Austin Jackson: The Future of the New York Yankees?

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IJanuary 19, 2009

I just read a very fine article by Michael Robinson about the young man in the picture above. 

So much has already been written about Austin Jackson and his potential to be the Yankee center fielder of the future.

But one must remember that in 2005 we were told that the "Melky Cabrera Era" had begun in the Bronx, and that center field was locked up for years to come.

That season, Melky fell on his face after six games and was sent back to the minors.  He returned in early 2006 and played in 130 games and hit a very respectable .280 for a rookie.

In 2007 the starting center field job was Melky's and he played in 150 games and hit .273. The future seemed secure for the young man.

But in 2008, Melky started very hot and then cooled quickly. He seemed to lose attention, slumped badly and even lost his concentration in the outfield. He was sent back to Triple A.

When Melky proved disappointing last season, Brett Gardner took his place and proved to be a very capable defensive center fielder, but could not hit.

Now everyone is supposed to be keeping the spot warm until AJax gets to NYC. In fact, speculation that Cabrera would be traded for 36-year-old Mike Cameron always included talk that Cameron would only be used for one year because Jackson would be ready by 2010.

Let's take a look at some numbers and try to get some perspective on the career of the last three men who have been talked about as the future of the Yankees in center.

Melky Cabrera played part of four seasons in the minors, not counting his demotion last year. He had an overall batting average of .296 in the minors.  At Triple A in 2006 he hit .385 in 31 games. 

After being demoted last year he played just 15 games in Scranton and hit .333.  In both the minor leagues and majors, Cabrera has shown that he can play very well in the field. 

Gardner has a combined batting average of .291 and he has played longer in the minors than Cabrera. In Triple A in 2008 he played 94 games and hit .296. He was not able to approach those numbers in New York.

Jackson has not made the Triple-A level yet. But in his four seasons in the minors he has not hit as well as Cabrera or Gardner. His overall average is .284 and last year in 131 games at Double A Trenton he hit .285.

Jackson is good in the field, has a good arm. But his number of put outs and assists is no better or worse than what Cabrera and Gardner did in the minors. He had exactly the same number of errors in Double A as Gardner had at Triple A last year and a little less than Cabrera had at that stage in his career.

In the Arizona Fall League, Jackson did not set the world on fire. He is a young man of tremendous potential, highly rated by almost all scouts. But if the minor league numbers of these three players could be used as a predictor of their major league future, Cabrera would be the Yankees center fielder, now and in the future. 

The point is that they cannot be. Some players never achieve the "potential" they were supposed to have.  Others don't show a great deal in the minors but blossom in the bigs and become more than was ever expected.

The Yankees have three very fine young outfielders who may all become stars.  They obviously won't all play center field for the Yankees.  But one of them may very well prove to be a star for many years in New York. 

The question of whether it will be Austin Jackson will have to wait for an answer.