Mariners Draft Outfielder Alex Jackson

Three years ago, the Mariners held the second overall pick in a draft considered to be loaded with talent. There were quite a few players on the radar, from pitchers like Dylan Bundy and Gerrit Cole to high school outfielder Bubba Starling. I wanted college third baseman Anthony Rendon, the presumed top pick until some injuries slowed him. It looked like the M’s would luck into an impact bat.

Cole went first, and while Rendon wasn’t a lock, all of the options were attractive. And then the Mariners went slightly off the board and picked Danny Hultzen, the last of the realistic options I expected. Hultzen wasn’t a bad pick, he just lacked a bit of the upside of the other names. Perhaps unfairly, he was seen as the safe pick, which is fine until the safe pick blows out his shoulder two years later and is still rehabbing now with no guarantee to ever be an impact pitcher again. Meanwhile, Rendon is having a solid season in his first full year in the majors, and looks to be a solid starter and maybe much more in the future.

I tell this story because today’s MLB draft was setting up for another let down. The Mariners picked sixth in a draft commonly thought to have four or five players true impact players at the top. Personally, I loved lefties Brady Aiken and Carlos Rodon, but both seemed sure to go before they reached the Mariners. My top choice among the possibly realistic options was high school C/OF Alex Jackson from San Diego, considered the top hitting prospect in the draft.

For a few weeks, most thought Jackson would go second to the Marlins, but that started to change in the last week. People started saying if Jackson wasn’t picked in the top two, he could fall to the Mariners. Mock drafts and rumors are never right so I was trying to keep my hopes from getting up (also important because I have never watched Jackson and it’s possible he never even makes it to Seattle, but that’s beside the point).

Amazingly, the experts were right. Aiken went number one, fellow prep pitcher Tyler Kolek went two, Rodon three. No one knew what the Cubs would do, but they surprised a bit and took Indiana catcher/OF Kyle Schwarber. The Twins took prep shortstop Nick Gordon, and suddenly the Mariners had a chance to make me happy, which they don’t do that often. More importantly (maybe), they had a chance to get a potential hitting star, which they’ve needed for literally more than a decade.

At this point, I still assumed they would pick someone else, a la Hultzen over Rendon. It would be just like the Mariners to get our hopes up and then do something totally unexpected to ruin them. But in a move I’m taking to be a sign of their changing ways, the M’s made Jackson the pick. The tide is turning, Seattle. Five game winning streaks and big time hitting prospects. This is the stuff of which good baseball teams are made.

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There are lots of better places to read scouting reports of draftees, so I’ll keep mine to a minimum. Jackson is 6’2″ 210 lbs and hits and throws right handed. He plays catcher in high school but he was announced as an outfielder and Jack Zduriencik said afterward they’ll put him in an outfield corner in an effort to let him move up the ranks as quickly as his bat will carry him. With Zunino being the man, there’s really no reason to waste time on developing Jackson as a catcher, even though most think he could be at least passable there.  He boasts a rifle arm and enough athleticism to be an average or better right fielder.

The bat is what is really special. He’s above-average with both the hit and power tools, and I’ve seen a line of .285/.350/.500 with 25-30 homers as completely realistic, and he could do a lot more than that. Strike zone judgement is always the concern for prep hitters, and it’s hard to know how they’ll react in the pros, but he’s given no reason to worry yet. It’s just an area where we have to wait and see. Zduriencik compared the pick to drafting Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in Milwaukie, so that’s encouraging. The MLB draft is always risky, especially when drafting high schoolers, but Jackson is the cream of this year’s crop.

Jackson immediately becomes the M’s first or second best prospect (not counting Taijuan Walker), depending on how one feels about DJ Peterson. They have similar bats, with Jackson having more home run power and a higher upside, but Peterson being a lot closer to the majors. If Jackson becomes a reliable outfielder, he’ll likely have more positional value as well, since Peterson will probably play first base in Seattle. However you look at them, they’re a good duo, and with the way some guys like Austin Wilson and Gabriel Guerrero and Jabari Blash are hitting, they might have some company soon.We probably won’t see Jackson in Seattle before 2017 at the earliest, but it’s hard to say for sure.

While I’ve been writing this, the M’s selected another righty power-hitting outfielder in the extra little round after the second. This one is Gareth Morgan, a big boy from Canada. I haven’t had time to read much on him yet, but he evidently has monstrous power but some work to do overall as a hitter. Canadian hitters tend to be pretty raw due to the lack of year-round ball there. Think Michael Saunders and his long, winding path to consistent production. That means they can really blossom with more and better coaching, and they sometimes slide in the draft because they’re not seen by scouts to the same degree as players in warm weather areas. It can also mean they’re just not good enough for the majors and never will be. Only time will tell. Without knowing really anything, it seems like a good pick. The Mariners need outfielders, and they picked up two with a lot of promise today.

Tomorrow and Saturday bring the rest of the draft, with rounds 3-10 tomorrow and 11-40 Saturday. I will not know any of the players anyone picks, but it’s fun to learn about them and hear all of their different stories. I might check in with an update on Sunday, but check Baseball America or your usual Mariner sources for more (and probably better) info. Go Mariners!

-Matthew

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