Is Austin Jackson ready for the prime time?

Much has been made of Yankees top prospect Austin Jackson. Jackson, an 8th round pick in 2005, made quite an impression during spring training posting a .333/.385/.667 in 36 at bats. Jackson’s name has been mentioned frequently as the Yankees center fielder of the future and he will very likely see time in the majors this year as a September call up.

But is he really the next great Yankee center fielder? His current line in Triple-A (.300/.360/.412) is impressive at first glance , especially considering he is just 22 years old. Add in the fact that he has stolen 21 bases in 25 attempts and it’s easy to see what all the fuss is about. However, when these numbers are translated into their major league equivalents they become a lackluster .260/.311/.350, not quite what you would expect from New York’s starting center fielder.

Jackson is a tremendous athlete with good speed, yet he defense as been consistently average to below average during the course of his career. His TotalZone ratings in centerfield over the years have been -14 runs in 2006, +10 runs in 2007, -13 runs in 2008, and so far in 2009 he has been neutral with a rating of zero.

Jackson is a good line drive hitter with a lifetime LD rate of nearly 16 percent and his career BABIP stands at a healthy .359. (including a ridiculous .389 this year) However, he has shown little power in his career to date and his plate discipline remains a work in progress. His career walks rate stands at 9.1 percent while his strikeout rate is 24.2 percent.

While I do not doubt that Jackson can still develop into a major league caliber center fielder, I still think he is a couple of years away from that. Yankee fans who think otherwise may be sorely mistaken if Jackson is thrust into the starting role before he is ready.

Besides, it appears that both Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera are proving their worth in New York. Although he recently landed on the disabled list with a broken thumb, Gardner’s defense alone has been worth 8.5 runs above average and his .345 wOBA and 20 steals ain’t too shabby either. Cabrera, meanwhile, is slugging a career best .437 with 11 home runs on the year.

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Comments

  1. TSam said...

    Seconded on the defense. Everything I’ve read pegs him as a far above average defensive center fielder and considering the fluctuations in his TZ numbers I’m inclined to believe the scouts.  If the Yankees can put some more distance btwn them and the Sox I wouldn’t mind seeing him get some at-bats in September, but only as strictly Melky’s backup.

  2. Dan Novick said...

    I loves me some Yankee prospects, but I’m open to admitting that Jackson isn’t ready. The fans calling for him to be called up now are the ones who know nothing about him. He strikes out way too much for the power he produces, and as you said, his BABIP is unsustainable. He’s slumping big time, hitting .219/.260/.281 in the last 28 days (96 at bats), with 22 K’s and 4 BB’s, according to minorleaguesplits.com.

    But I have to disagree with the defense. I know you’re using TZ, which is supposed to be objective, but it’s not nearly as accurate for the minors as it is for the majors. Couple that with the fact that it’s not even that accurate for the majors (at least not as accurate as UZR or +/-), and I wouldn’t trust it. Scouts and coaches all rave about his defense, and believe it will be a huge part of his value in the future. When scouts disagree with minor league stats (especially on defense), I’d usually prefer to go with the scouts.

    I think in the future he’ll be an average ML hitter with very positive defensive contributions at a premium position in center field. That makes him a valuable player. Just not right now.

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