Sveum has high hopes for hard-working Jackson
Outfielder expected to start at Triple-A but could compete for big league role
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Cubs expect Brett Jackson in the starting outfield. The only question is when.
Jackson spent a few days in Mesa, Ariz., with Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who said Tuesday the young outfielder has made "huge, huge strides" and completely overhauled his swing. Jackson, who batted .175 in 44 games with the Cubs after he was called up in early August, is projected to open the 2013 season at Triple-A Iowa.
"There's no doubt that Brett Jackson could be part of the Cubs' big league team next year," Sveum said. "These kind of things are obviously all up to the individual now.
"We brought him up last season hoping he was going to do well but knowing we get to see him first-hand, where a week ago, he went out to Arizona, we were able to fix the things and be hands-on," Sveum said. "I think he'll tell you it was a huge learning experience. Things obviously didn't go well but he knows now that sometimes you have to hit that wall to know, 'Wow, I really have to make some huge adjustments to play at this level.'"
The Cubs are in the market for another outfielder, and would prefer a left-handed bat. Could Jackson be that guy?
"If someone got hurt and it forces our hand, then certainly, but our desire is to build a team where he goes to Iowa and works some things out," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "Dale and [hitting coach James Rowson] and everyone are very optimistic with the changes he made and they feel really good about it. We haven't soured on Brett at all."
Jackson's progress could affect what type of outfielder the Cubs add. They're looking for someone who can play right and center, and hopefully, Jackson shows he's ready."I think he's got a good base to work with the rest of the winter and going into Spring Training to understand the art of hitting, so to speak," Sveum said. "Sometimes it gets lost and taught the wrong way."
The Cubs need offense next season. At last year's manager session at the Winter Meetings, Sveum said the Cubs would need the corner guys to produce 25 to 35 home runs and drive in 100 runs.
"We came up short of that," he said.
The team is counting on more from first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who batted .285 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs in 87 games. Sveum said when Rizzo showed more confidence in his mechanics later in the season, he was more productive.
Shortstop Starlin Castro also made progress in his second full season.
"The biggest thing with him is we know the talent, we know the ability, the 200 hits," Sveum said. "We saw huge strides defensively."
Now, they want him to mature as a hitter.
"What I want to see out of him is to keep progressing mentally and understand the process of becoming a winning player and not a hit-seeker," Sveum said. "[We want him to become] more of a winning hitter, [handle] situations, drive runs in, understand the situations.
"Defensively, I think he came a long way but still has to concentrate more. I think we got him -- just throwing a number out there -- [concentrating] probably 80 to 85 percent of the time. We've got to get that to 95 percent. I don't think anybody ever focuses 100 percent -- I think you'd be lying if you said that. He took a lot of pride in that and got much better for a 22-year-old kid."
The Cubs finished with a .240 team batting average, ahead of only the Padres in the National League. Even though there haven't been many additions on offense, Sveum said the Cubs can still be competitive.
"You look at the Oakland A's last year, the Orioles winning all those extra-inning games, the one-run ballgames, the walk-off home runs -- we talk about it all the time," he said. "You have to have slugging percentage, you have to have guys with the ability to hit fastballs to win those close games. Those core guys, the eight guys who are going out there every day, they have to have career years.
"Most teams, when they might not be on paper like the Yankees or the good Red Sox teams, guys come out of nowhere and have their career years, and you win a lot more ballgames. Don't get me wrong, you still have to pitch. We have to compete, we have to put together a pitching staff and get these guys to understand you've got to stay away from the walks."
The Cubs have added free agents Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to the rotation, and Matt Garza, sidelined with an elbow injury in late July, is on schedule to be ready by Opening Day. But 2013 still appears to be Year No. 2 of the rebuilding plan. Does Sveum expect the team to have a better record?
"When you lose 100 games, you better go into it with a little more optimism," he said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.