Jackson Not Content with Early Success

If there was an award for top 2008 Cubs draft pick, right-hander Jay Jackson would be an automatic frontrunner. A ninth-round selection from Furman University, Jackson ran roughshod through the lower levels of the farm system this past summer, getting promoted twice and putting together arguably the most impressive professional debut season for any 2008 Cubs draft pick.

The 20-year-old Jackson spent time at three levels of the Cubs' farm system in 2008: short-season Class Low-A Boise, full-season Class Low-A Peoria and finally Class Advanced-A Daytona. He combined to go 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 55-2/3 innings, including 5-2/3 scoreless innings in the post-season to help guide Daytona to a Florida State League championship in early September.

Perhaps what stood out the most about Jackson was his strikeout totals, or more specifically his strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 14 total appearances, Jackson fanned 77 batters and walked only 13.

Jackson said he has always been a "decent strikeout pitcher," a fact evidenced by his 94 punch-outs in 99-plus innings with Furman his final college season in 2008. He said that he never worries much about strikeouts and that his only focus is to get outs.

"It worked out where I have enough pitches and enough movement where I was getting outs and getting people to chase some balls that they shouldn't have been chasing," said Jackson.

Getting batters out – regardless of how – is the most important thing to Jackson, and between Peoria and Daytona hitters batted only .219 against him.

But Jackson's spike in strikeouts was somewhat unexpected. He credits the development of both his two-seam and four-seam fastball, which was expedited a year ago in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League, as a big driving force behind his success.

"I didn't really have a two-seamer at all, or a good four-seamer until last summer when I had a pitching coach working with me on it up in the Great Lakes League," said Jackson. "He helped me get my pitches working where they should be, and with me just knowing how to pitch."

"I think the development of my fastballs and just being able to get strike one was a key (this season), even if it wasn't a two or four-seamer," he said. "Just getting strike one and having that advantage over hitters to be able to just go at them and throw what you want to throw instead of getting behind and letting it hurt you, because I know there were a lot of times this season where I got behind in counts and got hurt a couple of times."

This past summer, Jackson's velocity sat anywhere from 90-95 mph with good movement. Jackson's primary breaking ball (his slider), meanwhile, was described by Daytona pitching coach David Rosario as "overpowering." Jackson rounds out his repertoire with a curveball and changeup.

"His [slider] has a lot of quality, and hopefully we're developing him as a minor league player because he's got a major league arm," Rosario said.

Yet all of the early success and adulation Jackson has thus far incurred has not gone to the pitcher's head, nor is he content with any status quos.

He plans to spend his offseason working to increase velocity on a fastball that already features plenty of solid zip, and continue honing his off-speed pitches and his mechanics.

"I'm looking to [improve in] every facet of the game," Jackson said. "That's what I'm really going to work on this offseason is getting my off-speed down and my fastball down, and hitting spots better."

"My secondary pitches have always been pretty good," boasted Jackson. "I'd say my slider has been my best off-speed pitch since I can remember, but I've developed a better curveball (since) a couple of years ago. My changeup is getting where it needs to be; I just need to keep working on it."

On the subject of mechanics, Jackson said: "I've always known that I need to work on that a lot and it's something I'm going to continue to work on. I need to get my weight back more so I can get more into my pitches and use my lower body more. That's what I was mainly working on (this summer): getting outs, staying close and getting the ball down-hill. Other than that, my pitches are there; I just have to refine them and get to the next level where I need to be and where they want me to be."

Jackson understands that with the success his first pro season has brought, it also has brought high expectations. He says he welcomes them.

"There's always going to be high expectations," the pitcher said. "I have high expectations of myself more than the fans or anybody else will. I'm just going to have fun and continue to do what I love to do, but I think the fans are going to expect a lot out of me and I'm going to expect a lot out of myself and will be disappointed if I don't produce and keep it going like I have been.

"I know it was hard coming into Daytona after the first outing that I had pitching at home, with everybody expecting me to strike out everybody. It was kind of tough, but I still had fun and I love the fans that we have in the Cubs' organization."

Jackson's first season may have come as a surprise to many of those same fans, but not to himself.

"It didn't really surprise me," says Jackson. "I just went out and felt I had a little bit to prove to a lot of people, plus the fact that I got great opportunities and faced better competition. I like facing better competition because it helps me make myself better and helps me analyze myself and how I prepare. It wasn't really a shock, but it was fun to be out there."

His success also did not surprise Tim Wilken, the Cubs' Scouting Director.

Wilken said that the theme of the offseason in his department a year ago, when he and scouts were discussing draft strategy for the upcoming season, was to select pitchers with more athleticism. He said that Jackson was a good byproduct of that.

"It's a good ingredient," said Wilken. "You're talking to pitchers that have got aptitude and can make changes in their delivery and approach. The better ones like (Greg) Maddux, (Tom) Glavine, (Carlos) Marmol and (Jeff) Samardzija, they're all pretty athletic and the common ingredient is they have decent aptitude and the athleticism to make adjustments, and in turn it helps them repeat their delivery better.

"That was kind of our theme (last) off-season as we went into the draft. We tried to become more cognizant of it, and I think you can see it in guys like Jackson."

Jackson insists he "just went out there and did my job." And after doing it admirably, Jackson decided to reward himself. He recently purchased a new 42-inch LCD high-definition television and a PlayStation 3 game console.

Eventually he'll begin his offseason throwing program, but first Jackson wants to have a little fun.

"I've been playing ‘Madden' and ‘Tiger Woods Golf' and ‘Call of Duty 4,'" Jackson said. "I'm waiting for a little later in the year so I can go start playing a little basketball and shoot-around with my dad. Other than that … I'm just going to relax and enjoy the time I have now."

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