Jackson and Vitters Get Their Numbers Called
It’s about damn time. In a span of 41 days, the Cubs have called up three of their very best prospects from Iowa: Anthony Rizzo on June 26, with both Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters following suit yesterday. Even in the midst of a five-game losing streak, I have nothing but positive feelings about what has finally come to be: the Cubs’ front office has officially made way for the future of the ball club, giving Jackson and Vitters the opportunity to showcase their talents for the last two months of the all-but-lost 2012 season. Whether or not they’re completely ready for the big leagues remains to be seen, but you’ve got to think that, with nearly negative production from third base and Bryan Lahair struggling mightily since the early part of the season, the two youngsters are here to stay for the rest of the season.
It has been a pretty rough few years in the minors for Josh Vitters, but the former third overall pick in the 2007 draft finally broke out for the Iowa Cubs this season. By sporting .304/.356/.513/ splits along with 17 homers and 68 RBIs, it was only a matter of time until the highly touted third baseman got his number called. Sure, his defense needs a lot of work (23 errors for Iowa), but it’s nothing that can’t be improved upon. Repetition is the most important thing for a young ball player, and Vitters will be sure to get a lot of it over the next two months. Word on the street is that he will only play against left-handed pitchers, but I won’t believe it until I see it. Not only is Luis Valbuena anemic offensively (.198 BA) and won’t have any impact on the future of this team, but Vitters is coming off a successful minor league campaign in which he hit .290 in 279 at-bats against righties at Iowa. Dale Sveum would be making a gigantic mistake if he decided to follow through on this rumor. Vitters wasn’t in the lineup yesterday against the Dodgers, but with lefty Eric Stults on the mound for San Diego tonight, I fully expect to see him make his major league debut as a starting third baseman.
Once Anthony Rizzo left Iowa and never looked back, Brett Jackson became the top prospect in the Cubs organization. He has 20-20 potential at the big league level and has the ability to play all three outfield spots very effectively. His promotion means that we won’t be seeing Tony Campana back in a Cub uniform any time soon, and it also pushes David DeJesus to right field (where he should be) and Bryan Lahair to the bench (also where he should be). Jackson looked very solid in his debut yesterday, going 2/4 with a run scored and a walk.
As promising as Cub fans make him out to be, though, Jackson certainly comes in with some red flags. His huge strikeout rate (158 strikeouts in 407 at-bats this season) is definitely a concern, and his batting average at Iowa dropped from .297 in 2011 (48 games) to .256 this season (106 games). It wouldn’t surprise me to see him start out slowly as he adapts to major league pitching; however, Jackson draws a lot of walks (47 this season with a .338 on-base percentage) and has that rare power-speed combination, which he demonstrated at Iowa by hitting 15 home runs and converting 27 of 32 stolen base attempts, that can help make up for some of his offensive shortcomings. Batting second in front of Anthony Rizzo should also benefit him majorly and give him the opportunity to score a ton of runs in the future (led Iowa with 66 runs scored).
The Cubs youth movement has started to go into full effect. They now have 11 players on their 25-man roster who were not with the team on Opening Day. There will be many growing pains from here on out, but that’s to be expected. It would be wise for Cubs fans to keep their expectations rather low and not be too critical of these young guys, as this is both their first major league stints. Remember, it was only a year ago that Anthony Rizzo completely shat the bed during his first call-up experience in San Diego; look what a little more time in the minor leagues did for him. Jackson and Vitters will use these two months to understand what it takes to be successful in the National League and figure out what they must improve on during the offseason and beyond. It will continue to take time and patience, but soon enough, the Cubs will no longer be considered a rebuilding project. And it will all have started with the promotions of Rizzo, Jackson and Vitters during the summer of 2012.