Patience needed as Cubs don’t have another Anthony Rizzo ready
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com June 28, 2012 9:20PM
Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (L) and outfielder Brett Jackson chat as they wait for their turn in the batting cage as the Cubs take part in spring training workouts Tuesday February 28, 2012 in Mesa, Arizona. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times
ASTROS AT CUBS
The facts: 1:20, Ch. 9, 720-AM.
The pitchers: Bud Norris (5-4, 4.81) vs. Paul Maholm (4-6,
THe rest of the series
Saturday: 3:05 p.m., Ch. 9,
720-AM. J.A. Happ (6-7. 4.83) vs. Matt Garza (3-6, 4.06).
Sunday: 1:20 p.m., CSN,
720-AM. Wandy Rodriguez (6-5, 3.52) vs. Travis Wood (2-3, 3.54).
Updated: July 30, 2012 6:32AM
Now comes the real work, and the real wait, in the construction project that’s promising years of ‘‘sustained success’’ at Clark and Addison.
Assuming Tuesday’s installation of Anthony Rizzo at first base is a cornerstone of lasting value for the Cubs, then what?
‘‘It’s really about collecting a lot of players like this and putting them on the field together,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said. ‘‘Not just one, but along with [shortstop Starlin] Castro and hopefully a lot of other guys that we can get on the field at the same time and really create a really great, young organization.’’
Of course, that’s been the plan since the new front office took over last fall, and Rizzo’s promotion this week was the clear first step.
Beyond him, Castro is already here and gunning for a second straight All-Star berth. Jeff Samardzija is already here and gunning for, uh, not so much just yet.
The Cubs still have the worst record in baseball, and whether the brass will feel the need or the heat to sign some free agents next winter, the overall plan of building a homegrown core doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.
But the best of the best-looking Cubs prospects are in Class A ball (Javier Baez, Dillon Maples, Matt Szczur, etc.) and years away from their debuts.
Some who might be even better (Jorge Soler, Albert Almora) aren’t officially even in the system yet, with Soler’s signing to be announced by Monday and top draft pick Almora’s signing expected to come closer to the July 13 deadline for draft picks.
Admittedly, it could be a long time before another debut day like Rizzo’s on Tuesday.
‘‘You have to earn getting up here as a minor-league player,’’ Hoyer said.
‘‘That’s what we want to create,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘That was our goal when we started, to create [a culture in which] you earn getting to the big leagues, whether it’s throwing strikes as a pitcher, not striking out and taking your walks as a hitter. You go on and on. But not promoting people for a .220 average and 30 home runs.’’
Enter Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters. These are considered the Cubs’ next-best Class AAA prospects awaiting debuts.
Vitters is the guy the Cubs drafted No. 3 overall in 2007, the year the Boston Red Sox took Rizzo in the sixth round. He has struggled through the Cubs’ system until a recent surge that had him riding a 10-game hitting streak into Thursday’s game, hitting .293 with 12 homers.
Jackson was the guy Sveum said was ready for the big leagues the day he sent him out of spring training. But he now ranks third in professional baseball in strikeouts (111) behind only Adam Dunn and a Class A kid in the Houston Astros’ system.
‘‘It’s very alarming,’’ Sveum said of Jackson’s strikeouts. ‘‘It’s a strange trend how many there are all the time. Even if he’s 3-for-5, the outs have been strikeouts. I mean, he’s on pace to strike out 200 times in a minor-league season — that’s not easy to do. And have an OPS of .850. It’s a strange, strange stat.’’
About half of Jackson’s hits are for extra bases (36 of 73) and he walks about 10 percent of the time, so his on-base and slugging percentages are decent. But because of the strikeouts, he puts only 55 percent of balls in play.
That’s great if it’s because you’re Barry Bonds in 2002 with 198 walks, but not if you’re a kid trying to convince somebody he can hit big-league pitching.
‘‘Brett can determine his own future by just dominating down there and forcing our hand,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘I think he’ll be in a Cub uniform for a long time, but when he forces us to call him up based on his performance, then I think we’ll see him here.’’
Vitters has begun to gain notice with his progress this season. But while it doesn’t hurt that the Cubs have a need at third base with Ian Stewart’s injury, Vitters hasn’t exactly put himself in Gold Glove contention at Class AAA, and the Cubs have little reason to view ‘‘need’’ on a last-place team as a reason to promote him.
‘‘I know he’s had some really good moments in the minor leagues, but this is probably the most consistency and best performance he’s shown as a Cub,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘We don’t need to upset the apple cart too much with that.’’