March 4, 2012; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson (14) at bat in the game against the Atlanta Braves at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
We're going to start a new series today, previewing the Detroit Tigers player by player. These are patterned after the short biographies that ran in the (sadly defunct) Maple Street Press annual last year. Expect much of the bullpen and the bench players to be doubled up a bit during the final week before the season, but we'll go one a day until then, by uniform numbers
Austin Jackson #14
In 2010, Austin could do no wrong. With seemingly every ball he put the bat on finding a safe place to land in the field, he batted near .300 and had some fans salivating. In 2011, he crashed back to earth. Balls were finding gloves and the Tigers' lead-off batter was leaving the top of the lineup lacking.
It appears Jackson will remain the Tigers' leadoff batter in 2012, but can we expect a rebound and a boost at the top of the lineup? I'm not so sure. There was talk before the actual baseball began that Jackson was shortening his swing, which should help him cut down on the K's. So far, it wasn't worked. With 23 at bats, he has 10 strikeouts. That's a rate higher than 40%. Obviously, you never want to make too much out of spring training stats. They're always small sample sizes and all that. But if Jackson was a player who struck out 26.1 percent of the time across his first two seasons and he's still striking out this spring, I think you have to assume nothing spectacular is going to change.
I find it perfectly reasonable to expect the line drive rate to go up a bit. Given his history and minor league numbers, I wouldn't be surprised to see the BABIP go up along side it. And if he can do that and maintain power, he's going to be an acceptable batter. Let's call it .260 to .270, I guess. With a slight increase in slugging, he could be in the upper .300s to .400 there. His saving grace at the top of the order is the ability to take pitches and work the count. Even though he struck out a lot, he trailed only Alex Avila in pitches per plate appearance with 3.96.
Fielding-wise, he's still Austin Jackson. That alone is good enough reason to start him in center field.