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Jackson, Rizzo keep focus on Minor Leagues

Jackson, Rizzo keep focus on Minor Leagues

Jackson, Rizzo keep focus on Minor Leagues
DES MOINES -- After the Cubs traded Marlon Byrd, Brett Jackson heard from more than a few people who expected his call-up to the big leagues would be immediate. It didn't happen.

"I'm focused on what I'm doing here every day," said Jackson, who is still Triple-A Iowa's center fielder. "I'm focused on how I approach my work and how I go about my business before games, and control what I can control, and that's helping this team here in Iowa win."

After Anthony Rizzo had his third two-homer game of the month, there was some chatter that the first baseman could be headed soon to Wrigley Field. Rizzo doesn't think about that.

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"Last year, I did," he said Friday at the I-Cubs' home, Principal Park. "I'd call my agent, my girlfriend, my parents, and I was bickering. There's no point. Last year, I learned that everything happens for a reason. Whenever the time comes -- it may sound cliche -- but that's really how I feel."

Jackson and Rizzo are the future for the Cubs, but right now, there are still things they need to learn. On Monday, they've got a 4:15 a.m. bus to catch to Memphis.

"They're quick to humble themselves and I think that's crucial," said teammate Adrian Cardenas, now in his fourth season at the Triple-A level, and his first with the I-Cubs. "The second you start assuming you'll get that call-up, you won't get it. It's happened to me before. ... I think they know nothing will be handed to them. Just having that perspective is very healthy, and I think they both have it."

The Cubs' first-round pick in 2009, Jackson, 23, was batting .233 with two homers, four stolen bases and 27 strikeouts in 21 games through Saturday. Eighteen of those K's came when he batted second behind Tony Campana. In his past nine games, he's hit leadoff and struck out seven times.

"I think [batting second] has been a tremendous positive for him because he's learned how to take pitches, he's learned how to take borderline pitches," Iowa hitting coach Dave Keller said. "He's learned how to deal with the mental side of being deep in the count. In the short term, you look at it and go, 'Wow, he strikes out,' but in the long term, I see nothing but positives, because he was seeing more pitches. It helps him understand the game a little more."

Rizzo, 22, acquired from the Padres in January in the Andrew Cashner deal, was batting .378 with seven homers and 21 RBIs in 21 games. He has a slight edge on Jackson in that he's had a taste of the big leagues after getting called up last June. But in 49 games with San Diego, he hit just .141.

"That was the first time I ever failed in my life, basically, except maybe a test in high school," Rizzo said. "I played winter ball and worked on some things. I think the rest is what helped me out the most.

"It was a roller coaster year, from being the very best to the very worst," said the first baseman who hit .331 at Triple-A Sacramento. "I think I learned a lot from all that."

Rizzo couldn't correct himself in his brief time with the Padres.

"There were pitches right down the middle last year and I missed them -- a lot of ugly swings," he said. "I remember in Spring Training [this year], and I took one of those swings. It was just a bad swing and I missed the ball, and I stepped out of the box and I kind of got worried, because that was what I was doing last year. And really that was the only time I've done it all year. It's just controlling your breathing and relaxing."

This weekend, the Angels called up 2009 first-round pick Mike Trout, and the Nationals promoted top prospect Bryce Harper, selected in the 2010 Draft. Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, and general manager Jed Hoyer have maintained that Rizzo and Jackson, who are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 on MLB.com's list of Top 20 Cubs prospects, need time to develop. Epstein likes players to have a full season at Triple-A. That could mean a calendar year or a specific number of at-bats.

"I'm not statistically as smart as they are," Jackson said of Epstein and Hoyer. "My focus is here right now. My focus is in Iowa and being a catalyst for this lineup."

Jackson has the tools to be a force, with the ability to beat a team with a throw, a steal or a swing. Cubs manager Dale Sveum thought the outfielder was close after batting .276 this spring. But Major League scouts attending Saturday's Iowa game all agreed Jackson still has some things to learn.

"You don't want to be in a situation where you try to rush him to the big leagues and, all of a sudden, he has to go back because he has some deficiencies there," said Lee Tinsley, the Cubs' outfield and base running coordinator. "You'd rather have a guy who's there and is more of a complete player. That's why there isn't really a rush right now. He just needs to continue to develop. He's close."

Scouts also agreed Rizzo has the potential to be a Gold Glove Award-caliber first baseman. He sticks to a pregame infield routine developed with Padres coach Glenn Hoffman. No one is harder on Rizzo than himself. He's been charged with five errors, including a throwing miscue Saturday which led to a run in a 3-0 loss to Nashville.

"In my opinion, they're stupid errors," Rizzo said. "They really annoy me. My job is to pick up the infielders and help the pitchers out. ... You're not going to hit every day, but you can field every day and have a 1.000 fielding percentage."

There's been no problem with their work ethic. Friday's game was postponed because of rain, yet players took advantage of the unexpected free time to hit in the cage and watch some video.

They're so close to the big leagues.

"These guys want to play in Chicago," Keller said. "They want to be there, they want to make a difference there, they want to win there. We have to keep their mind and body here. Their bodies are here, and sometimes it's hard to keep their minds here. If you can keep both here, good things will happen. It's a learning process."

Eager Cubs fans want to know when they can write Jackson and Rizzo in the same lineup at Wrigley. Jackson hasn't marked a date on his calendar.

"It's one of those things. As any Minor League player will tell you, it's in your mind, but it isn't," Jackson said. "You have to stay in the moment, you have to stay in the present, and take care of your efforts here. Worrying about when you'll get called up to the big leagues is something that's beyond my control."

And Rizzo?

"What's the date today? We're in the same lineup today," he said, smiling.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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