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Monday, December 11

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Cubs Thu Aug 09 2012

Cubs Turn Season Over to the Kids

Cubs_200.pngEight losses in a row doesn't matter. Being outscored by 86 runs on the season is irrelevant. Having the third worst record in baseball makes no difference. (You thought I was going to say 'priceless,' didn't you?)

To the Cubs front office, it's all part of the plan. Bottoming out is the only true way to rebuild. It's painful - and the only way to get through it is to convince yourself that it's all for the greater good.

Chicago has turned into Iowa East. Only 13 current players began the season on the Cubs active roster. Trades have gutted the team to a level this city hasn't seen since MJ left town for good in the summer of 1998.

Everyone knows about Starlin Castro (he's still just 22, folks), Anthony Rizzo, and the two-headed catching monster of Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger, but a couple more highly touted prospects will be put under the microscope by Cubs brass during the final 53 games.

Brett Jackson was the Cubs first round pick (31st overall) back in 2009, and for a selection that low, a solid-average regular in the starting lineup would be a homerun pick. He's put up great offensive numbers at every stop of his minor league career, and is noted for being a slightly above average defender and baserunner.

But his strikeout rate has jumped to a rate so high that you might confuse him with young Adam Dunn. Jackson could've made his debut at nearly any point during the 2012 if he could've made consistent contact with the baseball. Instead, his 33.8% strikeout rate at Iowa would rank only behind the Southside Swinging (And Missing) Slugger. And the Pacific Coast League isn't exactly a throwback of the Deadball Era.

If Jackson can tame the Ks to roughly 160 for a season, he could become a legitimate leadoff hitter with some pop. It's possible for him to hit 20 homers, steal 20 bases, and get on base around .360, but it will only happen if he puts the ball in play on a more consistent basis. He bided his time in the minors long enough, and the organization needs to find out over the next 15-24 months if he is the centerfielder of the future. He's not old by any means, but prospects that have the kind of projection he does need to be making strides in the majors at age 24.

While Jackson is extremely projectable, Josh Vitters falls on the opposite end of the spectrum as an utter enigma. Nobody knows what he'll end up being. A few years ago, he was destined to bat cleanup for the Cubs for a long time with what some scouts noted as the sweetest right-handed swing in the minors. The results have been anything but (notice all the scathing reviews in the previous link).

The dreamy swing has unquestionably been on display since being the third overall pick in the 2007 draft, but the ongoing knock on his game is that it's been on display far too much. In other words: Starlin Castro Syndrome.

Vitters can't help but swing at everything he sees, and that kind of approach, thought of highly by the previous regime, simply won't fly with Theo Epstein running the show. He has drawn more walks in each of the last four seasons, but a jump from 12 to 30 isn't settling the worries of management. That lack of plate discipline is tolerable if you can play defense like Castro, or hit homers like Rizzo, but Vitters hasn't done either. He plays incredibly suspect defense (despite this play), and hasn't hit more than 18 homers in any of his minor league campaigns.

The fact that's hard to remember about Vitters is that he's just 22 (he'll turn 23 on August 27), and still has plenty of room for growth. Just like Jackson, he'll be given the reigns over at third base without anyone blocking his way (though he may cede a few games against righties in lieu of Luis Valbuena) for the foreseeable future.

Oh, and if you're wondering about any of the young pitchers the Cubs have brought up in the past few weeks -- don't. None of them will be around in two years.

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