The Cubs won 97 games in 2008. Unfortunately, that got them nowhere in the postseason, and further unfortunately, it got them the 31st pick in the 2009 draft. That meant that current star major leaguers like Stephen Strasburg and Mike Trout were gone by the time the Cubs picked, as well as other solid active players such as Dustin Ackley, Drew Storen, Mike Leake and Aaron Crow were gone.
So the Cubs took outfielder Brett Jackson from the University of California. He looked like a decent pick, especially for that low in the first round; he performed well in his debut minor-league season in 2009, hitting .318/.418/.488 with eight home runs, 31 walks and 56 strikeouts in 249 plate appearances.
Jackson's power stayed consistent in subsequent years with SLGs of .493, .490 and .479 in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but the strikeouts soared. Jackson struck out 158 times in 407 at-bats (39 percent of his total AB) at Triple-A Iowa and then K'd in nearly half (59 of 120) his at-bats after promotion to the Cubs.
Still, even with all the strikeouts and a low batting average (.175), Jackson walked enough to have a presentable OBP of .303. His .342 SLG wasn't great, but a lot of that was due to the low batting average; of his 21 hits, 11 went for extra bases (six doubles, a triple, four home runs).
He played plus defense in center field, but it was clear that if Jackson were to stick in the big leagues, he'd have to adjust his swing. Now, manager Dale Sveum says he's done exactly that:
Brett Jackson spent time with Sveum and the Cubs hitting coaches in Mesa. Jackson apparently made “huge, huge strides” and has completely overhauled his swing. Sveum said the young outfielder could be in the mix in 2O13. “I think he’s got a good base to work with going into 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.”
There aren't a lot of quality outfielders available this offseason, and more are signing (Shane Victorino, for example) every day. Perhaps it's time to just give Jackson the job, or at least make it his to lose in spring training. He's 24; if he's ever going to make it, 2013 is the year. I still think he can be a productive major leaguer, perhaps hitting in the range of .250/.350/.450 every year, with maybe 20 or so home runs, and playing solid defense. That's no superstar, but it's definitely a useful major-league player. Anthony Rizzo made similar adjustments last offseason and appears on his way to stardom. Maybe the Cubs have another such player ready to blossom.