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.