the vision is clear.

“It could be something really special,” Jackson said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen and be part of it.”

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