As Cubs fans’ attention turns to the up-and-coming talent of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, two names that were once held in high regard – Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters – are looking to impress after flying under the radar and underperforming for the past several seasons.
Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago spoke to the pair in a recent article, which showcased not only the physical struggles the duo have had (they slashed a combined .238/.332/.397 last season), but the mental weight that they each carry.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to fill the void in everyone’s head of me because it’s obviously pretty big,” Vitters told Rogers on Sunday. “But I think I can rejuvenate my career.”
Despite the new mindset both Vitters and Jackson have adopted, it remains to be seen whether or not they will be able to live up to the promise the organization once had for them when they were initially drafted.
Third base is an overloaded position with the present-day Cubs, with the likes of Kris Bryant, Mike Olt and even Javier Baez capable of manning the position at the big league level in the foreseeable future. For Vitters to break through, he’d have to build on the solid progress he made in 2013, when he hit .295 in 28 games with Triple-A Iowa, where he also added five home runs and four doubles in just 100 plate appearances.
Jackson seems to have the longer, more arduous road to climb of the two, after struggling mightily with virtually every level of the organization’s minor league system last year, batting .210/.296/.330 in 95 games split between Triple-A Iowa, Double-A Tennessee and Rookie level Arizona. Earlier this year, we heard that the organization is viewing this season as the prospects’ last chance at redemption, given they both hold a spot on the Cubs’ 40-man roster.
It’s hard to tell if new approaches will make a difference for either Jackson or Vitters, but it seems as good a place as any to start.
“I wasn’t having fun last year,” Jackson told Rogers. “I was hurt and struggling. I rediscovered that fun a little bit this offseason.”
If one – or both – of these players can provide depth in the big leagues in 2014, they could become attractive trade chips come July. We’ve seen Cubs’ talent head elsewhere and succeed in the past, most recently with Sam Fuld heading down to Tampa Bay and playing a valuable role in their rejuvenation, and Vitters and Jackson could be the next case of that.
Either way, it’s make or break time. Once Spring Training games get underway, there will be a clear look at the pair and whether or not they stand a chance at landing a spot on the big league club.