Two weeks ago, during my first visit to Staten Island, I had planned to write a scouting report on up-and-coming outfield prospect Jhalan Jackson. Alas, it was Jackson’s scheduled day off, so I put that idea away for another day. Well, on Monday, I had another opportunity to travel to Staten Island and this time I was not leaving without a good long look at Staten Island’s right fielder. Luckily for me, Jackson was in the lineup and the field this time around. Hence, what follows are my impressions of Jackson’s game in the form of a scouting report.
Jackson thrust himself onto draft boards with an eye-popping 2015 season at Florida Southern in which he batted .417 with 20 bombs and 72 RBI in only 45 games. The Yankees selected the college standout with their seventh round pick this June. Jackson, a nominee for the Tino Martinez award, given to Division II’s most outstanding ballplayer, was expected to move quickly through the Yanks’ farm system despite his small-school background. Nevertheless, New York took the safe route with Jhalan, placing him at Low-A Staten Island, where he has raked to the tune of a .921 OPS in 20 games.
At the plate, Jhalan Jackson begins his stance in an open manner (think Mark Teixeira from the right side) and unveils a big left leg kick that strides towards the pitcher as the ball is about to be delivered. Even though Jackson couples this leg movement with a wabbling bat, he is able to achieve a good, balanced hitting position due to his strong legs. Like many power hitters, Jackson has a tendency to drop his hands a bit in order to generate more force. Thus, I would expect strikeout to continue to be an issue for him. He’s already K’ed 24 times in his first 20 pro ballgames.
One thing I really like about Jackson’s approach is his patience, not just concerning walks and plate discipline, but on pitches he wants to drive. He does a nice job staying back and keeping his hands inside the baseball before releasing his quick bat at the last possible moment. While the 21-year-old is a dead-red hitter at the moment, his ability to stay back gives me hope that Jackson will learn to hit breaking balls in time.
It is hard to judge Jackson’s plate discipline in the New York-Penn League given that he is so much more advanced than most pitchers here. Still, I liked what I saw from him over his four at-bats. Versus a tough pitcher in Jose Almonte, Jackson was able to work counts into his favor until he got the pitch he wanted. During one at-bat, Jhalan was able to coax the count to 2-1 after a couple of close balls. He then ripped a 93 mile per hour fastball in the hole between third and short.
It will be interesting to see how Jackson’s walk rate fluctuates as he moves up the chain. But if he can continue getting ahead in the count and sitting on fastballs, the Florida native will make quick work of minor league pitchers at an level.
FV Hit Grade: 45/50
If you didn’t guess it from the background, Jackson’s power is where he will make his mark as a prospect. Standing at 6-3 220, there is not that much room left for projection. However, raw-grade wise, Jhalan already owns a plus power tool. He has the ability to crank the ball out of any ballpark. And fortunately for him, his power manifests not just in home runs, but in line drive singles and long doubles as well. I try to avoid "scouting the stateline", but the fact that Jackson leads all Penn League hitters in extra-base-hits is very telling.
FV Power Grade: 60
While his offensive profile will certainly carry his prospect status, Jhalan is a surprisingly adept defender in right field. He owns an above-average arm, I would give it perhaps a 55 grade, and is agile enough to make all the plays in right.
FV Field Grade: 55
With profiles on Steven Moya and Adam Brett Walker published recently, we have been focusing a lot here on Minor League Ball about the one loud tool. Certainly, Jackson fits the bill of an excellent power hitter with high strikeout totals. However, I also think there is more to his game. Jhalan can provide value through his defense and even his contact. I think, over the course of a full season at maturity, it would not be unreasonable to expect Jackson to hit 25-30 home runs, bat .260, and play an above-average right field. In this day and age, those would be some of the best numbers in the game.
Of course, a lot of things have to click in order for that to happen, but I would just like to emphasize that Jackson is not a one-dimensional guy. Here’s what SI Yankees manager Pat Osborne had to say about Jackson’s game, work ethic, and ceiling.
We’re talking about a guy with plus power. He’s shown the ability to make adjustments and hit the ball the other way, He doesn’t swing at some tough breaking balls or change-ups. You like to see that from a guy with such good power. Defensively, he plays a very good right field. He’s got a very good arm. He plays hard every night. You’re talking about a guy with a really really high ceiling because of the skill set he has, the power he has. He’s someone we’re really excited about.
It will be fascinating to follow Jackson’s ascent through the farm system. Hopefully, I can catch him in Trenton a couple years down the road.