The future is now for the Chicago Cubs. With very little to play for this season, the Cubs have called up prospects Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson. Entering the season, Marc Hulet ranked Jackson as the Cubs second best prospect, and Vitters as the twelfth best prospect in the system (that was before the addition of Anthony Rizzo, so both should really be moved down one slot). Now that they are with the major-league club, they’ll be able to contribute to fantasy teams down the stretch and in the playoffs. But just because they are now available, doesn’t mean they’ll be helpful this season.
Being that he was one of the Cubs’ top three prospects entering the season, Jackson should have more value to fantasy teams. It also looks like the Cubs are going to give him consistent playing time in the outfield. In his first game with the team, Jackson batted second. And while that speaks to how bad the Cubs’ major-league roster is right now, it also speaks to how they view Jackson. They are willing to thrust him into a prominent role, and will likely keep him in the lineup for the rest of the season.
But what type of performance can we expect from Jackson? Last November, Marc Hulet said that Jackson could be capable of some 20-20 seasons if he can make the right adjustments. While Jackson does have nice upside, he also comes with some important concerns. Jackson’s strikeout rate has become a hugh problem. In Triple-A, Jackson’s strikeout rate is a terrible 33.8% this season. That’s almost as bad as Adam Dunn, who currently leads all of baseball with a 34% strikeout rate. And we probably shouldn’t expect Jackson’s strikeout numbers to improve as he faces more advanced pitching. The only way he has been able to hit .256/.338/.479 this season is due to a .372 BABIP. Jackson has had some high BABIPs over his minor league career, but it would be foolish to think he could replicate that same level of success in the majors. Jackson could get off to a decent start, but he could be in trouble once pitchers figure him out. He’s worth a look in keeper and dynasty leagues, but you don’t have to rush out and get him in standard leagues this season.
It’s slightly more difficult to predict how Vitters will perform. Vitters is likely to play in a platoon with Luis Valbuena, according to Cubs manager Dale Sveum. Because Vitters will likely see action against left-handed pitchers, he won’t see enough playing time to factor in as a fantasy asset. While Vitters had fallen off a bit as a prospect entering the year, he’s bounced back a bit. Vitters is hitting .304/.356/.513 at Triple-A this season. His aggressive approach has hurt him in the past, and pitching could exploit that in the majors. He did manage to up his walk rate to 6.6% this year, but that’s hardly impressive. The Cubs are also concerned about Vitters’ defense at third, which could also limit his playing time. Vitters doesn’t need to be owned in fantasy leagues this season.
The Cubs may be glad to get a look at how their youngsters will perform, but your fantasy team could probably do better this season.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.