Brett Jackson doesn’t project as an elite player, but most signs point to him patrolling center field in Wrigley Field in the not-too-distant future. The athletic 22-year-old is rated as the top prospect in the Cubs system by both Kevin Goldstein and Baseball America, while ESPN’s Keith Law places him at number two.
Drafted 31st overall in 2009 out of the University of California, the left-handed-hitting Jackson split the 2010 season between High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, hitting a combined .297/.395/.493. Indicative of his multi-faceted skill set, he rapped out 32 doubles,14 triples, and 12 home runs, and swiped 30 bases. The lone negative was a high strikeout total—136 Ks in 491 at-bats—which has been a concern since his days as a Golden Bear.
Another concern—“criticism” is probably too strong of a term—is that he is a five-tool player who doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well. Tim Wilken, the Cubs' scouting director, doesn’t necessarily disagree, but he also feels that Jackson possesses a sixth tool that will help propel him to stardom: excellent baseball instincts.
“He’s a talented young man,” said Wilken. “I think that he is every bit of a plus runner, although he’s not plus-plus. He’s got a little better than average arm. His breaks are better than average. He can swing the bat. He also has what might be described as inner instincts, almost like a sixth sense. When you have a guy who is instinctive as a baseball player, his skills can play above how they’re perceived, whether that’s below average, average, or even above average. He does everything pretty darn good, and his baseball intellect is going to allow him play at a higher level that some people expect him to.”
“He’s got good energy on the field with a very good feel for the game,” concurred a scout for an American League team. “He’s an above-average athlete who can stick in center field. He’s an above-average hitter with the potential to hit 20-25 home runs in the big leagues while playing average center-field defense. He’s an above-average runner.”
“Jackson is a player who can be classified as having five tools,” echoed a scout for a National League team. “He’s an above-average runner, his glove looks like it legitimately has a chance to stay in center field, and it also looks like he’s going to be able to bring some power to the position. Basically, he has the full package.”
Muscles and Jumps
His left-handed stroke produces plenty of base hits, and he can drive the ball to all fields against righties and lefties alike, but according to the National League scout, Jackson’s swing is less than perfect.
“The only thing that would give me pause is that he’s not really a natural hitter,” opined the scout. “There is some effort to the way he swings the bat. There is a little bit of jump and a little bit of muscling the bat through. He’s not a natural, fall-out-of-bed hitter.
“He does have good hand-eye,” he added. “His contact and strikeout rates haven’t gotten out of hand. He’s put the bat on the ball enough that his natural strength and his natural speed have allowed him to go out and put up some pretty good averages in the minor leagues, but he is a guy who will probably see some average drop as he goes up against better pitching. Even with the good hand-eye, there is the little bit of jumpiness and muscling-the-bat-through quality to his hitting approach and more-polished pitchers might be able to exploit that a little bit.”
Swings and Misses
Much like Cincinnati’s Drew Stubbs, Jackson possesses the speed and plate discipline to profile as a leadoff hitter, but he'll be one with contact issues. He has 182 strikeouts in 702 at-bats as a professional after fanning 61 times in 218 at-bats in his final collegiate campaign. Wilken believes that it was a trade off for more power, as he had gone down swinging just 36 times in 202 at-bats as a Cal sophomore, but after going deep just four times in his penultimate season, he doubled that total in his draft year.
“He maybe thought that he needed to hit a lot more home runs, and consequently, I think it changed his swing a little bit,” said the Cubs’ head talent evaluator. “You saw a lot of strikeouts in his amateur career, but he’s bringing that down to some degree. Part of that is just relaxing, knowing that some day he’s going to play in the major leagues.”
The American League scout offered a similar view, saying that, “His strikeouts come from trying too hard to generate power, not for lack of pitch recognition.” The numbers bear that out, as Jackson augmented his 58 extra-base hits with 73 free passes last year. “I don’t think he’s going to provide huge power,” added the National League. scout, “but it will be plenty of power for the position.”
“Our scouts had varying opinions,” added a National League executive, “but I like him quite a bit. He’s a front-of-the-order bat with a power-speed combo.”
“I like him,“ said the American League scout. “He’s a strong, sturdy kid with a chance to be an above-average center fielder in the big leagues, with a fall-back of being a solid corner or fourth outfielder.”
“It looks like he’s going to be able to stay in an up-the-middle position on the defensive spectrum,” added the National League scout. “When you have a combination of speed, defense and power, like he has, that’s hard to find in the middle of the diamond. In the end, he looks like a player who has a chance to legitimately contribute to a major-league club on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.”
“He’s got the instincts and aptitude to make whatever adjustments are needed,” said Wilken. “I think he has a chance to be a frontline outfielder for quite a few years.”