Torii Hunter to Detroit: Why Austin Jackson Will Learn from Star Outfielder

Chris Schad@@crishadContributor IIINovember 14, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 24:  Austin Jackson #14 of the Detroit Tigers reacts after he struck out in the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants during Game One of the Major League Baseball World Series at AT&T Park on October 24, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers were robbed many times while playing against the Minnesota Twins in the 2000s.

As the Twins ascended toward their golden era, winning six division championships in eight seasons, the Tigers found themselves at the bottom of the American League Central, looking up at the Twins and their star center fielder, Torii Hunter.

The Tigers were more than happy to see Hunter leave for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim prior to the 2008 season. But they were still occasionally subjected to the acrobatic catches of the nine-time Gold Glove winner that took multiple runs off the scoreboard and hung losses in the standings.

That was until Wednesday afternoon, when Hunter agreed to a two-year, $26 million contract with the Tigers in what could be a last-ditch effort by the 37-year-old to win a World Series ring.

Hunter is in the declining stage of his career but will provide an offensive upgrade over Delmon Young. However, Hunter's signing provides much more than that, especially in the case of promising center fielder Austin Jackson.

Jackson, who hit .300 with 16 home runs and 66 runs batted in last season, showed plenty of potential in his first three major league seasons. With the addition of Hunter, Jackson will now be exposed to what is becoming an impressive lineage of center fielders founded by Kirby Puckett.

The Hall of Famer made it a point to take younger players under his wing to prepare them for life in the major leagues. Torii Hunter, his first pupil, was no exception.

Hunter struggled for several seasons in the Twins' minor league system. Even though he put together a couple of solid seasons in the minors, many were starting to wonder if he would ever fully take the reigns from a retiring Puckett in 1998.

With Puckett's counseling, Hunter exploded for a breakout season in 2002 (.289, 29 HR, 94 RBI with a Gold Glove) at age 26.

Since Puckett's death in March 2006, Hunter has continued his legacy by bringing fellow center fielders under his wing and encouraging them to pass it on to other stars like Puckett had done for him.

Players that thrived under the guidance of Puckett and Hunter include Denard Span, Ben Revere and Mike Trout, all of whom would elicit cheers of joy if Jackson developed similarly.

Jackson could make the leap from promising young player to franchise cornerstone himself under Hunter's watch. In any event, the Tigers will get more than they paid for if Jackson becomes the next branch of Puckett's tree.