#RememberThatCub: The Tale of Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters
By: Alex Patt
Before there was Kris Bryant, before there was Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Albert Almora, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber…was Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson. These two were once part of a Cubs “future” that came along under the Hendry regime. There is a long history of top-Cubs prospects that did not pan out as hoped before Theo Epstein took over, and these two were pretty much the end of that era. Here in our latest #RememberThatCub we will explore the story and fate of these two former top-prospects.
Josh Vitters was drafted third overall in the 2007 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Cypress High School in California. The Cubs getting the third overall pick was a result of the horrific 2006 season which they lost 96 games and were behind the Rays and Royals. He was taken right after the Rays got David Price and the Royals got Mike Moustakas. It is interesting to note that a few picks later at #10, the Giants took Madison Bumgarner. Vitters was noted for his ability to hit the ball hard, and for both average and power while “not getting cheated” according to an MLB scouting report from 2007.
Vitters’ road to the show began at age 17 in 2007, and made his way up to AAA in 2012 after Jim Hendry departed and Theo took over. That year in Iowa he slashed .304/.356/.869 with 17 home runs, 17% K rate, 7% walk rate and 68 RBI in 110 games.
On August 5th, 2012 against the Dodgers at the age of 22, Vitters made his MLB debut with the Cubs. He played with the team the rest of the 2012 MLB season, unfortunately, it did not go well at all. Slashing .121/.193/.395 with two home runs, a 30% K rate and five RBIs in 36 MLB games. Note that this was was still before the Cubs drafted Bryant, so he was still seen as a young piece for the future. There was hope he would work things out in 2013 and had a respectable season in AAA again with a .295/.380/.891 slash but that was in only 28 games because he battled injuries like mad that year. He played in 112 games in Iowa in 2014 but slashed .213/.268/.607 and was granted free agency after the season, ending his Cubs organization tenure after seven years. By the time mid-2013 had rolled around, Kris Bryant was the established 3rd baseman/outfielder of the future under Theo and Jed which left Vitters no real place any longer with the team.
Vitters had signed with the Colorado Rockies organization on a minor league deal in 2015, and was gone by 2016. The past two years the now 27-year old Vitters is playing with the Sioux City Explorers of the independent American Association. Sadly for him, he is struggling with a .185/.220/.474 line.
Now moving onto Brett Jackson. Jackson was drafted by Jim Hendry 31st overall in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of California, Berkeley. He was taken just a few spots after the Angels took Mike Trout. Jackson was seen as a guy with great speed and ability to play center fielder. He was never meant to be a cleanup guy with power but his bat’s scouting report said he was a decent bat.
Jackson showed in the minors he was a indeed a solid hitter and could move well, but he still did strike out a lot. Until he was called up, his cumulative K rate in the minors (including Arizona Fall league) was around 25%. In 2012 in AAA he had a 34% K rate but a respectable slash of .256/.338/.817 slash with some pop with 15 home runs in 106 games.
He got the MLB call on August 5th, 2012, the same day as Josh Vitters, at the age of 24. Jackson recorded two hits in his debut against the Dodgers. He played in 44 MLB games in 2012 and slashed .175/.303/.644 with four home runs, nine RBIs and a 42% K rate (yikes). He did to his credit have a 16% walk rate which explains the dramatic difference in average and on-base percentage. It is interesting to note that Javier Baez had some similar numbers in his first MLB season, 41% K rate in 52 games with a .169/.227/.551 slash. However Baez was more productive with nine home runs and 20 RBIs despite getting on base a lot less.
Jackson went down back to the minors in 2013 and played between the Arizona Fall League, Tennessee (AA) and Iowa (AAA). It did not go particularly well, slashing .210/.296/.626 with six home runs and 33% K rate. By 2014 it seemed certain that Jackson did not have a future with the Cubs and was traded to the Diamondbacks on on August 14th, 2014 for minor leaguer Blake Cooper. Jackson did play in seven games with Arizona that year and did not record a hit and drew one walk in five plate appearances. After 2014 ended he was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the rule 5 draft from the Diamondbacks. He was released in 2015 and is now a free agent.
That is the tale of Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters. When Theo Epstein came in his goal was to bring as many prospects as he could and sadly for Jackson and Vitters were not good enough to make the cut. The absolute best is wished in their endeavors and hopefully they find their niche somewhere.
Do you #RememberThatCub(s)?
Alex Patt is a contributor for Wrigley Rapport and other sports publications and podcasts. You can follow him on twitter @chifanpatt1