clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What lies at the end of Drew Jackson's rise?

New, 35 comments

Drew Jackson went from light-hitting college shortstop to Northwest League MVP. Where does he go from here?

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

(Editor's Note: Ethan Novak has agreed to join the staff and help us cover the Mariners minor league system. No, I don't know why either. Welcome, Ethan!)

One season in the Northwest League doesn't make a prospect.

For the most part, short season baseball serves the purpose of making sure the players you drafted - in addition to a few pre-existing prospects who weren't quite ready for mid-to-upper A-ball - bear somewhat of a resemblance to the players you think you drafted. Some minor tweaks are made here and there, but ultimately the significant mechanical makeovers are implemented somewhere down the road. Putting up pretty stats over the course of a 66-game season is fun and comforting for all involved, but 66 games are hardly enough games to form a hypothesis around. Heck, in 2014, Chris Taylor threw on a Seattle Mariners uniform for 47 games and slashed .287/.347/.346 (and 1.5 WAR) against real life major league pitchers.

So, why, one might ask, has Mariners prospect Drew Jackson skyrocketed from the 155th overall selection of the 2015 MLB Draft to a near consensus top-five prospect in the system in just a few months? There are a few reasons potentially at play:

  • The Mariners' farm system is really bad. You know this. I know this. That guy you know who constantly brags about not owning a cell phone knows this. There's only a small handful of systems that Jackson would crack the top-five in (for now), and the Mariners happen to be the proud owner of one of them.
  • He didn't just do well in the Northwest League, he shoved the whole league's head into a toilet and gave it a 59-game swirly. And by the time the flushing ceased, Jackson had slashed .358/.432/.447 with a 156 wRC+ and 47 stolen bases. It was a runaway MVP performance, the kind that sends prospects vaulting into the hopes and dreams of talent-starved Mariners fans everywhere. But it begs the question: just who the hell is this Drew Jackson, and why is he beating the tar out of players - plenty of whom teams willingly drafted before him - so badly? Perhaps it was the fact that...
  • He completely overhauled his offensive approach during his final year at Stanford, finally fulfilling his potential just late enough to allow the Mariners to grab him all the way down in the fifth round.

The Rise of Drew Jackson

Believe it or not, Drew Jackson wasn't always an offensive machine in college. In fact, he was quite the opposite during his first two seasons at Stanford, a school with a proud tradition of offensive ineptitude:

G

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

K

BB

2013

41

101

0.207

0.337

0.232

0.024

21

14

2014

39

129

0.167

0.254

0.213

0.046

27

10

He showed brief signs of breaking out (.262/.352/.350) with the Cotuit Kettleers of the prestigious Cape Cod League following his freshman season. The performance failed to carry over to Stanford, however, as Jackson's numbers continued to sink in his second year before a finger injury sidelined him. By the time his less successful second go-round (.196/.279/.234) with the Kettleers was over, Jackson found himself a few miles away from being mentioned on any top prospect list for the 2015 MLB Draft.

This was all despite the possession of a death ray for a right arm, an undeniable amount of athleticism, and the ability to make some plays at shortstop that left you unsure about whether baseball really is just a game played on a rock flying through the seemingly endless confines of outer space.

Then he started to hit.

It wasn't an overnight thing. Many hours of hard work and staring at coaches and watching videos were likely involved. There was probably a scene where he worked out in pouring rain. But by the time Stanford's 2015 season was in full swing, Drew Jackson was a scary, all-around shortstop who was hellbent on unleashing waves of base hits and web gems on the opposition, a somewhat real life Henry Skrimshander. Here's another look at the numbers from his first two seasons, with his shiny junior year tacked on:

G

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

K

BB

2013

41

101

0.207

0.337

0.232

0.024

21

14

2014

39

129

0.167

0.254

0.213

0.046

27

10

2015

40

174

0.320

0.396

0.388

0.068

22

15

Jackson still wasn't mashing home runs, but he had turned into a legitimate top of the order hitter and went from being arguably Stanford's worst everyday hitter to arguably their best in one offseason. Here's one of the better videos you'll find of his current swing:

The rest, as they say, is history. Drew Jackson became a Mariner, then an AquaSox, then the Northwest League MVP, then the number three prospect in MLB.com's list of the Top 30 Mariners prospects.

Finding an endgame

Of course, all of this information leads to the question: what is Drew Jackson's ceiling? John Sickels of Minor League Ball offered up the following analysis in his breakdown of the Mariners' Top 20 prospects:

"Solid defender can stick at short; future leadoff man if he keeps hitting like this. Could be Top 100 prospect six months from now if he maintains this momentum, maybe even Top 50."

Barring another offensive renaissance that results in a sudden development of power, this will likely hold firm as Jackson's ceiling moving forward. Defensively, he's still not a finished project and is prone to the occasional frustrating error, but impressive range and arm strength give plenty of reason to believe he'll stick at the position moving forward.

From a sheer offensive outlook, it's understandable why some may fear his 2015 season was a fluke, given his subpar performances from 2013-14. And while it would be unexpected for him to keep posting insane numbers at Clinton and Bakersfield, it'd be even more surprising if he were to sink back to his featherweight hitting days at Stanford. He won't be an offensive juggernaut, but increased plate discipline has morphed him into a high-OBP player whose athleticism allows him to wreak havoc on the basepaths. His quick, compact swing generates a lot of contact and he flashed surprising gap power in Everett (12 2B, 3B, 2 HR, .088 ISO).

To put it simply, the Mariners' last few drafts haven't produced much to be excited about. Whether it's the fault of the players, coaches, or front office is a conversation that's been had many times, but that's neither here nor there. What is important is that the Mariners have a shiny new prospect who's already doing this in Spring Training games:

To ceilings. Go M's.