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Better know a Tiger: Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson has led off in Detroit for four years. Is he ready for a transition to a new role?

Austin Jackson triples against the Yankees on March 7, 2014
Austin Jackson triples against the Yankees on March 7, 2014
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Jarriel Jackson was born and raised in north Texas. I trust he avoided this year's harsh Michigan winter, or he may be looking forward to moving to a team in a warmer climate. At Denton's Billy Ryan High School, Austin was a two sport star. Baseball America named him the best 12 year old in the nation, and he repeated as the best 15 year old. Which begs the question, do we really need to rank middle school baseball players nationally? He was also ranked as the tenth best high school point guard in the country. He still has mad hops.

Jackson committed to playing baseball and basketball at Georgia Tech. The Yankees derailed those plans by drafting him in the eighth round of the 2005 draft, and offering an $800,000 signing bonus. The Yankees were grooming him to be next in a long line of memorable centerfielders. But Dave Dombrowski swung a three team deal, basically betting that Jackson could replace Curtis Granderson and for far less money. Dombrowski comes out ahead in most trades, and this was no exception. Jackson was a prospect without any big league experience, but immediately made an impact in Detroit.

2010 23 151 675 .293 .345 .400 25.2 27 .396
2011 24 153 668 .249 .317 .374 27.1 22 .340
2012 25 137 617 .300 .377 .479 21.7 12 .371
2013 26 129 614 .272 .337 .417 21.0 8 .333

Contract Status

Austin Jackson is signed for one year at $6 million. Next year will be his last under team control. Teams are valuing each win over a replacement player at $6 million, so Jackson should be worth three to five times his pay.

Keys to Success

Austin's keys for 2014 are to hit in the lower half of the order and have a strikeout rate less than 20%. Jackson has decreased his strikeout rate each of the last three years. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) bounces around as it is prone to do, and will not likely ever return to .396, but by putting the ball in play more often he has a better chance of reaching base. After his struggles in the 2013 postseason, and subsequent success when dropped out of the leadoff spot, he appears destined for a lower spot in the order.

Odd Numbers

99: Austin Jackson fell one run scored short of 100 last year, with only 129 games played. Getting on base in front of Miguel Cabrera helps. He will not score as frequently in 2014 hitting behind Cabrera, but could be healthier. Playing 152 games could lead to 100 runs scored, which would be a big plus for a lower spot in the order.

2014 Outlook

This is the year Jackson follows Granderson's career arc, moving from focusing on speed to power. Others can take the leadoff and speed roles now. Austin has been tearing up spring training batting .459 / .500 / .784. This year he will set a career high for home runs. The over/under on how many times he dives in the outfield is two.