Cubs’ Brett Jackson says he has learned from his struggles in ’12
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com February 14, 2013 10:40PM
Brett Jackson reacts as he strikes out for the fourth consecutive at-bat Monday. | Lenny Ignelzi~AP
Updated: February 14, 2013 11:14PM
MESA, Ariz. — Anthony Rizzo stood before a dozen media members Thursday morning and talked about the Cubs’ big plans and his part in 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 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, they find themselves in far different places.
Rizzo has become the cornerstone first baseman whose respectable slugging exploits have been hyperbolized in Cubs marketing campaigns over the winter.
Jackson has become the once-top prospect whose astounding strikeout numbers last year have put him at a crossroads. The Cubs don’t even have a job opening for him to win this spring.
‘‘Barring injuries or anything, he knows. We’ve already told him,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘He’s going to Triple-A.’’
Not that the 2009 first-round pick chooses to believe it.
‘‘I’m more confident now than I was then,’’ Jackson said, ‘‘and I have every intention of making this team out of spring.’’
If that sounds counterintuitive, well, ‘‘Yeah, you’d think so,’’ Jackson said.
But, he added, ‘‘I used my struggles in my 60 games or so as motivation, 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 debut in early August last summer but admittedly his mechanics cost him — as in 59 strikeouts in 120 big-league at-bats and 217 between Class AAA and the majors.
Only the White Sox’ Adam Dunn (222) struck out more in professional baseball last year. And the 49.2 percent strikeout rate was the second-highest in major-league history for a player with at least 100 at-bats (Dave Duncan, 49.5 percent in 1967).
‘‘What last year gave me, if nothing else, was the ability to figure out what I needed to change,’’ Jackson, 24, said.
He traveled to Arizona in November and worked with Sveum, hitting coach James Rowson and assistant hitting coach Rob Deer on transforming his swing.
Deer, the slugging outfielder whose own strikeout totals were legendary, works and talks with Jackson every day, keeping him confident and focused on the adjustments the Cubs want to see.
The differences in his stance and swing — lower hand position, more compact swing — are noticeable even to 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 offseason 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 the San Diego Padres.
‘‘I look up to him, the way he put behind 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.’’
He’s also just as sure as a year ago that he’ll join Rizzo as a cornerstone piece for this franchise.
‘‘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 in November, why he was at spring camp weeks before position players were scheduled, why he plays the game at all, he said — just as Rizzo was finishing his impromptu news conference.
‘‘It’s not to be in front of 100 cameras,’’ Jackson said. ‘‘It’s to be winning 100 games.’’