The top of the draft hasn’t been overly kind to the Seattle Mariners in the last decade. A late season surge in 2008 from Yuniesky Betancourt cost them the first pick in the 2009 MLB Draft and thus Stephen Strasburg, ending up with Dustin Ackley second overall and some bad memories.
Picking second again in 2011, the injury bug bit Danny Hultzen over and over. Seattle made catcher Mike Zunino the third pick in 2012 and after idling away for almost four seasons in the bigs, the Florida Gator product had a big 2017, with a .331 OBP and 25 home runs.
Their most recent top ten selection was in 2014 when they nabbed another catching prospect, Alex Jackson, sixth overall. Jackson moved to the outfield as a pro but has since moved back behind the plate, as well as organizations.
Traded last November to the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Rob Whalen and Max Povse, Jackson found the change of scenery to be just what the doctor ordered.
Whether the Mariners and Jerry Dipoto gave up on him way, way too early will be a good question for another time. Right, Maz?
As for his turnaround season, Jackson, who turns 22 in December, piled up 70 hits in 66 games for High-A Florida. He slashed .272/.333/.502 with 14 home runs, earning a promotion to Double-A Mississippi where he had a .744 OPS in his first taste of the level (30 games). His defense behind the plate all year gave the Braves organization a lot of confidence regarding his future at the position.
Now in the Arizona Fall League, his breakout season simply does not want to end. In 16 games, he’s sent five balls into the outfield bleachers while hitting .281 with an OPS flirting around .900.
Though the former top prospect has regained steam in Atlanta, the Mariners didn’t make out with nothing in this deal. Rob Whalen (pre-season number six prospect for Seattle by John Sickels) unfortunately struggled after making the move west between Seattle and Triple-A Tacoma, but is still just 23 going on 24 and can pitch in the rotation or bullpen.
The other arm received is Max Povse, who made the jump from Double-A all the way to the MLB this season. A third round pick in 2014 and Sickels’ fifth rated preseason prospect for the M’s, the 24-year old is also very much a flex pitcher like Whalen, capable of starting or even finishing a game.
Repeating Double-A was no biggie for Povse, but he struggled in Tacoma and his MLB debut wasn’t the best, albeit in a terribly small sample size of 3.2 innings across three relief appearances.
His overall performance in 2017 sure could have been better, but nevertheless garnered an invite to the fall league proceedings. He’s racked up 19.2 innings and 21 strikeouts, but has allowed 12 runs and 21 hits.
A rebound for himself and Whalen —or at the very least one— is expected to be in store for 2018. However, Jackson’s bounce-back season is rightfully drawing the most scrutiny given his portfolio.
It’s not baseball’s most glamorous or headline-spewing transaction, but it’s one prospect evaluators surely have a keen eye on.