August 6, 2012
The situation: With Reed Johnson having been dealt to the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs torching their roster at the trade deadline for all the right reasons, the club sent down Tony Campana to make room for Brett Jackson as their everyday center fielder for the remainder of the season and maybe beyond.
Background: It was a surprise to see Jackson drop to 31st overall in the 2009 draft, and he has proceeded to put up impressive numbers at every level, earning the call with a career minor league batting line of .282/.379/.488 that included a 20-homer/20-steal season in 2011. He was hitting .256/.338/.479 at Iowa this year, with 15 home runs and 27 stolen bases in 106 games, though most of the focus has been on his alarming strikeout rate; he whiffed 158 times in just 407 at-bats.
What he can do: If Jackson can close some of the massive holes in his swing, he's a true five-tool player. He has above-average raw power and speed, and the ability to post a string of 20/20 seasons. That gives him excellent long-term potential. However, the "ifs" regarding his swing are gigantic ones. He has a good understanding of the strike zone and is not prone to chasing, but he's not a sound hitter. There isn't an obvious flaw in his swing, or a tendency to chase sliders or something like that, he's just not that good of a hitter. The hope is that he can display enough power, speed and defense to make up for a low batting average.
Immediate big league future: Jackson is expected to get full-time play in center field as the Cubs evaluate just how ready he is to assume a full-time role in 2013. He certainly has the ability to help immediately in terms of home runs and stolen bases, but it's hard to imagine any scenario in which he hits for average right away.
Long term: Jackson has star potential, but it doesn't come without risk. He's a better long-term play than immediate one, but his secondary skills will always make him enticing.