The Cubs have optioned OF Tony Campana to Iowa, selected the contract of OF Brett Jackson from Iowa, and recalled INF Josh Vitters from Iowa
I’ll be honest, I was surprised to see this sequence of moves, since I didn’t really expect to see either Jackson or Vitters before next spring. Both of them are doing OK in Iowa, but overwhelmingly so, and until very recently the talk from the front office on both seemed to focus on what each of them still needed to prove before being promoted. In Jackson’s case, it was cutting down on strikeouts – he’s struck out a frankly astonishing 158 times in 467 PA this season – and in Vitters’s case, it was improving his defense at third base.
I’ll start with Vitters first, because I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see him hitting well in Iowa, given his struggles in the past when he’s been promoted. Here are his 2012 numbers with the I-Cubs:
452 PA, .304/.356/.513, 17 HR, 77 K, 6 SB in 9 attempts
The Pacific Coast League is a known as a rather extreme hitters league, but those are still overall the best numbers of Vitters’s career, and as I said, it comes in his first exposure to AAA, and he’s struggled after promotions before. He’s still only 22, as hard as that is to believe given how long he’s been a big name in the Cubs’ system, so he looks as if he’s regained his prospect status after seeing it slip over the past two years. It’s still a question, as the team has said all year, whether he can handle third base defensively, but it looks like he’ll get a chance to answer that over the last two months of the year.
Jackson, 23, comes to the majors with all those strikeouts, but also pretty solid overall numbers:
467 PA, .256/.338/.479, 15 HR, 158 K, 27 SB in 32 attempts
He got the start today in CF, and picked up two singles in his big league debut (and only struck out once!), so it was a nice day for him. As the numbers show, he brings somewhat more patience than Vitters, and he’s a stolen base threat as well; overall he’s stolen 91 bases in 116 attempts in the minors, a very impressive rate. Also, there don’t seem to be any serious questions about his defense in CF, and at any rate he’s almost certainly the best defensive outfielder on the roster.
The only question about him seems to be his serious strikeout total, which went from somewhat dubious to outright terrifying as soon as he hit AAA. Before that, he had only struck out 256 times in 1126 minor league PA, which is a poor rate (22.7%) but nowhere near what he’s done in AAA. In 682 PA for Iowa over the past two seasons, he’s now notched 222 strikeouts (32.6%), which makes him a serious threat (perhaps the odds-on favorite) to lead the league in Ks at the major league level over a full season. If that rate jumps up again with the promotion, it’s hard to see how he can be an effective major league hitter over a sustained period of time. He’ll either need to cut down his K rate significantly, or at least hit with more power than he has in the minors. He’ll never have a good batting average if he can’t make contact a third of the time, so he’ll need to find a way to compensate.
So, the bottom line is that both of these guys will be interesting to watch, and I’m pleased to see them getting a shot. If nothing else, it should make the last two months of the season more consequential than it looked to be otherwise. These two guys have big enough questions about them that they can’t necessarily be counted on to be part of the next good Cubs team, but at least we’ll get to see them and start to find out.
As for Campana, he’s now stolen 50 bases in 55 attempts in the majors, which is pretty silly. Unfortunately, management seems to have lost faith in his defense in CF, and over 329 PA over the last two seasons, he’s now posted a 64 OPS+, which is kind of awful. Personally, I think he strikes out way too often for someone with his speed and lack of power; I want to see Dale Sveum make him drop and do pushups when he takes a big swing and misses, not unlike Willie Mays Hayes in Major League. Still, he’s fun to watch, and may be a little underrated even given his horrible batting stats. I think a team with a stronger roster could justify the luxury of carrying someone like him more than the Cubs can, but he doesn’t have much of a role on this team as things are now.