When Chicago Cubs top prospect Brett Jackson was informed he was going to begin the season at triple-A, even though he impressed many with his hustle and overall play this spring, he could have easily hung his head in disappointment. Maybe he did, actually, for about a second. He then reported to Iowa and picked up right where he left off last season when he hit .297 with 13 doubles, two triples, 10 home runs, 26 RBI and a .939 OPS over 48 games for the Iowa Cubs. Over his first four games this season, he is 7-for-16 (.455) with two doubles, a triple, four RBI and a stolen base. He has gotten a hit in all four games while playing his usual stellar defense in center field.
The 23-year-old, former first-round pick by the team in 2009, has put up numbers at every stop during his four-year pro career. Over 299 career games, he has hit .295 with 240 runs scored and a slash line of .395/.493/.888. His 162-game averages of 34 2B/13 3B/22 HR/88 RBI and 35 stolen bases show the kind of five-tool player the Cubs have on their hands. He is a left-handed-hitting leadoff hitter, who has speed to burn and gets on base at a high clip, three things the team has been missing for as long as I can remember. He also has the ability to hit 20 home runs while playing gold-glove caliber defense. While the Cubs can keep saying that he isn’t ready yet, and there are things that he needs to work on, the real reason is they don’t want to start his service time “clock” in a year that appears to be a wasted one. He will be up on June 1, guaranteed. For now, he will continue to rake for Iowa.
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Anthony Rizzo, acquired from the Padres in the Andrew Cashner deal, also has been hot out of the gate. Through his first four games, he is 6-for-16 (.375) with one home run and six RBI, including a three-run bomb on Sunday. The 6’-3”, 220-pound left-hander hit .331 with 34 doubles, 26 home runs, 101 RBI and a 1.056 OPS over 93 games for triple-A Tucson last year before struggling with major league pitching upon his arrival in San Diego. Over 49 games with the big league club, he hit just .143 with one home run, nine RBI and a .523 OPS. The 22-year-old went 12-for-33 (.365) this spring, with two home runs, five RBI and a .962 OPS, but the team wants him to work on his strike-zone judgment before they bring him up for good. He also will be up at some point this season.
Down at double-A Tennessee, second baseman Logan Watkins has started the season on a tear himself. Over his first four games, the former 21st-round pick by the team in 2008, has gone 7-for-14 (.500) with an RBI and a stolen base. The 5’-11”, 175-pounder hit .281 with 15 doubles, 12 triples, five home runs, 45 RBI and 21 stolen bases last year at class-A ball.
Jae Hoon-Ha, an outfielder the team signed out of Korea in 2009, is 5-for-17 (.294) with a double, two RBI and a stolen base through his first four games. The 6’-1”, 185-pound, 21-year-old hit .279 with 31 doubles, 11 home runs, 72 RBI and 13 stolen bases split between class-A/double-A last season. He is a smooth fielder, with great instincts for the game and nice power/speed potential down the road.
And finally, Hayden Simpson, the team’s first-round pick in 2010, started off the season on a very high note. After the Cubs shocked everyone by selecting him so high, and after a pro debut that saw him go 1-10, with a 6.27 ERA, 1.77 WHIP and 57 K/38 BB over 79 innings, he put a lot of people at ease for the moment by tossing 4.1 innings, allowing one run on five hits. He struck out two and didn’t allow a walk. The 6’-1”, 200-pound right-hander has electric stuff, capped off by a 97 mph fastball with late life. He obviously lost his confidence along the way last season, and with a positive start to this year, maybe he can start proving doubters wrong.