Accentuating the positive, B. Jackson having fun again
After a couple of tough years, Cubs outfielder seeing results with new approach
MESA, Ariz. -- Brett Jackson is having a good time playing baseball again, and it shows.
The young Cubs outfielder couldn't say that last season, when he battled injuries and finished the year at Double-A Tennessee. He couldn't say that in 2012, when he led the Pacific Coast League with 158 strikeouts while playing for Triple-A Iowa.
"I'm taking care of what I think I need to take care of in my work off the field in the cage and preparing myself for the day, for the game," Jackson said Tuesday. "I think I'm making nice adjustments as far as getting into game-time timing and seeing pitches. I feel really relaxed and comfortable at the plate."
Jackson, 25, has appeared in only nine games this spring and has seven at-bats, so it's not a large sample size. He also has one hit, but it was a two-run, pinch-hit single that helped beat the Brewers on Sunday. And he has a better approach at the plate, which has shown in his four walks.
But it's his state of mind that may be the biggest improvement.
"I'm having fun and loving this environment," he said.
It hasn't always been that way for the outfielder, who was the Cubs' first-round pick in 2009 and has had to deal with the expectations that come with being a high-profile player.
"In years past, I've paid a little too much attention to mechanics," Jackson said. "Obviously, that's a very important part of the game. But rather than thinking about my mechanics and trying to find the perfect mechanics, I'm doing drills to correct the things I want to correct and going into the game with the right mindset and right approach."
Cubs Minor League coach Brian Harper sees a difference and said Jackson looks more like the batter who hit .297 at Iowa in 2011.
"He looks a lot more comfortable, he's hitting a little more similar to how he hit a couple years prior," Harper said. "I think last year, he was trying to change so many things -- and not in a bad way -- but he was trying to change so many things that he was uncomfortable. He looks a lot more comfortable in the batter's box."
"Swing-wise, bat path-wise, 2011 was definitely my best year," Jackson said. "I think from there, we're three years deeper into my career and I have more experience as a player and approach-wise and the way I approach the game and my work ethic every day. I'm taking care of those things and giving myself the best chance to perform on the field and win."
He doesn't always have success. On Thursday in Goodyear, Jackson struck out and stranded runners. Harper remembers the at-bat and said Jackson simply swung at a bad pitch. It happens.
"As competitors and athletes, you want to succeed every time," said Jackson, who has been used primarily off the bench this spring. "I do remember that at-bat, and a couple at-bats feeling uncomfortable. In the moment, you're upset, and then you say, 'Hey, it's March 6. What can I learn from that at-bat? What can I learn from that strikeout, that hit?'
"I'm trying to simplify the game. I come to the field, go to the plate with purpose. I'm looking to have a good time and help the team win. When your purpose and integrity is on, your ability to have fun is there. When your ability to have fun is there, I think the results will happen."
Jackson started his makeover in the offseason when he reunited with a hitting coach he's worked with in the past, and who he hadn't seen in two years. It's helped to have Ryan Kalish in camp. Kalish also is a left-handed-hitting outfielder, and he has similar mechanics to Jackson's.
Part of the offseason was re-evaluating Jackson's swing.
"It was a lot of looking at hitters who are doing it in the big leagues and what they do, and what all those guys have in common and simplifying it to that," Jackson said. "Not having to do one thing -- having to cut down on strikeouts, having to get your foot down. Do what you do that works for you to get in the best position to drive a baseball."
So far, his effort to simplify things has worked, and he's enjoying what he's doing. That positive mindset helps, too.
"In years past, I've been more about the results than the quality of the at-bat and what I can learn from the at-bat," he said. "Hit or walk or strikeout, there's something to learn at this point and something to take away from what you felt in that plate appearance.
"That comes with experience -- although I'm not saying I'm a veteran guy who has it all figured out. I think I'm handling plate appearances more maturely and making myself better. Right now, for me, I'm just having a great time being here, and that's my biggest takeaway this spring."
Having fun is something Harper and the other Cubs coaches have had to remind Jackson to do.
"There's so much pressure on kids like him and the expectations or whatever," Harper said. "For me, it's all about getting him to relax and have some fun. It seems like he's enjoying the game more this year than last year. He was trying so many things and trying to not strike out rather than trying to hit the ball, and it got overwhelming at times."
It is a game after all.
"It's got to be fun or what's the point?" Jackson said. "It's easy to dream with this team -- and not to get corny, but I think everyone's life has a purpose, and I believe my life has a purpose here with the Cubs. That may change, it may not. I prepare every day like that's the goal and that's the purpose."
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.