I want to start out by saying that I like Brett Jackson more than most, but I think it’s mostly because I was a left-handed college centerfielder who was a good all-around player, but not particularly great at anything, much like Jackson. Former players tend to relate to players who mirror their own talents, and like Jackson, I was a left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower with moderate power and moderate speed, who made the most out of average abilities.
Teams love these kinds of players*, and the Cubs will almost certainly get some kind of return out of their first round pick from 2009. The only question is how much?
*At least they love the versions that go to Cal, not the undersized ones that play Division III ball.
That’s where MLB Prospect Watch comes in, with an in-depth comparison of what kind of career we can expect from Brett Jackson.
What we know: Jackson bats left and throws right, and should be able to man center field, at least for the foreseeable future. He has potential plus power, and plus speed, but has issues with strikeouts. He should be a plus center fielder in his prime, with the potential to win a few gold gloves.
Here are Jackson’s career minor league totals:
|2009||20||3 Teams||3 Lgs||A-A--Rk||CHC||53||249||211||50||67||6||3||8||36||13||2||31||56||.318||.418||.488||.906|
|2010||21||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A+-AA||CHC||128||580||491||103||146||32||14||12||66||30||11||73||126||.297||.395||.493||.888|
|2011||22||2 Teams||2 Lgs||AA-AAA||CHC||115||512||431||84||118||23||5||20||58||21||7||73||138||.274||.379||.490||.869|
Despite two strong full seasons, Jackson’s glaring weakness is swinging and missing at the baseball. Jackson has struck out in 23.8% of his professional plate appearances. That’s a lot of strike outs for someone who’s not a true power hitter. If Ryan Howard and Adam Dunn strike out that much, they can off-set it with home runs. Jackson has never slugged over .500.
But let’s take those strong seasons and come up with a best case scenario for Jackson.
The swings and misses are likely going to keep Jackson from ever hitting .300, especially since he’s never done it in the minors, but in a best case scenario, he could hit could hit .280-290, like he did in 2010. Since he hasn’t slugged over .500, he probably won’t ever hit over 30 homers, but 60 extra-base hits of some form aren’t completely out of the question, even if 40 of them are doubles. In his best seasons, he will keep the strikeouts down, but he’s never going to have less than 100 in any season where he gets over 500 at-bats.
|6||Andy Van Slyke||2|
There are a bunch of good comps there. We can rule out Griffey because he was much more of a power hitter than Jackson will ever be. Sorry Cubs fans. We can also rule out Brady Anderson, not because of his 50-homer season, but because outside that season, he wasn’t much of a power hitter at all. Van Slyke goes for the same reason.
Jackson’s write-up in Baseball America uses Edmonds as a possible comp, but Edmonds had two 40-plus homer seasons, and another with 39. I just don’t see Jackson ever having that kind of power. He might cross the 30 mark, especially at Wrigley, but I think 40 is out of his reach.
The two at the top are great comps, however. Lankford is a strong comp that I would go with in most situations, and works out quite well in a lot of ways. He has six seasons between 20-31 home runs, which is right in Jackson’s wheelhouse, and had four seasons with over 130 strikeouts. If I chose him, I don’t think I’d be wrong, but since I can afford to nit-pick here, I have two reasons I chose Sizemore over Lankford – one is Lankford’s 1997 season when he posted an OPS of .996. That’s too many walks and too much power for Jackson. The second is body type – Lankford was 5’11” while Jackson is 6’2”.
And we happen to have a candidate who is the same size and build.
Grady Sizemore is listed at 6’2” 200 lbs. while Jackson is listed at 6’2” 210 lbs., and I love him as a best-case comparison for Brett Jackson.
Now, before Cubs fans go into some goat-related tizzy, please remember that these comparisons do not take injuries into account. I’m not going voodoo-doll on Brett Jackson and predicting a plethora of injuries, but rather I’m looking at Sizemore’s best seasons and seeing an all-star on the North Side.
During the four-season stretch in which Sizemore stayed healthy and played a full season (2005-2008), the Indians centerfielder averaged .281/.372/.496 with 41 doubles and 27 homers, and 142 strike outs per season while stealing 29 bases. He was one of the best all-around players in baseball despite his strike outs, and while he slugged over .500 twice during this stretch, he didn’t blow it out of the water, never going higher than .533. His career high in homers was 33, which seems like the tippy-top of Jackson’s career, especially if Chicago gets a windy summer. And while I doubt he’ll ever walk 100 times in a season, if he develops an all-star reputation at the player, he could get a little more respect from pitchers in the majors than he’s been getting in Double-A.
Now that we have our best case scenario, it’s time to get a realistic window for Jackson. We’ve already established that Jackson’s success will be determined by how much he limits his strikeouts, and what effect they have on his production. Strikeouts typically affect two parts of an offensive game – batting average and plate discipline.
Edmonds, Sizemore and Lankford all make our list again, as to both ends of our realistic comparison.
For the top, I love Curtis Granderson as a comparison, with one major caveat: I’m talking about the pre-2011 Granderson.
I don’t know what happened with Granderson last season, but Jackson isn’t hitting 41 home runs the way Curtis did last season. Whether it was a fluke burst of power for one season, or the beginning of a new trend for Granderson, it’s not what I’m looking for with Jackson.
