Once again Howard Rudolph gets an assist for chipping in the "dud" portion of this piece. Howard and I both have a vested interest in Jackson as he fleeced me before the 2008 season by dealing me Carlos Carrasco/Austin Jackson for Ian Kinsler.
A tremendous athlete, Austin Jackson turned down a basketball scholarship to Georgia Tech to sign an over slot deal as an 8th rounder by the "Evil Empire." Now 21 and arguably the Yankees top prospect, Jackson has steadily moved up the ladder and should start the 2009 season an injury away from the "Big Apple."
As a fantasy owner of Austin Jackson, I obviously hope for the best when trying to project his future. In hearing Bernie Williams comparisons from Yankees fans, I always questioned whether they were accurate assessments, or false prophecies. Here are the numbers;
Bernie Williams - .285/.394/.428 with 185 SB
Austin Jackson - .284/.356/.411 with 100 SB (approx. 670 less AB)
These numbers also include almost identical totals in both A+ and AA.
Based on numbers alone, Jackson and Williams are close. Williams seems to have had a slightly better offensive approach, but Jackson holds a slight edge in terms of raw athletic ability. With that said, athleticism is quite the equalizer in terms of accelerating the learning curve. Are Yankees fans are correct in anointing Jackson the next great Yankees center fielder? Considering Jackson is still a diamond in the rough, he has the potential to become one of the top center fielders in the American League.
Many will argue Jackson is over hyped based on so many Yankees prospects proving to be vastly overrated and Jackson's solid, but unspectacular stat line. With a long list of prospect flops including Ruben Rivera, Hensley Meulens, Sam Militello, and the struggles of both Philip Hughes and Ian Kennedy, I do not blame true prospect hounds for simply shrugging their collective shoulders at Austin Jackson.
However, Jackson is different from most Yankees prospects in that his tools are solid to a tick above across the board leaving him with a higher floor than other Yankees flops. When the Yankees built their dynasty from within, it was with players similar to Austin Jackson. The core of the great Yankees teams of the past decade were not made up of one dimensional mashers and 100 MPH fastballs. Yankees fans should take comfort in the notion Jackson would have fit in quite nicely on those championship teams and be confident about his future.
It pains me as a Yankees fan to say that Austin Jackson will not be as good as the hype that he’s received, but short of becoming the next Bernie Williams, I don’t see it being possible. Jackson is a two-sport star with tremendous potential, but how many times have we heard that before? From observing and listening to others, I’ve learned that two sport stars are typically slower to develop but there comes a time when the potential has to become reality or that player is a dud.
Most people saw Jackson’s 258 at bat run for Class A+ Tampa in 2007 as the start of bigger and better things, but that didn’t materialize in 2008 with his promotion to AA Trenton. In 2007, the power was there and the contact was up, as evidenced by his .395 BABIP and 31 XBH in 258 at-bats. In 2008, his BABIP dropped to .348 and he had 46 XBH in 518 at-bats, which is closer to his other 770 at-bats in A Charleston. So where does he go from here and why do I think he will be a dud?
It’s hard to make a convincing case for Jackson as a dud because he has speed, youth and is young for the league he is in, even if 20-30 homerun power doesn’t develop. However, if the power does not develop and he’s a 5-10 home run guy, he’s not worthy of top prospect status.
What stands out to me is that he’s not particularly great or bad at anything, which makes him solid but not spectacular. Unfortunately, Coco Crisp comparisons are too close for comfort, as Crisp’s minor league line was .299/.372/.411 with 149 SB in 6 minor league seasons. Jackson is at .284/.356/.411 with 100 SB in 4 minor league seasons.
Jackson strikes out too much as well, which does not bode well as a top of the order hitter that he profiles as without the power. He has yet to play full season ball where he has struck out less than 100 times. Without improvement in either the power or plate discipline departments, I don’t see him as a much better player than Melky Cabrera.
If that happens, the Yankees will shuffle him in and out of the majors and ship him off to another team in trade and he’ll be yet another over hyped Yankees prospect that never reached their potential.