MESA, Ariz. – As if this Cubs’ spring training camp wasn’t already overflowing with high-upside guys trying to tap into their potential, Cubs manager Joe Maddon added Edwin Jackson his prospects list Thursday.
“It’s rare that a guy that’s 30 years old can still have the label of potential attached to his abilities,” Maddon said. “You’d think that it’s arrived at that point – in fact, that all of it’s arrived. But it’s not all arrived with him yet.”
Hasn’t arrived? That’s a piece of luggage that’s been lost for two years, since Jackson got to Chicago with $52 million in his carry-on.
Jackson, 31, was Baseball America’s No. 4-ranked prospect in 2004, an All-Star with Detroit in 2009, owner of a no-hitter with Arizona in 2010 and a World Series champion with St. Louis in 2011 – a right-hander who has continued to tantalize with impressive stuff and durability while playing for eight different teams in his career.
As he enters his third season with the Cubs, he’s reunited with the manager who had him the longest (2006-08) and trying to resurrect a career that sank to depths that made him statistically the worst starting pitcher in the majors the last two seasons.
Designed to be a bridge guy for a rebuilding pitching staff when he signed his four-year deal with the Cubs, he instead pitched his way off of that staff by late last season and enters camp without a role on a team that looks like it has passed him by.
“I just have to worry about myself and do everything possible to do everything that I have to do to help the team win ballgames,” he said. “Where I’ll be, we’ll see where it ends up. I’m not really concerned about anything right now. I feel good. I feel ready to go. Well see what happens after that.”
Theoretically, Jackson is in the scrum for the lone job opening on the starting staff. But unless Travis Wood is traded or gets hurt this spring, the feeling among most team officials is Wood will win that job – and Wood looked the part with a six-up, six-down performance in his spring debut Thursday.
Jackson, a popular teammate in the clubhouse since his arrival, is scheduled for his first spring start Monday against San Diego. And Maddon talks like a guy who thinks Jackson has a chance to become key part of the staff (or a guy trying to drive up a player’s value).
“He probably outthinks himself sometimes or gets uncertain with himself sometimes,” said Maddon, who used Jackson out of the bullpen during Tampa Bay’s postseason run to World Series in 2008, with uneven results. “A lot of guys that are in his position that haven’t arrived at their ability level yet, there’s probably that point where they just talk to themselves too much. I really would like to just see him go out there and play and not worry about mechanics, or the number of pitches or sequencing, or whatever. Just go out there and pitch, and permit your abilities to take over.
Maddon echoes what Jackson’s previous two Cubs managers have said about early-game lapses being an issue, about needing to get ahead in counts and putting guys away quickly, instead of trying to live on the edges of the strike zone and continually falling behind.
“That’s coming. I believe it’s coming,” Maddon said. “There’s another level of Jack that we have not seen yet. I believe that.”