Mariners’ Jackson can return to top

When the Seattle Mariners entered the 2014 Draft with the No. 6 overall pick, it was my opinion it was a pick the club needed to get right. While I believe development is the main factor in so-far failed picks such as Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley, among others, the philosophy high in the draft had been as much about risk and timetable as anything else. The Mariners needed to favor upside in 2014, if given the opportunity. In the opinion on most, including yours truly and numerous scouting departments around the league, the Mariners’ selection of Alex Jackson was the correct one. What’s taken place since then, however, hasn’t followed suit. But it’s far from too late for the 20-year-old to get back on a path that lands him not only as the top prospect in the organization, but in the majors performing regularly.

Jackson has struggled a bit staying healthy, but those instances appear to be entirely a fluke and not some sign that he’s destined to live on the disabled list. He’s also struggled at the plate a lot more in the lower minors than a player with his hitting aptitude should. Out of high school, Jackson brought plus bat speed, a sound swing to produce line drives from right-center field to the left-field line, advanced understanding of the strike zone and above-average pitch recognition. He was the best prep bat in the entire class.

Jackson posted a strong line in rookie-league Arizona after signing in the summer of ’14. He then struggled at Class-A Clinton — .157/.240/.213 with strikeouts in a third of his plate appearances — before missing some time and joining short-season Everett and posting a more respectable slash line of .239/.365/.453. But many things weren’t right.

I saw Jackson in the spring of ’15 and again in Everett several times and what stuck out was mostly physical; he’d added some weight to his lower half — I’d guess not by design, but I don’t know — so he’d lost a step n the outfield and on the bases and his swing became stiff, which may be why he had problems covering the entire strike zone the way he’d done in high school.

Over the offseason, I ranked Alex Jackson behind Tyler O’Neill at the top of the Seattle organizational talent rankings here at Prospect Insider, and I’ll stand by it until there’s a single drop of evidence Jackson’s going to be worth a dime to the big club.

This spring, Jackson, according to the club, suffered a minor injury and thus was kept back in extended spring training. Now, I’m not calling anyone a liar, but Jackson was kept behind to work on his approach to the game on a daily basis and to clean up his mechanics. I have that on good authority.

On Thursday, Jackson was set to make his 2016 debut. And if he’s in shape and his mental approach to the season have been righted, he does still remain the highest-upside talent in the Mariners’ system. Tyler O’Neill, my No. 1 prospect in the organization, is not going to make it easy for Jackson to catch him, but the former No. 6 pick’s natural hitting chops can take him a long way.

Thursday is Day 1 on a long path back.

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Jason A. Churchill

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