If you follow the site with any regularity, then you are aware that I cover some of the Atlanta Braves minor league system in the surrounding Atlanta area for John. So it’s understandable that you may think there is some bias in the following statement.
I love the Alex Jackson trade.
Has Jackson had a "bust-ish" type of pro career so far? Absolutely. Are there times were it looks like he simply won’t learn how to hit a baseball, especially at the big league level, should he make it that far? Yup. So what?
The Braves are stocked in the pitching department and while they gave up two very major-league ready pitchers in Max Povse and Rob Whalen, they were expendable with the depth on the pipeline. Jackson, despite all of his problems, will be 21-years old this Christmas. He still has youth on his side, and had he decided to go to college, he’d just be getting started with his pro career anyway.
THE MARINERS GET:
Whalen was drafted by the Mets in the 12th round of the 2012 MLB Draft and then shipped to the Braves in the Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe deal in 2015. He has good enough stuff that he saw his big league debut for the Braves this season, where things didn’t go as well as some had hoped.
John Sickels describes his stuff as, "an 88-92 MPH sinking fastball, an average change-up, and a very good curve. He usually throws strikes and does a great job generating ground balls, but his lack of knock-out velocity keeps him out of the elite category." The righty, who stands at 6-foot-2 and 220-ish, broke out in his 2013 SAL campaign going 9-1, with a 2.01 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP, while striking out 53 over 62.2 innings and limiting opponents to a .199 batting average. His career has consistently been around those numbers all the way up the ladder. His big league debut last season wasn’t as pretty, as he was hit hard. He allowed 20 hits — three of which were home runs — and 20 runs in his first 24.2 innings out of the starting rotation for the Braves.
Whalen has been injury prone in the past, but he also has shown a knack for being your traditional finesse pitcher, with the ability to limit runs, as shown by his 2.40 minors era in 2016 that was best amongst Braves minor leaguers in Double and Triple-A. He could hang on as a back-end rotation guy, but could become just as serviceable as a swingman, starter-long-reliever type. Expect a brief stint in Tacoma to start the season while the Mariners figure it out, but he should contribute for the bulk of the 2017 season in Seattle.
Povse is a big guy, standing at 6-foot-8 and 185 pounds, and the righty, like Whalen is currently a starter. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of UNC Greensboro, he has climbed the ladder, consistently showing good stuff, despite a minor hiccup in Carolina at the end of 2015. His career numbers in the minors are solid, going 18-13 with a 3.59 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and a 236 to 63 strikeout-to-walk rate over 283.1 innings.
Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a developing curve and changeup, Povse has become a ground ball pitcher. He is quite hittable, allowing a career batting average against of .247, but limits runs with the big groundout (253 groundouts to 116 fly outs in 2016) or getting the strikeout. He doesn’t have big strikeout numbers at just 7.5 per nine in his career, but doesn’t get burned with the free passes allowing just two per nine during his time in the pros.
He reached Double-A for the first time in 2016 and should start the season in the minors. Like Whalen, expect him to contribute in 2017.
THE BRAVES GET:
We know the skinny on Jackson by now. He was the 2014 first round sixth pick by the Mariners taken sixth overall in the 2014 MLB Draft. He came into that draft as the premier high school bat in the country, and early comparisons to former and current outfield greats were seemingly immediately being made. Things simply didn’t turn out that way.
John sums up Jackson’s minor league career thus far pretty well in The Baseball Prospect Book 2016:
In high school he was seen as a complete hitter with 70-grade power, good pitch recognition, and a refined hitting approach; this was expected to move him through the minors quickly. The power is certainly there, but Jackson’s bat has otherwise been very different than expected. His pitch recognition and strike zone judgment were frankly horrendous in the Midwest League early last year and he was totally overmatched. Sent down to the Northwest League, he regained his power stroke but still struggled with contact.
The power is certainly there, and when Jackson connects it is a thing of beauty. The problem is the strikeouts. Per our friends at Baseball America:
Jackson has 223 strikeouts in 190 career games because of an inefficient bat path, which has raised doubts he’ll ever make enough contact to tap into his plus raw power. He still hits the occasional towering home run, but evaluators are increasingly beginning to grade Jackson a below-average hitter at bes
How quickly Jackson’s stock has fallen, as the once Top 20 prospect in all of minor league baseball was surpassed in his own system by the likes of Tyler O’Neill, Drew Jackson and the recently drafted Kyle Lewis. That being said, I watched in person the growth of Austin Riley in Rome this past season, where Alex Jackson will likely be starting his Braves career. I watch a young, free-swinger become arguably the most feared hitter in the SAL by the second half. If the Braves can work their magic with Jackson and unleash that raw potential the Mariners saw on draft day, the Braves win.
It is also interesting to note that Jackson’s fielding has been sharp in his minor league career. He’s made just eight errors in the outfield in 292 total chances while contributing 18 assists from all three positions. He also played catcher in high school, and the Braves lack real depth at that position on the pipeline. Perhaps they see Jackson as a complete reconstruction project, but that is just conjecture.
Right now, Jerry DiPoto comes out a little bit ahead. He has been very busy this winter already and seems to have put two more nice pieces in place for the ready to compete 2017 Seattle Mariners. That being said, this move didn’t cost much for the Braves. That’s not to say Whalen and Povse are anywhere near poor players, the Braves just have more awaiting their turn. If the Braves can turn Jackson into the star many saw in him, they have a big win here, but even if they don’t, at the price tag it cost them, I think it was worth the gamble. Perhaps a change of scenery is all Jackson needs.