In a slightly surprising move tonight the Atlanta Braves dealt away two of their prospect arms in Robert Whalen and Max Povse to the Seattle Mariners to land outfielder Alex Jackson and a player to be named later.
The question many of you are asking already is who exactly is Alex Jackson- or what is he exactly? I’m here to help answer both of those questions and give you a better idea of the prospect the Braves just landed.
First a little background on him. Alex Jackson came out of high school as part of the 2014 draft class, a draft where he was selected sixth overall. The California native was a catcher, but many assumed a move to the outfield immediately due to questions on his defense and to help his bat move faster- important considering it was his bat that was considered to be elite for a prep hitter.
Jackson was rated very highly coming into the draft, which shouldn’t surprise anyone considering where he was selected. I had him at #3 on my draft board heading into that draft, behind just Carlos Rodon and Tyler Kolek- ahead of Brady Aiken, Nick Gordon, and even Kyle Schwarber(who almost immediately improved upon starting his professional career). That wasn't too different from the overall consensus, which had him in that range and considered him be the best prep hitter in the draft due to plus to potentially plus plus power from the right side and the projected ability to hit for average as well.
Jackson went straight to the Arizona Rookie League (equal to the GCL) and in 24 games saw a total of 94 plate appearances, where he put up a .280/.344/.476 batting line with 6 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers, and 16 RBI while walking 9 times and striking out 24. It was good enough to have him ranked very high on prospect lists that offseason. Baseball America had him at #20, MLB.com had him at #28. With his advanced bat for his age and huge power potential, he looked to be taking off in a big way.
Unfortunately for Jackson his rise to stardom has stalled out a bit from that point on. That's not to say he's been bad, but he hasn't quite lived up to expectations since- though there are reasons which will be mentioned shortly that likely contributed to his stagnation.
Jackson started 2015 in the Low A Midwest League after looking great in spring training. In fact the then just 19-year old who hadn't seen action above the AZL got a chance to play with the big league team in some spring training games and actually went 2-9 with a long homer that came off Rangers top reliever Shawn Tolleson. However he sustained a shoulder injury that wasn't public knowledge at the time and he tried to play through, leading to a minor league line of .157/.240/.213 with no homers in 121 plate appearances.
The Mariners decided to send him to short season ball in mid-May, partly because it was a lower level of competition and partly to get him a month and a half of rest for his shoulder as the team finally revealed that he was playing hurt. Once the season got started for Everett of the Northwest League, Jackson received 197 plate appearances and hit .239/.365/.466 with 11 doubles, 1 triple, and 8 homers while he walked 21 times and struck out 61.
Those good but not quite great numbers brought his line for the year to .207/.318/.365 with 8 homers over 318 plate appearances. A disappointing year for a kid drafted so high the previous summer, and one who showed such promise in spring training- but something able to be explained by his shoulder injury.
Then this year things didn't quite start out how he would have hoped, as he didn't break camp with a full season assignment and began the year in extended spring training- which according to Baseball America made him the second top 30 prep infielder or outfielder since 2001 to not start out his second full season as a pro in full season ball or on the DL. The man he joined is former Rays pick Josh Sale, who battled injuries and off field issues.
Jackson finally got to start his season on May 19th back with Clinton, and in 381 at bats he hit .243/.332/.408 with 20 doubles, 1 triple, 11 homers, and 55 RBI while walking 34 times and striking out 103. Those numbers were a little better after June 3rd, as from that day on he went on to hit .267/.346/.428 after his slow start. Those numbers were brought down by what could only be described as massive struggles at home- .191/.286/.303 compared to his road mark of .287/.371/.497.
Jackson’s career has been slowed by injury and what the Mariners have called maturity issues, but that doesn't change the fact that this is still a kid who doesn't turn 21 until Christmas Day and has truly elite upside.
The huge power is still in there for him, and similar to Travis Demeritte, he’s got as much power potential as anyone in the system who I have seen so far (I haven't seen Kevin Maitan yet for myself so I won't compare those two). He’s still got the ability to hit for average as well, provided he is able to improve his approach by being more selective as his current approach could leave him to be prone to strikeouts as he gets to the upper minors.
There has been some progress with this at the plate as he's made some adjustments between 2015 and 2016, showing that he is capable of making changes. Hopefully another year of work and another year past his shoulder injury could help get him to settle in and be more comfortable at the plate.
Jackson has played all over the outfield for the Mariners, including center field, though he projects as a better right fielder with his average speed likely to disappear as he continues to fill out and as a way to take advantage of his strong throwing arm. He could also get a look at catcher if the Braves wanted to try him there.
Jackson ended his 2016 season with a desperate need of a change in scenery. He got that with this trade and if he can stay healthy and return to form with the right coaching, he is a true breakout candidate in 2017. He's likely to start with either Rome or with the new High-A affiliate in Kissimmee assuming he stays in the outfield. If they decided to give him a look at catcher, all bets are off as that would definitely slow his path to the big leagues considering he hasn't caught for the last few years.
For right now I would personally rank him as the 9th best prospect in the system, just ahead of Touki Toussaint. Which seems fitting as he is kind of the hitter version of Touki - a former first round pick with hype from another organization acquired fairly cheap in a trade. Like Touki, Jackson has elite upside if everything comes together perfectly, but he also has a lot of work to do before he can become a big leaguer and even more work to reach that lofty ceiling.
In terms of where he would rank among the bats in the system, this is behind just Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, and Kevin Maitan. That means I have Jackson ranked ahead of Austin Riley, Rio Ruiz, Demeritte, and everyone else.