Trade Fallout: Austin Jackson to Detroit

As you probably have heard, the Detroit Tigers pulled off a major deal at the winter meetings. No, I’m not talking about shipping Clay Rapada to the Rangers for a PTBNL.

Detroit picked up RHP Max Scherzer, LHPs Daniel Schlereth and Phil Coke and OF prospect Austin Jackson in a three-team swap, shipping Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson out of town in the process. Let’s take a closer look at Austin Jackson’s value, now that his path to an eventual starting spot in the big leagues is clearer.

An 8th round pick in the 2005 amateur draft, Jackson received an $800,000 signing bonus to forego a scholarship to play basketball at Georgia Tech.

The 6-1, 185 pound righty batter made his full-season debut in 2006, batting .260/.339/.346 in the Low-A South Atlantic League. Jackson worked the count well (10.2 BB%) and swiped 37 bags in 49 attempts (76% success rate). However, rarely put a charge into the ball (.086 ISO), and he punched out in 28.2 percent of his PA.

Following the year, Baseball America named Jackson the 18th best prospect in the Yankees system. BA said that he “confused scouts as both an amateur and now as a pro.” They claimed that Jackson’s speed wasn’t really as advertised. Big SB numbers and hoops background aside, BA rated Austin’s wheels as “fringy,” limiting his range in center field. He also needed to “dramatically improve his breaking-ball recognition.”

Jackson began 2007 back in the Sally League, where he showed modest improvement in the power department. He hit .260/.336/.374 in 266 PA, walking 9.3% of the time and whiffing 25.1%. Jackson’s ISO climbed to a still-modest .115, and he stole 19 bases in 25 tries (76 percent success rate).

Bumped up to the High-A Florida State League in the summer, Jackson emerged as a top talent in New York’s system. His .345/.398/.566 triple-slash in 284 PA was aided by a sky-high .395 BABIP. But Jackson smacked 10 homers in the FSL, more than he had hit in his entire career prior to that point. His ISO spiked to .221. The extra thump came at the expense of some walks (7.9 BB%), but Jackson did pare his K rate to 18.6% while going 13-for-18 in SB attempts (72 percent).

Following his reign of terror with the Tampa Yankees, Jackson ascended to #2 on New York’s prospect list entering 2008. BA changed its tone regarding his defense, saying that Jackson had “developed above-average range in center field.” He was labeled a “future all-star candidate” by Yankees brass.

Jackson spent all of 2008 in the AA Eastern League, where he posted a .285/.354/.419 line in 584 PA. While 2007’s prodigious power display didn’t persist, Jackson managed an adequate .135 ISO. His walk rate perked back up to 9.7%, and he punched out 21.7% of the time. Austin was a more efficient base thief, with 19 SB in 25 tries (76 percent). Baseball America dubbed him the best talent in the Bronx Bombers’ farm system.

In 2009, Jackson patrolled all three outfield spots in the AAA International League, still spending most of his time in the middle pasture. His .300/.354/.405 triple-slash in 557 PA looks like business as usual, but there are some underlying signs that Jackson needs more development time.

The soon-to-be 23 year-old benefitted from an unsustainable .390 BABIP. Jackson is a swift runner (as evidenced by his 24 steals in 28 attempts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre), and his career BABIP in the minors is .361. He has the skill-set of a high BABIP hitter. But a number creeping up on .400 isn’t going to continue.

Jackson wasn’t a complete hacker at the dish, but his rate of free passes taken dipped to 7.4%, and his K rate rose to 24.4%. He didn’t hit with much authority either, with a .105 ISO. Jackson’s Major League Equivalent (MLE) line was .258/.308/.342, according to Minor League Splits. That equates to a wOBA of about .291.

Long-term, Austin Jackson looks as though he could be an average to slightly above-average everyday center fielder. However, the Tigers should resist the urge to have him patrolling Comerica Park’s spacious outfield come April. Sean Smith’s CHONE projects a .252/.307/.359 line (.296 wOBA). Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS calls for a .245/.296/.338 line (.282 wOBA).

Those in keeper league should keep an eye on Jackson, as he projects to be a league average hitter long-term (Baseball Prospectus’ peak translation for him is .277/.346/.406) with the speed to steal 20 bags. Just don’t count on him come opening day.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on and, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

10 Responses to “Trade Fallout: Austin Jackson to Detroit”

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  1. azteccrawdaddy says:

    Funny how his supposed ceiling is worse than Granderson’s off year. Once again, absolute steal for the Yankees, decent trade for Detroit, and a terrible move for Arizona. Unless IPK turns out to be a pretty solid starter or Scherzer gets hurt, I don’t understand the move for them.

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  2. Jackson’s problem has never been in his speed or ability to hit, it’s his lack of patience. Jackson will never hit for power. He’s got a bat like Jacoby Ellsbury, but with even less steals. In fact, that would be my strongest player comparison, offensively speaking. His defense however, is where most of his value will lie. If Jackson ends up a +6-10 FRAR fielder, a lg average wOBA in center will suffice. If not, he’s just going to be a fourth outfielder. Jackson was the least relevant piece of the trade, in my opinion. Scherzer was the prize, while Schlerech has all the upside and cost control the tigers wanted, while Coke is quality, cheap, young RP for the 7th role. Jackson just gives the tigers a Placido Polanco for center

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  3. Kampfer says:

    Polanco is probably better than Jackson…
    Polanco is a plus fielder up the middle with the same bat, absoulutely a better player than what Jackson seems to be growing into.

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    • brendan says:

      Are you saying Polanco is more valuable because he plays a middle-infield position? The Positional adjustment for CF is the same as for 2B, correct?

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  4. Polanco_Fan says:

    Both projection systems used in the article are always very bearish when it comes to prospects…

    I am MUCH MORE inclinded to look at Bill James projections for rookies..

    And James has Jackson with an like .345 wOBA or something, over 300 PA’s…

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  5. Matt C says:

    Ugh as a Tigers fan the more I read about Jackson the more disappointed I get in this trade. Admittedly I didn’t know much about him before the trade I just remember reading on various baseball and NY message boards about how he was the future and how they should never part with him. Even when he was discussed in the Halladay trade last season he was the guy that Cashman didn’t want to part with. So when I heard about this trade I was pretty pumped because I thought Jackson was supposed to be this stud prospect but the more and more I read about him it sounds like he was just a prospect that the Yankees overhyped.

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    • joser says:

      NY — the team, the media, and the fans — will always consistently tell you that every prospect in the Yankees farm, no mater how inconsequential or marginal, is better than anything any other team has in their system. It’s like automatic grade inflation. You have to look at the ratings from disinterested third parties to get any realistic sense of their value. There’s usually a reason these guys aren’t yet in the majors besides “he’s blocked by Jeter / Posada / A-Rod / whatever.”

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  6. Peter Lacock says:

    This guy is just a baby. A few years ago the only thing he could do with a baseball is dribble it. He has progressed rapidly. He may never be a slugger but then again he might, He’s an athlete with good size. So far he’s concentrated on fundamentals, pitch recognition, squaring up and hitting line drives. He needs another year or two of that. His glove is already MLB ready. The Yanks thought he’d be good and were willing to wait and then a young all star CF suddenly became available. In 5 years .280 50 XBH 20 SB with a significantly improved BB/K ratio and ++D is not unreasonable to expect.

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  7. DaveJ says:

    Austin seems to be playing pretty well for the Tigers so far…


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  8. J says:

    And Curtis… well he’s a nice guy.


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