Sveum’s approach with prospects

Dale Sveum told that if Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters are called up, it’ll be so they can play everyday.

“Whenever you bring guys like (Jackson and Vitters) up to the big leagues, it’s gotta be to play every day,” said manager Dale Sveum, who admitted that he could use another outfielder on the roster with the departure of Johnson. “You don’t bring them here to mix and match or try to put them in against weaker starting pitchers. You bring them here and they have to play every day.”

This could just be Sveum tempering the expectations of a fan base whose sole source of excitement the rest of way will be the play of younger players, and not a progression up the standings. It certainly is a pseudo-excuse as to why Jackson and Vitters aren’t here right now. But, at least in Vitters case, it doesn’t make sense because with Luis Valbuena‘s average holding steady below the Mendoza line, nothing is standing in his way.

Taking Sveum at his word, however, that he’ll play Jackson and Vitters full-time once they are up, is encouraging. And it conflicts, in a good way, with how Lou Piniella/Jim Hendry dealt with Felix Pie

Pie was probably the Cubs most highly-touted position before Anthony Rizzo, and won the starting centerfield job in Spring Training 2008. He started regularly until May 12, but struggled at the plate (.222/.286/.286). Hendry signed Jim Edmonds and Pie was sent to Iowa and not heard from until September. The following offseason he was traded to Baltimore.

From a short-term perspective in 2008 the Edmonds for Pie swap was a good move. Edmonds hit well with the Cubs (.256/.369/.568, 19 HR), and gave the lineup a much needed left-handed power bat. But sticking with Pie and living with the loss of production at the plate (but better defense) might have been the better long-term decision.

Edmonds was a productive player, but that Cubs would have had a good chance of making the playoffs had they stuck with Pie. When Pie was sent down on May 12, the team was 23-15 and was in first with a one game lead. It is true Edmonds diversified a predominately right-handed lineup. But it was a lineup that featured career years from Mark DeRosaRyan Theriot and (sadly) Geovany Soto having career years, and steady production from Alfonso SorianoDerrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

It’s a crude statement, but by the estimation in my mind, the team would probably have still been able to hold off Milwaukee for the division crown with Pie and not Edmonds. In the long- term, sticking with Pie might have been better. Had he improved, we would have avoided the mess that was Kosuke Fukudome in center in 2009.

But Piniella/Hendry were not patient with Pie and that was that for him as a Cub. There is no guarantee had they let him work through his struggles at the plate that year he would have stuck. He did, however, improve incrementally at the plate in 2009 and 2010 in Baltimore. But, the counter-argument would be that he regressed in 2011 and is currently out of the majors.

My point is that hopefully Sveum stays true to his word, and lets Vitters and Jackson work through the struggles they’ll likely have with the bat. The Pie comparison is not ideal; he is just the last “big-time” position player prospect I can remember the Cubs bringing up before Rizzo. Obviously, having patience with young player over the last few months of a lost season is much different than having patience with a competitive team in May. Nonetheless, patience is the most important thing, because the Cubs desperately need to figure out what they have.

UPDATE: I wrote this post a few days ago and didn’t get around to putting it up. Clearly since then Jackson and Vitters have been called up, and as we speak Jackson has had a decent debut: (thus far in the 6th) 1-2 with a single and walk.


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