Headed into the 2016 season, Jackson was the fourth-ranked M’s prospect after making good on his fifth-round selection in the 2015 Draft. He hails from Stanford and impressed evaluators in his first taste of pro ball last summer, devouring Northwest League pitching to the tune of a .358 batting average, .879 OPS and a 35:30 SO:BB rate. Physically, Jackson looks every bit the part of a top prospect; his long, muscular frame and broad shoulders make his strength and athleticism quite apparent at first glance. He runs well for someone his size, showing fringe-average to average times from HP-to-1B, but it plays much better underway where he can lengthen out his strides. He has not shown much power, which is a little surprising given his size, but he does have decent bat-to-ball skills and has a feel for the strike zone (45:30 SO:BB rate again in the first half of 2016).
But he showed below-average bat speed in my looks, and while he can get into balls to the pull side, he tends to get a little long and lacks ability to drive the ball hard to the middle of the field. I’m not sure what his exit velocity is on FB’s so far in 2016, but my guess would be that it is below average, indicating that he will be over matched as he starts to see more consistent velocity.
Then comes the defense. As of now, Jackson is staying at shortstop, where he has enough arm (55 grade) and average to slightly above-average range (55 grade) despite not being a plus runner. Both of these things bode well for an athletic guy to stay at the position and continue to produce. However, this is also where things start to get a little murky for me. While he does possess those tools mentioned above, his hands are below average; he tends to get back on his heels and has a very “passive” approach to ground balls which leads to him bending at the waist and seeing his hands firm up instead of staying in motion and generating momentum through the ball on towards first base. He is athletic enough to compensate for this most of the time, however it’s not something that is going to be sustainable as he moves up; with 15 errors already in 2016, some might say that the poor technique has already caught up with him.
That said, on balls where he doesn’t have time to think and just reacts, he tends to be far more athletic and aggressive – so it is in there, but the question is can he repeat it more often. Approach on defense is something that can be corrected and improved upon, so there is hope that Jackson will stick at shortstop, where is his below-average to fringe-average hit tool will play better. However, given how he runs and the long strides that help him really cover ground underway, I can’t help but think if the outfield might be a better place for him – ultimately allowing him to better utilize his athleticism. He likely is not going to hit for the power needed to hold down a corner-outfield spot, but I could see his deceptive speed being enough to contribute in center field.
To be fair to the Stanford alum, I only have a three-game look so far, and there are a number of scouts and executives that have seen him play a lot better. I am far from writing him off, but at this point he is more the Role 40 ceiling-type player for me rather than the solid big league regular that I was expecting going in. I plan to catch more of him in the second half before turning in my full report.