Jackson taking courses at school of Byrd
Cubs center fielder grooming prospect for his position
MESA, Ariz. -- Marlon Byrd is more than willing to tutor Brett Jackson and sees the young outfielder as having a great future for the Cubs. Just not yet.
"He's been really open to helping me out on a lot of different things, giving me tips on baserunning first steps to steps in the outfield, and how I put my head down when I run for a fly ball," Jackson said Thursday. "He's been willing to work with me and help me get better and help me prepare for the season."
Byrd, though, is signed through 2012 with the Cubs and has also reminded Jackson of that.
"He's not letting me have it yet," Jackson said, laughing. "He's keeping [center field]."
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The Cubs' No. 1 pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Jackson has shined in the Minor Leagues. Last season, the outfielder batted .316 at Class A Daytona and .276 at Double-A Tennessee.
"He's a talented guy," Byrd said. "He came in 10 pounds bigger this year, so you know he's a workaholic. You always see him in the gym, you see him doing his strength work, doing his work to keep his body strong. I like that about him."
This is Jackson's second big league camp. Not only has he grown physically but Byrd, 33, has noticed something else.
"I like how he's more observant this year and open-minded," Byrd said Thursday. "It's a trust thing. Last year, he really didn't know me. Now I say things and he understands that it's to help him. I even have to sit him down and say, 'I've got to help you to get ready because if you're going to move me to right field, you have to be ready. If not, I'm capable of playing at 34, 35 years old.' He got a kick out of that. He laughed.
"It's not a competition, it's inevitable. It's the way things are going. When I was in Philly, Doug Glanville took me out to dinner. He said, 'It's inevitable that you're going to come up and take my job, and I'll go somewhere else and play center field.'"
Byrd bumped Glanville in Philadelphia. It's just a matter of time for Jackson.
"It's great when you get a guy with that much talent and that work ethic to be willing to take extra time," Jackson said of Byrd. "He's got enough going on and he's got stuff to think about for him and things he needs to prepare for. He's been willing to help me out and make sure I'm getting some attention in areas that I need to work on. It has helped my game already and we're only eight days into camp."
It isn't as if Byrd is divulging some deep secrets that no one has heard of. It's experience.
"It's different coach-to-player sometimes than player-to-player," Jackson said. "Sometimes getting the player's perspective and someone who has been around the game a long time and has played the outfield for as long as he has, there's different types of advice that can hit home a little better.
"We're just talking about a couple things that I need to iron out on my skills on defense and maybe iron out hitting and iron out on the bases," Jackson said. "They're little things and things that can be better and I can improve on. He's helped me recognize those details and work on those things and work on those details so I can be the best outfielder I can be."
Byrd did the same for Tyler Colvin last year on the Cubs. Hopefully, the young players can take advantage of the advice. Jackson isn't thinking about taking Byrd's job. Not yet.
"My concerns have to do with those little things and getting better and being prepared when the time comes," Jackson said. "When the Chicago Cubs are ready for me to be there, I want to be ready and there's no hesitation with the Cubs that I'm not 100 percent ready to play defense with the best of my ability and hit with the best of my ability."
The Cubs and Byrd are watching Jackson grow.
"I see him being ready very soon," Byrd said. "He has to put together another good season this year and stay healthy -- that's the main thing -- and keep learning.
"You can dominate in the Minor Leagues but you don't learn," Byrd said. "If you do that, you don't learn how to get ready for the big leagues and you come up and struggle. That's what I've been trying to get across to him is I don't want him struggling when he comes up. I want him coming up and staying up for good. With his work ethic and his athletic ability, there's no reason he won't be the center fielder of the future."
But not until Byrd is ready to move over.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.