Austin Jackson: 5 Reasons the Tigers Center Fielder Has Arrived as an MLB Star
In his third year in the Major Leagues, Austin Jackson has cemented himself as a legitimate star, showing brilliance that can be expected to continue for years to come.
Jackson was an eighth-round pick of the New York Yankees in 2005, and was acquired by the Detroit Tigers in 2009 as part of a three-team, seven-player trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Bronx in exchange for the Yankees' center-field prospect.
Jackson's acquisition came as a shock to most Tigers fans, because he was asked to fill the shoes of the beloved Granderson, who roamed center field at Comerica Park for six seasons and was a class act and fan favorite.
The Tigers dealt one of their rising stars because they believed they had an even bigger star, yet to make his Major League debut, who was waiting to show his potential to the world.
Jackson is beginning to realize that potential and is putting together an All-Star caliber season. Here are five reasons he has officially arrived as a star in the Major Leagues:
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In 2011, Jackson struck out 181 times, which was third most in the Major Leagues last season, and tied for 25th most all-time.
As a leadoff hitter, you are counted on to be successful and have productive at-bats. Being atop the leader board in strikeouts is not productive, and is especially a no-no when batting first.
After the 2011 campaign, Jackson worked tirelessly to change the swing he had worked his whole life to perfect. He worked closely with Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon to make a tweak that would shorten up his swing and cut down on the K's.
He drastically lowered his leg kick and switched to more of a slide step that allows him to stay balanced and improve his reaction time.
Last season, Jackson's 181 strikeouts came in 591 at-bats—once every 3.2 at-bats. But this year, because of the adjustment, through 176 trips to the plate, Jackson has struck out 39 times—once every 4.5 at-bats.
Tigers' Resurgence Since His Return from Disabled List
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Jackson missed 21 games from May 17 to June 8 with an abdomen injury.
During Jackson's absence, the Tigers went 8-13, but since he's returned, Detroit has gone 8-3 and are on the brink of approaching .500 for the first time since May 15, when they were 18-18.
Quintin Berry replaced Jackson in center field and did an outstanding job in his first month in the Major Leagues, but as a team, the Tigers badly missed everything Jackson brings to the table.
Jackson's steady approach in the leadoff spot, ability on the bases and effortless success in the field allow the Tigers to worry about other positions.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Jackson isn't ever a distraction.
"He's got the perfect temperament for the game and he's a real nice player to manage," Leyland said to the Detroit News. "He doesn't ride the emotion of everybody else."
When Jackson is in the lineup, there is no cause for concern about mental lapses, defensive mistakes or prolonged offensive droughts.
The Tigers haven't lost a series since Jackson's return. The whole team has played better, which is due in part to No. 14.
Gold Glove Defensive Ability
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Jackson just gets the job done in center field.
Comerica Park has one of the biggest outfields in baseball, and Jackson makes it look tiny.
He effortlessly glides across center field, making difficult plays look routine. He makes every play he should make and often turns in a jaw-dropping highlight or two.
In his two-plus seasons in Detroit, Jackson has had 895 chances in center field and only committed nine errors. This season, Jackson has yet to commit an error in 107 chances.
Jackson has compiled a career fielding percentage of .990 and has 18 career assists. He isn't the fastest outfielder in the game, but he has great range and a good throwing arm. He uses textbook fundamentals and quick reflexes to track down almost everything that's hit in the air.
There isn't a better defensive center fielder in the game today, and although he hasn't won a Gold Glove yet, it's inevitable that his trophy case will be full of awards in the future.
Prototypical Leadoff Hitter
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As a leadoff hitter, your job is to see pitches, get on base, wreak havoc on the base paths and score runs.
Jackson does all those things as well as anyone.
This season, because of the 21 games he missed due to an abdomen injury, Jackson isn't atop the leader board for runs scored. But his 180 at-bats ranks No. 88 in the American League, and he's tied for 32nd in the A.L. in runs scored, with 36.
Among players with 193 at-bats or less, Jackson leads the league in runs scored.
He does more than just score runs, though.
Jackson's .407 on-base percentage leads the Tigers and ranks third in the A.L. Even when he's not getting hits, he finds a way to get on base and knows what to do when he gets there.
His 27 walks are second on the team, and seven stolen bases are second as well.
He does a little bit of everything as the Tigers' leadoff hitter: He hits for average, with a .317 clip this season, and his power—seven home runs and 30 RBIs—at the top of the lineup doesn't hurt either.
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Because he's played almost every day the last two-plus years, people forget that Jackson is only 25 years old and has less than three years of Major League experience under his belt.
He hasn't won a Gold Glove yet and is still adjusting to a major swing change.
The sky is the limit for Jackson as he continues to develop and contribute every day in pennant races. With the lineup the Tigers have, Detroit will be a threat to win the division for years to come, which can only help.
As he gets used to his new swing, maintains success in the field and continues to adapt to life in the Major Leagues, Jackson will become a perennial All-Star and will be one of the key pieces to a World Championship puzzle.
"He's had big hit after big hit," he said to the Detroit News. "He has speed and gives us a better defense. He's going to be a top-notch big league player at some point. He's still maturing, but he's getting better all the time."