The Detroit Tigers have been one of the biggest buyers this offseason. While this wasn't really the case up until the signing of first baseman Prince Fielder, it seems as though that one signing has put them in contention with Los Angeles for biggest offseason spender.
However, those who watch the Tigers often know that the team still has a few holes. One of these is at the leadoff spot.
While some expected the Tigers to go after a speedy leadoff hitter like outfielder Juan Pierre, Detroit opted to seemingly stick with their go-to guy, third-year center fielder Austin Jackson.
While Jackson has had decent numbers and has some speed on the bases, he is arguably the biggest swing-and-miss leadoff hitter in the American League, possibly in all of baseball.
In Jackson's two years at the Major League level, the leadoff hitter has been in the top five in strikeouts in all of Major League Baseball.
Now, it's easy to get down on a leadoff hitter with those kind of numbers. The fact is that he's not a bad player. He's the best defensive option the Tigers have in the outfield, and he does have some pop in his bat.
While he doesn't seem to have the ability to really be a leadoff hitter in its truest sense, his numbers should get better for the Tigers in 2012. However, there are still a few things Jackson must improve upon in order for this to happen, the biggest of which is patience at the plate.
This is easier said than done. As the leadoff hitter, Jackson's base on balls should be much higher than what it has been. He has a reputation for swinging at almost anything, so look for him to have an improved eye for the ball in 2012.
Part of me wants to attribute his struggles at the plate to a sophomore slump. Consider this: In Jackson's rookie season, he hit .293 and was a candidate for Rookie of the Year. He declined drastically in 2011. The law of averages says that he will be somewhere in between those two seasons in 2012.
That being said, the striking out has to stop, and he's one of the poorest leadoff hitters in baseball from that perspective. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Tigers pursue a leadoff man around the trade deadline if Jackson doesn't perform well.
There's little doubt that Jackson has a place in the lineup; however, it should be in the ninth spot.
Jackson can bunt with the best of them, and has the speed to do it for a base hit. Having players that get on base in front of him will allow Jackson to utilize this skill. While manager Jim Leyland isn't much for small ball, he's also said that he'll adjust with the pulse of his team.
While moving Jackson to the back end of the lineup wouldn't qualify this squad as a "manufacturing runs" sort of team by any means, it would allow them the luxury of being able to do such a thing if Fielder or third baseman Miguel Cabrera is in a slump.
Overall, Jackson is still a very important piece in this Detroit Tigers puzzle. He's still young, and he has speed and quite a bit of power for the kind of player that he is. While he has a long way to go, expect to see Austin manning center field at Comerica Park for some time to come.
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