What I do like, however, is the stretch Granderson went on from 2006 to 2010, where he hit .268/.343/.481 over that time, while hitting 27 doubles and 24 homers per year, while walking 63 times and whiffing 137 times per year. During that time, his batting average ranged from .247 to .302, which is what happens when you swing and miss a lot. He walked between 52 and 72 times per year and fanned between 111 and 174. I don’t think Jackson will ever strike out 174 times in a season, but you get the general idea.
Cubs fans can expect some wide swings in strike outs each season, and as a result, batting average, but can also expect Jackson to remain productive in spite of it. And while Granderson might have better overall speed than Jackson, he never turned it in to huge steal numbers so he’s not out of Jackson’s category.
So while Granderson is a significantly player than Sizemore right now, Sizemore’s best was better than Granderson’s pre-homer-frenzy 2012 best, hence the order we’re going in here.
And we’re staying with the same search for the bottom of the realistic window as well.
Our last result for this search was Brad Wilkerson, the former Expo and Rangers outfielder. Wilkerson had some serious issues with contact, which is what Jackson could end up with if he doesn’t make the final developmental adjustment at the major league level, upon arrival.
Even early in Wilkerson’s career, he struck out over 150 times per season. But in his first three seasons, he was productive in spite of it. During his four full seasons with the Expos/Nationals, Wilkerson struck out, on average, 154 times a season, but still managed to hit .259 and slugged 36 doubles and 20 home runs a season. The one thing that Wilkerson did much better than Jackson was take a walk, which he did 90 times a season during this time. Jackson likely won’t hit that mark repeatedly, but otherwise, they are a strong comparison of still remaining productive while missing the baseball.
It also signals a significant fear in the hearts of Cubs fans because, as Wilkerson is an example of, when you swing and miss that much, major league pitchers eventually figure out how to exploit you. In his last year in Washington, Wilkerson’s strikeouts finally took a toll on his power, and he was never the same again.* His career took a significant change of directory after that and he was out of baseball three years later.
*It also happened to be around the same time they started testing for steroids, but I don’t know how to make comparisons for that, so I have to ignore it as a characteristic.
But there were 3 to 4 productive seasons in the prime and inexpensive part of Wilkerson’s career, so as the realistic low-end for Jackson, it’s not the worst news for Cubs fans.
But what if it all goes wrong? What if Jackson just can’t adjust to major league pitching and never makes enough contact to produce? What if he just strikes out too darn much?
Cubs fans, brace yourselves.
We’re going to do a little comparison within a comparison.
Player A: .274/.379/.490, 23 doubles, 20 homers, 73 walks, 138 strike outs, 21 steals in 115 games.
Player B: .261/.338/.491, 26 doubles, 22 homers, 45 walks, 115 strike outs, 27 steals in 118 games.
You might have recognized Player A from the beginning of our article. It’s Brett Jackson’s 2011 season, split between Double and Triple-A.
That would be Corey Patterson’s 2000 season when he was 19 years old in Double-A.
And that sound you heard was thousands of Cubs fans jumping into Lake Michigan.*
*Well maybe not thousands. I’m not quite that popular yet.
It’s no wonder Cubs fans were so excited about Patterson. That’s a great season for a 19-year-old in Double-A. It’s also quite similar to the year Jackson just had. Jackson didn’t strike out quite as much and walked a lot more, but he was also two years older and got to face college pitching as well. Everything else is frighteningly similar.
While Patterson’s name is mentioned in the same breath as Bartman and billy goats on the North Side, many fans forget that Patterson actually had a little success before he was run out of town. In his first three seasons (two-and-a-half thanks to a knee injury in 2003), Patterson posted a .749 OPS and averaged 22 homers per full-season (per 162 games). It’s not great, but he wasn’t quite the offensive wasteland Cubs fans would have you think, or that he became after that.
Unfortunately for Cubs fans, that’s as good as it would get, and that’s what will happen to Jackson if his swing-and-miss issues in the minors take the same trajectory that Patterson’s did.
Better pitchers know how to exploit a hitter with a hole in his swing, which Jackson clearly has. His strike out issues are different than Patterson’s were because Jackson’s are not due to pure aggressiveness. Jackson’s swing simply misses more often than most. Patterson was exploited by better pitching because he swung at everything.
This is good news for Cubs fans, because it makes the likelihood of Brett Jackson heading down the Corey Patterson career path pretty slim.
So, what we’ve found is perhaps the widest range of possible outcomes I’ve come across in doing this drill, but that’s what happens when strikeouts come into play. If it all comes together for Brett Jackson, Cubs fans could enjoy a prime similar to what Indians fans enjoyed when Grady Sizemore was healthy. If the strikeouts knock him down a peg, they’ll get the version of Curtis Granderson that patrolled centerfield in Detroit for years, but if they knock him down too far, he could have a Brad Wilkerson-like career path where he has only a few productive seasons before the league catches up with him. And, of course, the worst-case scenario is that the strike outs prove to me too much for Jackson to ever be productive, and he falls in line with what would be an alarming trend of top centerfield prospects in Chicago, with Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, and then Jackson all literally and figuratively striking their way out of Chicago.
But the good news for Cubs fans is that the bottom levels of this comparison seem more unlikely than most. The bottom line is that, while Jackson’s strike out totals in the minors are reason for concern, and they might hold turn him into a solid regular rather than an all-star, they are not outrageous and players with his contact abilities and skill set have gone onto excellent careers.
And I believe that Jackson will too.