Cubs prospects Jackson, Rizzo down, not out
Highly-touted duo sent down, still figure large in team's future
MESA, Ariz. -- On Friday, Dale Sveum had the unpleasant task of telling Brett Jackson that there was no spot for him on the Cubs, despite being ready for the big leagues.
Jackson, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in the 2009 Draft, and Anthony Rizzo were among the seven players re-assigned to on Friday. Rizzo and infielder Adrian Cardenas were optioned to Triple-A Iowa, while Jackson, pitcher Jay Jackson, infielder Bobby Scales, outfielder Jim Adduci and catcher Michael Brenly were assigned to the Minor League camp.
"I'll keep trying to force their hand at Iowa and knock the [heck] out of the ball," said Brett Jackson, who hit .276 with two homers this spring, including a two-run shot on Thursday against the Rangers.
"I think he's the type of kid who will put pressure on us to get him here one way or the other," Sveum said.
The Cubs want Jackson to play every day but there isn't room on the big league roster with Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and David DeJesus in the outfield. Sveum said it was tough to give Jackson the news.
"It's the first time I've had to do something like that," Sveum said. "It's one of the harder things I had to do so far managing, because it is a very difficult thing to tell somebody to go down to the Minor Leagues and put pressure on us to get you back here.
"He brings so much to the table," Sveum said. "I'm in my ninth year coaching in the big leagues and he's the best young player I've seen in Major League camp. I've seen some good young ones. He's the full package. Obviously, the swing and miss is something he needs to work on and cutting down strikeouts, but he brings a lot to the table for a Major League team."
Jackson knew the situation coming into camp, but still held out hope that he could be in Chicago on April 5 for Opening Day against the Nationals.
"You always work for something like that and plan for the worst and expect the best, and that's what I did," Jackson said. "Obviously, it would've been great to start with the team, but I know that I'm close and I believe I'm going to play in Chicago for a long time. This is another step I have to take and keep working and keep playing hard and hopefully I'll be back sooner than later."
Jackson had joked with Byrd about how he was going to take the veteran's job.
"I've learned a lot and I'll continue to grow as a player," Jackson said. "I look forward to something bright."
And that two-run homer on Thursday?
"I'm going out with a bang," Jackson said, laughing.
How close is he?
"They think if I'm not really close to ready, they think I'm ready, and I think I'm ready," Jackson said. "It's all about numbers from now on and how I perform in Iowa and what's going on with the team here. Rizzo, myself, we're going to go to Des Moines and knock the ball around a little bit and hopefully we'll be back sooner than later and able to help the team."
Rizzo was batting .364 in Spring Training with two homers, but his path to the big leagues at first base is blocked by Bryan LaHair, who was the Pacific Coast League MVP last season, hitting 38 homers at Iowa. For Rizzo to have success this spring is huge, especially after he batted .141 in 49 games with the Padres last season.
"I think right now he's bubbling with confidence and it'll carry over there," Sveum said.
"People who know me, and know about last year, everyone is going to write me off -- 'Oh, he can't hit,'" Rizzo said. "People who know me know what happened was a bad thing. I'm not too worried about it and I'm just happy to be up here, back on the field in the big league atmosphere. It was a good experience."
A left-handed batter, Rizzo went 5-for-10 against left-handed pitching, which was encouraging.
"My approach is getting there," he said.
Sveum and general manager Jed Hoyer had made it clear they were committed to LaHair as the Cubs' first baseman and Rizzo would likely open in the Minor Leagues.
"Nothing's concrete in this business," Rizzo said. "Last year, I was the future first baseman for the Padres and now I'm the future first baseman for the Cubs. I can't control if I go down and hit 1.000, 40 home runs -- who knows what's going to happen? I'm going to go down and work hard and prepare myself for the next step.
"Unfortunately, I got sent down, but in the big picture, this is probably a little hiccup in the road," he said.
This is Rizzo's third team. He was drafted by the Red Sox, traded to the Padres, and then dealt to the Cubs.
"I came in and I wanted to impress everyone," Rizzo said. "It's a new organization again. Everyone hears about you and sees a little video. I feel really good about everything and just want to keep building."
He and Jackson both left good impressions.
"[Jackson] is a very professional young man who works as hard as anybody every single day," Sveum said. "He's one of those special kids who doesn't accept mediocrity when he comes out here on the field, whether he's playing in the game or not. He's going to try to make himself a better player. I think him and Rizzo, once they get here, they're going to be leaders of the team where they don't allow their teammates to accept mediocrity either."
All they need is a chance.
"Those two guys, when they get back here, they're probably not going to leave for a long time, they're that special of players," Sveum said of Jackson and Rizzo. "It's just a matter of when."
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.