Edwin Jackson was drafted by the Dodgers in the sixth round in 2001, out of high school in Columbus, Georgia. A two-way player in high school, he was considered raw but promising by the Dodgers on the mound and they made him a full-time pitcher. He posted a 2.45 ERA in his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League, with a 23/19 K/BB ratio in 22 innings, showing above-average velocity but needing to improve his control. He would rate as a "Grade C with higher potential" prospect if I had put him in the 2002 book.
Jackson took a big step forward in '02, posting a 1.98 ERA with a 85/33 K/BB and just two homers allowed in 105 innings for South Georgia in the Sally League. He hit 96 MPH with the fastball, and while his curve, slider, and changeup were all erratic, it was clear his potential was immense. I gave him a Grade B in the '03 book, wanting to see better component ratios but praising his long-term upside.
Skipped past High-A in 2003, he went 7-7, 3.70 with a 157/53 K/BB in 148 innings for Double-A Jacksonville, allowing just 121 hits. His fastball now hit 99 MPH at times, and was consistently in the 93-95 range. His secondary pitches and control improved. The Dodgers gave him three starts in September and he did great, going 2-1, 2.45 with a 19/11 K/BB in 22 innings. I moved him up to a straight Grade A, impressed wtih his rapid progress, but warning that he could struggle if rushed and that it would be best to use him as a long reliever at first rather than trying to push him into the rotation right away. I also warned that Triple-A Las Vegas was a tough place to pitch and that some adjustments could be needed.
Indeed, 2004 was a struggle: he was hammered in 24.2 major league innings (7.30 ERA) and developed major control problems at Vegas, with a 5.86 ERA and 70/55 K/BB in 91 innings. His velocity was down a bit, his secondary pitches regressed, he had a strained forearm, and in general he just wasn't as sharp. I reduced him to a Grade B in the 2005 book, and wrote the following:
"My guess, and to be clear this is a pure guess, is that he will continue to struggle somewhat, improving a bit but not to his '03 level, at least not right away. But after some additional scuffling, he'll eventually turn things around and have a good career, perhaps in relief, but only after most of his fantasy owners have punted."
More struggles followed in 2005: complete collapse of his control at Vegas (8.62 ERA, 33/37 K/BB in 55 innings), and additional poor pitching in the majors. The Dodgers punted and shipped him off to Tampa Bay, where he had a difficult time in 2006 in both the majors and minors, before starting to show some signs of life last year, and then pitching well in the early going in 2007. It seems like he's been around forever, but Jackson is still just 24.
In retrospect, I think Jackson's struggles 2004-2006 were a result of 1) being rushed a bit too fast in general 2) some minor nagging health problems 3) Las Vegas 4) confidence issues and learning to cope with adversity. It is too early to know if his better pitching this year is genuine skill improvement, better luck, or a combination of the two factors. i'd like to see the K/BB ratio improve a bit, but it has been better over his last three starts, and it's not like this is coming out of nowhere: he's flashed brilliance before. My guess is that Jackson is genuinely improving, and that he'll end up having a solid year. In short, I'm sticking with my "guess" back in 2005.