I’ll end the Cubs’ prospect season reviews with outfielder Brett Jackson, the best hitting prospect the team has, now that Starlin Castro is no longer a prospect. Jackson was the Cubs’ first round pick in 2009, and after quickly climbing all the way to Low-A Peoria last season, he started 2010, his age 21 season, at High-A Daytona.
Jackson spent just 63 games in Daytona this season, before his production earned him a promotion to AA Tennessee. At Daytona, which plays in a pitcher friendly league, Jackson had a slash line of .316/.420/.517/.937 with six home runs, 19 doubles, and eight triples. In AA, Jackson saw a slight drop in his numbers, but still impressed with a line of .276/.366/.465/.831 with six home runs, 13 doubles, and six triples in 61 games. Overall, Jackson hit .297/.395/.493/.888 in 580 plate appearances.
For a 21 year old center fielder, those are the kind of numbers that a team can build around.
Jackson had a bad rap out of college for striking out too much, and he did have 126 strikeouts this season, but that doesn’t seem to affect his overall results. The strikeouts would be more of a problem if Jackson had problems making contact, but he hasn’t had an issue yet in the minors. Jackson also makes up for it with great patience, he walked 73 times this season, which is always good to see from a young hitter.
Another element Jackson brings is his base stealing, which looks to be something he worked on a lot this season. After having 13 steals all of last year, he stole 30 total this season, and was caught 11 times. Looking deeper into those steals though, Jackson improved as the season went on. In Daytona, he went 12 for 19, then improved to 18 for 22 in Tennessee. That would be a real nice element to have in his game going forward.
One concern about Jackson’s overall offensive numbers is that they appear to be slightly driven by luck. His BABIP this season in Daytona was .397, and in Tennessee it was .352. We know most hitters wind up around .300. There is some good news behind that BABIP though, namely Jackson’s 22.5% line drive rate, which means his BABIP will naturally be higher. Considering his .383 career BABIP, it is possible that Jackson makes hard enough contact, and has enough speed, to support a higher than usual BABIP on a regular basis.
Defensively, Jackson is currently in an odd place. Drafted as a center fielder, Jackson still has the speed and range to play the position, but there are a lot of questions about his instincts there. The Cubs seem to think he will have issues playing center in the big leagues, because he spent a lot of time in AA playing left and right field. In 2009 Total Zone rated him -1 across three levels in center field, which does suggest he might not be able to handle the position as he bulks up. Still, his value as a prospect comes from his ability to hit so well as a center fielder, and that value diminishes if he plays a corner outfield position.
Looking back at his scouting reports from the draft, there are varying reports on Jackson’s defense, but the consensus was that he might move to a corner outfield position down the line. Even if that is eventually the case, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to diminish his value now.
Jackson entered the season as one of the 10 best prospects in the Cubs’ system, and he ends the season as one of the three best. His hitting continues to impress, his stolen base potential is intriguing, and he has a position in the outfield, even if it hasn’t settled quite yet. I would expect him to spend a lot of time in big league camp next spring, and probably can push his way towards the 25 man roster by mid season.