The Cubs’ center-field picture in an attractive one on many levels.
For now, dependable David DeJesus looks to be the starter. Down the line, the Cubs look good if Brett Jackson and Albert Almora fulfill their potential.
First things first.
Last off-season, the Cubs signed DeJesus to a two-year deal plus a club option for 2014. He opened the season in right field, with Marlon Byrd in center. But Byrd was dealt, and DeJesus wound up starting 36 games in center and 86 in right.
On a team that found it challenging, to say the least, to get on base, DeJesus stood out with an on-base percentage of .350, tops among regular players, and there really wasn’t a challenger in the OBP department until first baseman Anthony Rizzo came up in late June and went on to post an on-base of .342.
DeJesus also was a key factor in keeping the clubhouse from coming anywhere near an implosion during a 101-loss season. His work ethic and example-setting both on and off the field sent a strong message to young players and veterans alike that things could be done the right way every day, even if the victories weren’t coming.
Jackson came up in early August amid much hoopla. The Cubs’ first-round draft pick in 2009, Jackson possesses great athleticism. But it was a struggle at the plate, as he put up a line of .175/.303/.342 with 4 homers. But what alarmed the Cubs were Jackson’s 59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats.
So shortly after the season ended, Jackson went to work with manager Dale Sveum and hitting coach James Rowson on making adjustments to his swing. By accounts coming out of spring training, Jackson looks like a different hitter.
“It has to do with using more of my top hand,” Jackson told reporters in Mesa, Ariz. “I’m a right-hand-dominant athlete, and I have a tendency to try to overdo it a little bit with my bottom hand. If you watch swings from last year, you know my back elbow was getting really high and causing kind of like a teetering effect and making me slightly late on everything.
“Now, I’m working on just keeping my back elbow down and being shorter to the ball, amongst other things, but that’s the biggest adjustment.”
Sveum, a hitting coach by trade, offered his perspective to reporters.
“When you really revamp a swing and a swing thought and a swing plane and then you get results, that’s what you’re really looking for,” he said. “Because sometimes you do something like that and don’t get any results, and you get really discouraged and might start searching again. That’s always a plus, when you get results from change.”
The Cubs have said Jackson will start the season at Class AAA Iowa to get at-bats, much the same as Rizzo did last year. Jackson’s new swing has been compared to Rizzo’s.
For his part, Jackson has said he has other ideas and that he plans to make the team.
Things could get interesting in the very near future. Almora, last year’s first-round draft pick, already has moved up to being he No. 2 Cubs prospect, according to Baseball America.
“Thanks to his bat speed, loose swing and hand-eye coordination, Amora makes line-drive contact with ease,” writes the publication, which also projects him as a Gold Glove center fielder.
Almora most likely will open this season with the Kane County Cougars, the Cubs’ new Midwest League affiliate, and that alone could keep the turnstiles spinning in Geneva.
If Almora lives up to the hype, Jackson could move to left field, and with Jorge Soler moving ahead in right field, the Cubs could have an extremely exciting outfield for years to come.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.