Jackson, 21, batted .318 with eight home runs and 36 RBI between Class A Peoria and short-season Class A Boise in his professional debut season in 2009. He was assigned to Daytona and the Florida State League for the start of 2010.
We spoke to the Cubs' top outfield prospect at length as he prepares for his first full season of professional ball.
Q: Are you a little surprised to be starting off in High-A after only half a season at Boise and Peoria last year?
A: One of my main (reasons) for signing quickly out of the draft was so that I could get into pro ball as quickly as I could and get a head-start on my career. In doing so, I got a chance to move through the system a little bit last year and spent a big chunk of my season in Peoria. With that, I think I gained more experience by signing sooner. I think I had a pretty successful first experience in pro ball, which opened the door for me starting in High-A. Hopefully I'll have a successful year and advance toward the ultimate goal.
Q: You had a couple of at-bats in Major League Spring Training. What did you take away from the experience of being in a big league setting?
A: I've said this a few times … It's been the greatest experience of my life, being able to play alongside some of the best players in the world and gain insight on how they approach the game and how they prepare and carry themselves. They left a lasting impression on me and I think I gained some great insight into the minds of some great players. If anything, just to be able to see how they attacked every at-bat and every pitch, and to be treated equally when obviously I wasn't, it was a confidence boost for me. It left me driving more toward fulfill my goals.
Q: And you were present for the American Idol contest with the guys in camp!
A: I was indeed. I sang "Something to Talk About" (by) Bonnie Raitt. I like to think that I have the voice of an angel. I went out there and gave it my all and I think I really impressed the judges. However, I was cut from camp before the second round. I wasn't given the opportunity to really blow them out of the water, but it's OK.
Q: What did the work entail in your first spring training? What are you working on now going into the regular season?
A: Spring Training was preparing in every aspect of the game to be able to come into the season ready and come out of the shoot hot. Like I always say, I'm constantly working on every aspect of my game, no matter if it's in Spring Training, Instructs, or Fall League. I trained particularly hard this off-season out in the Bay Area. I had the opportunity to be around Chase Utley at a place called Sparta, run by Dr. Phil Wagner. I felt comfortable with the strength I came in with.
Q: Do you set goals for yourself at the start of a season?
A: I just try to have quality at-bats and let the numbers take care of themselves. I'm not a guy that checks his stats after every game. I try to have quality at-bats and play hard to win. Obviously there's hard work that goes in, but that's all before the game. Once the game starts, it's full tilt to get a victory. I don't necessarily set number goals. There are obviously things I'd like to do and see at the end of the season, but it's not something I'm constantly thinking about.
Q: What's your idea of a quality at-bat?
A: I try to find the right pitch to swing at, and I try to hit it hard. Obviously certain situations call for a different approach. There are times when I'm trying to see a lot of pitches, maybe to help out the guys behind me, or maybe to draw a walk and steal a bag and give ourselves a chance to score a run. Quality at-bats to me are getting the right pitch to hit and trying to drive it, and doing my best to get on base for the guy behind me. That's something that's really fun for me being the leadoff hitter here. With the lineup behind me, I want to get on base and score runs. If I get on base, I know I can rely on the hitters behind me. That's what I consider a quality AB.
Q: Do you feel you're an aggressive hitter, and if so, is that a bad thing?
A: I don't think you can be a hitter and not be aggressive. Can I be overly aggressive? Heck yes, I want to hit! But no, I think that I'm a very patient hitter and I'm still learning a lot about myself as a hitter. I have the ability to run and the ability to drive the ball. I think it's all about getting the right pitch and hitting it hard. Then as soon as the ball is put in play, I'm a base-runner.
Q: The Cubs have been looking for some stability in center field for a good number of years now. Do you feel like they're looking at you to provide that?
A: I'm not trying to read what they're trying to do. I try to go out and take care of what I control. What's going to happen is going to happen. There are some great players in the big leagues right now in Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin and (Alfonso) Soriano and (Kosuke) Fukudome – all above-average players that I'm trying to learn from right now. I would be privileged one day to have the rights to take the reins from one of those guys.
Like we were talking about earlier, being in Spring Training and in the same outfield, I had the opportunity to learn a lot from those guys. My goal is obviously to one day take their spot, but it's not my goal to think about what the organization is thinking about, how to move me through the system and how to take one of them out. That's not my train of thought. I'm just trying to take care of what I have control of right now and hopefully it'll happen sooner or later. For right now, I'm playing hard in Daytona.
Q: What's the work been like in center?
A: Outfield work is very standard, but I make sure I get in my groundballs every day. They say 90 percent of outfield errors are from balls hit on the ground. The best work I get is from batting practice. I try to take 20 minutes out of my batting practice when I'm in the outfield to really read balls of the bat, get good jumps on balls and prepare for the game. That's my daily preparation for defense.