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Cubs Take Outfielder Jackson In First Round

By Garrett Monaghan

With the second-to-last pick and a history of first round futility, it's been awfully hard to get excited about the Cubs' chances in this year's draft. After yesterday's first round selection of California center fielder Brett Jackson it remains to be seen if the Cubs have finally broken their first round curse, or if they've succumbed again to a poor drafting philosophy and wishful thinking.

In what was generally regarded as a poor draft for college bats, Jackson was something of a surprise pick for the Cubs. The team was rumored to be interested in Notre Dame outfielder A.J. Pollock, but he went to the Angels with the 17th overall pick, opening up the field for the Cubs. At 6'2", 210lbs, and left-handed, Jackson draws frequent physical comparisons to another former first round pick, J.D. Drew, and has the same kind of five tool potential. Whereas Drew's makeup was something of a question mark, Jackson is hard-nosed ballplayer with a sterling reputation among coaches and teammates. Jackson has above average speed, good range in the outfield, and a decent arm that should allow him to stay in center as long as he doesn't slow down.

The big knock against Jackson is at the plate, where he's not an exceptionally polished hitter. As California's leadoff man this year, Jackson whiffed 61 times in 241 plate appearances, and only drew 29 walks. That's a bad ratio for a leadoff man, and may point to serious contact problems down the road. Scouts seem to believe that Jackson has above average raw power, but that his swing doesn't let him tap into it. If the Cubs can get him to make more consistent contact, Jackson could turn into a serious threat at the plate.

The Cubs have a history of drafting toolsy outfielders who never come close to their full potential due to a complete lack of plate discipline (see Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Ryan Harvey, and so far Tyler Colvin for details) and only time will tell if Jackson can break the pattern. My gut reaction is no. Plate discipline has never been a strong suit in the Cubs organization at any level, and I don't see any signs of the team changing its philosophy now. Jackson could surprise me and turn into an everday major league outfielder, but give the Cubs' history, I doubt it. What really bugged me about this pick for the Cubs was the fact that they passed on Sacramento State outfielder Zach Wheeler, who went with the next pick to the Rockies. Wheeler is a prototypical corner outfielder, bigger, stronger, and more polished than Jackson. The Cubs are really thin in the outfield all through the minors, so anybody should help somewhat, but I think they picked the wrong guy.

The second round yielded another interesting pick for the Cubs, who went with Louisiana State second baseman D.J. LeMahieu. LeMahieu continues the debatable Cubs tradition of drafting guys who played for current LSU and former Notre Dame head coach Paul Manieri. I'm not a big fan of the guys the Cubs have gotten out of this approach but again, this could turn out to be a pick that proves me wrong.

LeMahieu is a more polished hitter than Jackson. He hits the ball to all fields, and has a solid line drive stroke, though not a lot of raw power yet. He's an average runner with an average arm, and very good baseball instincts. LeMahieu started the season as LSU's shortstop, but moved over to second base halfway through the campaign. Scouts seem to think LeMahieu could wind up at third base eventually, as he's big for a middle infielder.

At 6'4" 193lbs, LeMahieu has plenty of room to fill out, and I have a feeling he'll turn into a good power hitter down the line. The question for the Cubs is going to be where to play him. Uber-Prospect Josh Vitters is finally healthy and mashing the ball, and by all accounts he seems to be the Cubs' third baseman of the future. The organization as a whole is loaded with middle infielders, and LeMahieu probably doesn't compare well defensively with most of them. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him at a corner outfield spot in the future. If LeMahieu can develop his power without losing a ton of speed, he could be a very interesting possibility in left field.

Overall, it's hard to say that the Cubs walked away big winners from the first day of the draft. They got two players with a lot of potential who come from very well established college conferences (Jackson from the Pac-10, LeMaheiu from the SEC) but who both have significant question marks. It's interesting to see the Cubs take college position players in the first two rounds, probably from a need to address a severe lack of depth in the outfield. There are several players (Wheeler, Andy Oliver, Garrett Gould) I would rather have had before Jackson, but only time will tell how this one turns out for the Cubbies.

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