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Cubs' recent top draft choices brighten camp
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Center fielder and former No. 1 draft pick Brett Jackson

 

Bruce Miles | Daily Herald

Chicago Cubs first round draft pick Andrew Cashner, of Texas Christian University

 

Third baseman Josh Vitters was the Cubs' No. 1 draft pick in 2007.

 

Bruce Miles | Daily Herald

Cubs prospect Brett Jackson

 

Bruce Miles | Daily Herald

Chicago Cubs' Andrew Cashner

 

Associated Press

Cubs prospect Brett Jackson chats with outfield instructor Bob Dernier during spring training workouts at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz.

 

Bruce Miles | Daily Herald

Cubs prospect Tyler Colvin takes a turn in the cage at spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz.

 

Bruce Miles | Daily Herald

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Published: 3/1/2010 2:45 PM

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They come from varied backgrounds with different stories.

There's the former college star who got a taste of the big leagues last year and then hit the weight room over the winter.

There's the former high schooler who could be the third baseman of the future.

There's the fireballing Texas phenom who may end up in a big-league rotation or bullpen sooner rather than later.

And there's the five-tool outfielder who brings athleticism and a touch of California cool.

What they have in common is they're all No. 1 draft picks of the Cubs - the four most recent No. 1 picks - and they're all at big-league spring training in Mesa, Ariz.

It's believed to be the first time the Cubs have had four consecutive No. 1 picks in big-league spring training at the same time.

"It says a lot about the confidence in our scouting director, Tim Wilken, our international director, Paul Weaver, and the confidence Jim (GM Hendry) has instilled in all of us as well as (manager) Lou Piniella, to invite them all to camp and give them an opportunity," said Cubs farm director Oneri Fleita. "You know what's fun about watching them when they're young? You can watch them grow daily and weekly and monthly."

Beginning in 2006, Wilken used his first pick in the amateur draft to take outfielder Tyler Colvin, followed by third baseman Josh Vitters, right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner and center fielder Brett Jackson.

Here's a look at each:

Colvin: The guy getting the most double-takes in the Fitch Park clubhouses is Colvin, who added 25 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-3 frame.

Colvin had a cup of coffee with the big club last fall. When asked his plans for the winter, he sounded like he wanted something to go with that coffee.

"Eat," was his standard reply.

The Cubs are happy with the results.

"Wow, he put on 25 pounds; he looks great," Fleita said. "I'm proud of him. This is his first off-season to really get after it and get into the weight room. When we signed him, we sent him to the Fall League. The following year, he went out and played for the USA team. Last year, he spent the fall rehabbing off Tommy John (surgery), so really, this is first off-season to do what the normal player does."

Colvin batted .300 at Class AA Tennessee last year with a .334 on-base percentage and 14 homers as he came back from elbow surgery. He walked 16 times and struck out 57 in 307 at-bats.

"I've gotten stronger," he said. "I've learned what to go after up there instead of just being a free swinger all the time. I'd like to think that I have somewhat of an approach now. That's what I'm still learning.

"I'm not sure my role is going to be, if they want me to be a guy to get on base or knock in runs. It is a little different. If you're the guy to knock in runs, you don't have to get on as much. You just have to knock them in."

Vitters: Josh Vitters has one simple goal for 2010.

"I just want to be better than last year," he said. "I want to play better than last year."

Vitters, 20, a third baseman taken out of Cypress (Calif.) High School in 2007, batted .316 with 15 homers and a .351 OBP at Class A Peoria last year before moving up to Class A Daytona, where he hit .238 with 3 homers. He's battled nagging hand injuries for parts of his young pro career.

"I'm happy overall," he said. "I think that I've played pretty well the last few seasons besides the few small setbacks. I'm just hoping to stay healthy this year and play a full season."

What kind of hitter, and what position Vitters ends up playing, remains to be seen.

"I feel that I'm a good contact hitter," he said. "I'm a guy who can hit with some power, too. I think that will probably come second, after the hitting and average-type things. I'll have to wait for a few years to go by to really know that."

Cashner: The Cubs liked Cashner so much they drafted him twice, first in 2007 before finally landing him in 2008 out of Texas Christian University.

A closer in college, Cashner started 24 games between Daytona and Tennessee last year. At Daytona, he had no record but a 1.50 ERA in 42 innings. He was 3-4 with a 3.39 ERA at Tennessee. In 1001/3 combined innings of work, he struck out 75 and gave up 1 home run.

The Cubs kept a close watch on Cashner's pitch counts, both during last season and in the Arizona Fall League.

"In the Fall League, it was kind of weird because it was 45 or 50 pitches," he said. "The pitch count is more (about) saving my arm. I think it will be better for me in the future. It's definitely frustrating not to be able to go deep, but in the Fall League, I don't think we had a guy throw over 4 innings.

"During the season, it was frustrating, but I was coming off an oblique injury, so it was expected."

Piniella said this spring Cashner's future likely is as a starter. Cashner said it doesn't matter to him at this point. Building a repertoire is the big thing now.

"I'd say the command of my fastball is getting better," he said. "I've always got room to work on the slider. My slider is one of my better pitches, but my changeup's come a long, long way. I rely on it a lot now. I feel like I'm able to throw it for strikes a lot, and that's what I use against lefties a lot.

"I'm definitely here to open eyes, but I'm also here to make a great impression later down the road. I'd like to help this team out as soon as possible."

Jackson: The Cubs feel they have a five-tool player in Jackson, a center fielder out of the University of California-Berkeley.

After being drafted last year and heading to Arizona, he hit .330 in a quick stop at Class A Boise before moving up to Peoria and helping the Chiefs to the playoffs by hitting .295 with 7 homers and a .383 OBP.

"I was really just thrown into the fire but thrown into a team that could really hit and really pitch," he said. "I became part of the team quickly, and we did some damage in the month of August and at the end of July. Unfortunately, we didn't carry it into the playoffs, but we had a very, very exciting month of baseball, and I think that was a great first experience for me coming into pro ball and to be part of a team that had a lot of guys who really knew how to play and enjoyed to play and really had fun when they played."

Jackson, a Berkeley native, seems as polished off the field as he does on it at a young age.

"We didn't get a terrible amount of exposure at Cal, but I'd like to think that a college education will help me in the future," he said. "When it comes down to it, I'm here to play baseball, and I'm here to learn from the best. I'm very happy to have that opportunity."