There is much for the Seattle Mariners’ top prospect to accomplish before he debuts in the major leagues, but Alex Jackson has already flashed the kind of promise that led Seattle to draft him with the No. 6 overall pick last summer.
The 19-year-old has stepped to the plate 10 times in Cactus League games this spring despite not being in the club’s big-league camp. He has two hits. And one of them had people talking.
Jackson’s long, two-run homer to right field on March 20 against the Texas Rangers is exactly the kind of power display that made him so attractive to the Mariners during last year’s draft.
And it’s more evidence that he could be ready to build on an impressive performance last season in the Arizona Rookie League, where he batted .280 with an .820 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and was named the league’s top player by Baseball America despite missing a month after taking a line drive to the face while playing the outfield.
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He recovered from that injury in time to return and play in four games before the season ended.
“Freak things like that unfortunately do happen,” Jackson said last month after his first workout in the Mariners’ minor league camp, where he spent this spring. “Gosh, I never would have thought I personally would take a ball off the face in the outfield like that, but things happen, and I guess it was a minor setback.
“But you learn from things like that. Other than that, it was a very enjoyable time, just being out here playing the game I love, and looking forward to getting back out and playing some baseball this year.”
At 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 215 pounds — and he looks every bit of it — Jackson was considered one of the top power-hitting prospects in the 2014 draft. That’s why the Mariners weren’t overly concerned about which position he might play when they selected him. Tom McNamara, the team’s director of amateur scouting, said simply, “We took the bat.”
Jackson mostly played catcher during his decorated career at Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, where he hit 47 homers and batted .375. But with Mike Zunino entrenched at that position for the foreseeable future, the Mariners immediately began transitioning Jackson to the outfield, and that’s where he played last year in Arizona.
He said he’s still working out at both corner outfield spots, though he mostly played right field in the rookie league. Jackson also spent additional time in Arizona before spring training with the Mariners’ minor league minicamp.
The transition, he said, is “actually pretty easy, with the coaching staff the Mariners have, and also all the older players who have helped me out, keep me relaxed. … Everyone’s positive, always has each other’s back. It’s a very enjoyable learning process. I’m very happy to be a part of this organization and looking forward to many years to come.”
As for this year, Jackson said he isn’t thinking much about which affiliate he might begin with. Short Season-A Clinton (Iowa) is a possibility, but Mariners director of player development Chris Gwynn said that has yet to be determined.
“If he’s ready for Clinton, he’ll be at Clinton. We’ll see what happens,” Gwynn said. “I’m not going to force that. He’s 19 years old.”
But his promise — and his pop — could help accelerate his rise through the Mariners’ system.
“His acumen is pretty advanced,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said in December. “You have to note that a player like this has the ability to move at a faster pace than a typical player. You’re cognizant of it. You have to put him in a position where he can succeed. It will be really interesting to watch this kid.”
Said Jackson: “That’s one of those things where it’s tough because, at the end of the day, I’ve just got to go out and give it 100 percent, and it’s ultimately going to be the Mariners’ decision. I’m just going to go out there and play hard, and whatever happens, happens.”