Draft : : Story
Jackson excited about trade to Tigers
Published: Thursday, December 10, 2009
Austin Jackson had grown accustomed to hearing his name mentioned in possible trade talks in recent years. As the No.1 prospect in the Yankees organization, it came with his job description.
This time, it actually happened.
Jackson, 22, has been traded from the Yankees to the Detroit Tigers as part of a three-team deal that sends all-star center fielder Curtis Granderson to the Yanks and gives Jackson a chance to be Detroit's starting center fielder in 2010. The deal was finalized on Wednesday.
"It didn't really catch me by surprise, because I knew they were interested in possibly trading for Granderson," Jackson told Perfect Game USA from his home in Dallas. "I figured once they started wanting another outfielder, I would probably be the first one to come up in trade talks.
"Every time something happens with the Yankees with a possible trade my name always comes up, so it's not really surprising," he said. "Except this time, I actually got traded."
Jackson hit .300 with 24 stolen bases in the International League this season, his fifth year in the minors, and was named the International League Rookie of the Year. It's not clear if the Yankees will re-sign outfielder Johnny Damon, a free agent, and there'd been speculation Jackson would have a chance to make the Yanks in 2010. Instead, New York traded for Granderson and let Jackson go, preferring an established major leaguer over a top prospect.
"I think it's a good opportunity for me to get my foot in the door in the big leagues. Just kind of get my career started," Jackson said. "I'm not disappointed. I understand the business side of it. This is just an opportunity to get to the big leagues faster."
Jackson participated in a string of Perfect Game events when he was a high school player in Texas and was ranked as one of the top prospects in the country by Perfect Game before the 2005 draft. He was also an accomplished basketball player and signed a national letter-of-intent to play college basketball at Georgia Tech, where he also planned to play baseball. His interest in basketball apparently hurt his stock in the draft, with the Yankees not selecting him until the eighth round with the 259th pick overall.
"I don't think anyone wanted to take a chance on me early and be disappointed if I turned out I'd go to college and play basketball," said Jackson, who at 6-foot-2 was a premier point guard in high school.
Perfect Game gave Jackson a glowing scouting report when he was in high school.
"The first thing you notice about Jackson as a baseball player is the easy grace with which he moves," the Perfect Game report stated. "He never looks like he's accelerating, but he covers ground in the outfield like a Mike Cameron/Tori Hunter type center fielder and as a 6.50 runner in the 60, you know he's moving fast. Jackson's bat speed is well above average and he's shown very good hand/eye coordination and balance in his swing. He projects to hit with more and more power down the road as he fills out his lithe 6-2, 180-pound frame. In a group of outstanding athletes in the 2005 class, Jackson ranks right with Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin at the top of the list."
Jackson said the Perfect Game events helped him develop as a ballplayer.
"The level of competition was so high when I would go to those events," he said. "It would let me know where I sat at that level of competition. You go down there and you see guys that are projected to be in the big leagues pretty soon and have big-league stuff and big-league command. It was definitely good to go to those events. It made me work harder, because when I went to those events I wanted to stand out."
Jackson impressed scouts during his four years with the Dallas Panthers travel team in high school.
"He has unusual talents," said Omar Washington, the president of the Dallas Panthers who coached Jackson for four years. "I think he's a big-time player. The bigger the game, the bigger he plays. Just an extraordinary talent. He's a game-changer.
"He wants to get up there (to Detroit) and prove himself," Washington said. "He feels good about it. He's ready to go to Detroit and show them he can play. He knows that it's good for him, that he'll probably get a chance to be a big leaguer."
The three-team trade with the Yanks, Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks became public on Tuesday, but it wasn't finalized until Wednesday while medical records were being reviewed. All told, seven players will be changing clubs.
Detroit sends Granderson to New York and also ships pitcher Edwin Jackson to Arizona, with both moves intended to cut Detroit's payroll. The Yankees send Jackson and pitcher Phil Coke to the Tigers and also send pitcher Ian Kennedy to Arizona. The Diamondbacks send pitchers Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers.
Jackson spoke with Detroit General Manager Dave Dombroski on the phone on Wednesday. "He just welcomed me aboard. That was pretty much it," Jackson said.
Dombroski did not say anything about Jackson possibly beginning the 2010 season as Detroit's starting center fielder. "My plans are to be ready if that's what they want me to do," he said.
Jackson hit a robust .368 during the first half of the Triple-A season at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, but he tapered off and finished at .300 with four homers, 23 doubles, nine triples and 65 RBIs. He was 24 for 28 in stolen bases.
"I think my body just got tired a little bit," he said, explaining why his batting average slipped. "Physically, and mentally, going through ups and downs like that kind of takes a toll a little bit, too. I was just learning. I was trying something new for the first time, and once I started struggling it was hard to kind of remember the things that were working for me. I was doing a completely different batting stance and completely different swing, so I think for my first year at that level -- and being 22 -- I think I did pretty well."
Jackson struck out 123 times in 132 games and 504 official at-bats, a strikeout total he'd like to reduce as his career continues.
"Obviously I don't think anybody wants to strike out 100 times in a season," he said. "I think it's just experience, getting more at-bats and things like that. Recognizing what pitches you can hit and what pitches you should lay off. And that's something that's going to come with more experience."
Jackson said he enjoyed going to spring training with the Yankees and getting to know their players. He said he "picked the brains" of New York's players and developed friendships with second baseman Robinson Cano and pitcher C.C. Sabathia. "They made me feel a part of the team," he said.
Now he's got a new team. And a new opportunity.