By: Nick Roark
The tables have turned in just one calendar year for Chicago Cubs prospect Brett Jackson. This day last year, Jackson had just celebrated his 24th birthday and was two short days away from making his Major League debut, starting in center field for Chicago as the Cubs faced off against one of baseball’s most storied franchises in the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Exactly one year later, Jackson finds another year older and fresh off a 10-hour bus ride with his Tennessee Smokies’ teammates, preparing for a five-game series against the Miami Marlins Double-A-affiliate Jacksonville.
“Obviously [it’s] not where I want to be at this point in the year, but I am here and you have to stay within the moment and deal with what you have,” Jackson said. “Fortunately, this is a great environment to play baseball, a great environment to kind of get back on my feet.”
Sidelined for the past month with sore right calf and Achilles tendon, Jackson is back in Tennessee after spending parts of 2010 and 2011 with Cubs’ Double-A-affiliate.
“You see it a lot of times guys have been in the big leagues and they get back to the Minor Leagues,” Bailey said. “Their mind’s in the big league stadium, or with the big league club, and the body is in a Minor League facility … and they never get it all back together.”
Many fans in Chicago expected to see the 25-year-old Jackson at Wrigley Field this season, especially with an injury depleted Chicago outfield. While Jackson is now competing on a daily basis, the California native has strides to make at the plate before donning the Cubs’ uniform.
After working with Cubs’ manager Dale Sveum in the offseason on adjustments in his swing, Jackson experienced initial success in Spring Training by hitting .294 in 19 games. But with a month off and disappointing numbers at Triple-A Iowa, Jackson must now start back at square one.
“I’m not looking at results right at the moment,” Smokies hitting coach Desi Wilson said. “I’m looking at, is he seeing and picking up the ball out of the pitcher’s hand? That’s the first thing. Then after that I’ll go to the swing and then the approach.”
“I think with Brett, he’s been out for a month and a half, you just don’t want to say, ‘Ok, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that.’ It’s just one thing at a time,” Wilson said.
One of the biggest points of concern over the last two seasons with Jackson has been strikeouts. The former California Golden Bear racked up 158 strikeouts with Iowa in 2012 and already has 89 this year. Jackson said the changes in his swing during the Spring were, “not necessarily to cut down on strikeouts,” but to “improve contact rate which in effect will hopefully benefit the strikeouts.”
“Striking out’s part of who I am,” Jackson said. “I’m going to strike out, I’m going to hit for power and I’m going to be on base as much as I can.”
“A lot of that is incorporating some new stuff with who I am as a hitter naturally and that’s been a challenge kind of getting those two combinations to blend rather than do one thing one way while you’re instincts are going another,” Jackson said. “I think when I can get those things to blend, I think we’re looking at something pretty special.”
The No. 5 rated prospect, according to Baseball America, now hits seventh in a lineup that features five of Chicago’s top 15 prospects and went 4-15 with an RBI, two runs scored, four strikeouts and one walk in four games against the Chicago White Sox Double-A-affiliate Birmingham.
For the 2012 big leaguer to impact the Tennessee lineup and make his way back to Chicago, Bailey says Jackson must stay patient with himself.
“Hopefully … he becomes a big contributor with us,” Bailey said. “Hopefully each day, as it keeps going by, he’s get his timing and we can use Brett in the lineup because when he’s right, he can really help a ball club or obviously he wouldn’t have gotten to the big leagues.”
While Smokies’ outfielder wishes to be in center field at ‘The Friendly Confines’ against today’s opposition, the Dodgers, he will settle for being at Bragan Field to square off against the Suns. As a trying 2013 season winds to an end, Jackson believes he will be better for it.
“Sometimes,” Jackson said, “you have to really see some adversity to get the positive out of what you’re going for. It’s been a challenging year, but I’m growing as a player and no doubt that I’m going in the right direction.”
To stay current with all the latest news, follow Smokies on Radio on Twitter and like the Smokies on Radio Facebook page. Nick Roark is the Senior Beat Writer for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow him on Twitter here: NickRoark4.