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December 29, 2006

by Fabian

Austin Jackson, CF, 19
Previously Ranked:
9th prior to 2006
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 17th, Baseball America N/A, John Sickels N/R

Physical Ability: A former Division I basketball recruit, Austin Jackson is one of the best athletes in the Yankee farm system. He stands 6’1’’ and weighs 185 pounds. Despite his amateur background, some doubts were raised about Jackson’s athleticism in regards to his play in centerfield. I feel that this should have been viewed as more an issue of him learning the nuances of his position than an indictment of his physical talent. Jackson is a 4.5 tool player with power being his worst projected tool. The best-case scenario for him in that department seems to be about 20 home runs.

What Happened in ’06: Austin played the entire 2006 season with the Charleston Riverdogs of the South Atlantic League. He got off to a hot start with an April OPS of .824 and was mediocre at best for the rest of the year. However, that hot start as well as his physical talent was enough for him to be selected to the league’s All Star Game. With 2006 being the first year that Jackson would focus solely on baseball, I expected him to struggle at the plate. With a .686 OPS on the year, it is clear that Jackson did struggle. While Jackson was adept at working the count, he struggled with making contact with good breaking balls late in the count. In addition, Jackson struggled with driving the ball consistently. Coupled with his aforementioned breaking ball issue this meant that Jackson was often in front of good breaking balls, pulling them to the SS or behind good fastballs and fisting them to the opposite field. Both situations made for easy outs. When Jackson did hit the ball correctly, he peppered line drives to all fields. Defensively, Jackson was rough around the edges. I’m going to chalk this up as the product of getting used to being the captain of the outfield along with some combination of Tim Battle, Jose Tabata, Estee Harris, James Cooper, Wilkins De La Rosa flanking you. That is, unlike your typical CF, Jackson had to deal with guys who could go get the ball. On the basepaths, Jackson was solid with 37 steals in 49 attempts.

What Lies Ahead: I wouldn’t mind Jackson opening the year back with Charleston, but it seems more likely that he will be with the Tampa Yankees. Either way, I am hopeful for Jackson’s chances to improve on his prospect status. Since power is not a big part of Jackson’s game at this point I don’t expect him to get as mentally ravaged by the FSL playing conditions as other hitters. Hopefully, this will lead to better statistical performance. In addition, if he can stay back on those breaking balls…he could hit .300 with 50+ steals for the year.

Grade: The Yankee farm system consists almost entirely of RHP. Amidst that ocean of pitching talent, Jackson is one of the few position players that matter. If everything works out for him, you’ve got Derek Jeter offensive performance with good defensive play in CF. If not, you may still have a 4th or 5th outfielder. The strikeouts in 2006 were scary, but I have a good feeling about Jackson and the way he plays the game, so hopefully he will prove me right in 2007. C+

Darrell Rasner #14