Jackson Ready for Challenge

Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Jay Jackson knows that pitching in Double-A will be a challenge. As if he needed proof, Jackson learned that lesson on Sunday when the Jacksonville Suns struck for six runs and seven hits in four innings in his first start for the Tennessee Smokies.

But Jackson, a ninth-round Cubs draft pick from Furman last summer, is determined not to get sidetracked. The right-hander had arguably the most impressive season of any 2008 Cubs draft pick a season ago, going 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 50 innings between Class Low-A Boise, Class-A Peoria and Class High-A Daytona. He struck out 72 batters and held opposing hitters to a .222 average against.

Chicago Farm Director Oneri Fleita said that was a good way for Jackson to begin his pro career.

"I think when you have success, it breeds success," Fleita said. "It's a whole lot better than going out and having a bad year and trying to come back and have a good year. It was a nice way to start your career. He got a taste of a couple of different levels and got a chance to win a championship (at Daytona).

"They got the rings a couple of weeks ago during (spring) camp, which is a very nice part of memory that you'll always keep. Hopefully that continues to breed that desire to want to get another ring and hopefully the ultimate ring in Chicago."

This time a year ago, Jackson was starting games for his alma mater in the Southern Conference. Now he's pitching at a level known for turning boys into men; often the make or break level for many baseball prospects.

Jackson agrees that it's a pretty big jump, but says he's excited.

"It's an experience just to be here and it's a short step away from being up in the big leagues," Jackson said. "I was kind of surprised (to be assigned to Double-A). I‘m just out here playing baseball, doing what they tell you to do pretty much and just having fun. I'm just playing wherever they tell me to play."

His first spring training featured a lot of work on mechanics.

"Just not flying open with my upper body," he detailed of his work. "I worked a lot on getting inside and worked on mechanics, and making sure everything was good for the season; making sure I was using both sides of the plate and working on something different every outing.

"Spring Training, it felt a little long, but other than that it was good to get out there."

Jackson pitches primarily off his four and two-seam fastball, which he can run as high as 95 mph. He's also working on a changeup, which he hopes to develop into a solid third pitch this summer.

"For some reason, before I came out to spring training, my changeup was working really well," he said. When I got (to Arizona), it just kind of (regressed). But I threw it in my first bullpen and it's looking a lot better, so hopefully I can keep it up."

"My four-seamer and two-seamer are probably what I look for the most just to get ahead and I feel like you can't be a pitcher without a fastball," Jackson added. "The main thing is getting ahead and getting people out."

One of Jackson's main goals this season, he said, is to hit his spots and stay out of trouble by not walking batters. He issued only 13 walks a season ago.

Although Jackson was roughed up in his first Double-A start over the weekend, it wasn't because of walks.

"I hit most of my spots, but I was really just working on my mechanics and trying to add some depth to my pitches; trying to tighten up my mechanics where I can hit my spots more excessively and do it the right way," he said. "I didn't hit as many of them as I'd have liked, but overall I hit a really good percentage to where my mechanics are right and I will be able to pitch longer."

Jackson also said he isn't worried about suffering the same fate as many other recent highly touted Cubs pitching prospects that made strong debuts and ran into bumps as they progressed through the system.

"I just know I have to keep working hard and have fun out there; not worry about everyone else and just help my team by getting the ball over the plate," he said of keeping his momentum rolling.

He said he expects big things from the Smokies this season. Tennessee dropped three out of five games to Jacksonville to open the season, but Jackson noted the nucleus of players from last year's Daytona club that won the Florida State League championship is still in tact.

"Mostly it's the group of guys we had in Daytona, so we're pretty cool with each other," he said. "It worked out that we have another couple of players that joined us, but overall I figure we look really good right now and should have another chance to win a championship here, too."

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