Taking a look at the #12 ranked prospect in the LSB 2013 Community Prospect Rankings, Luke Jackson
In the aftermath of the community prospect rankings wrapping up last year, I figured I'd do write-ups for each Ranger prospect who finished in the top 25, in the order that they were selected. It was something that seemed to go well, and so I've decided to do this again.
Two caveats about this: First, I have no first-hand information about most of these guys, and for the hard-core prospect-philes out there, you probably know everything that I'll be writing about these players.
Secondly, since I did this last season, a lot of the material is going to be a repeat from last year. I'm going to cut-and-paste certain things from last year, simply because I don't see the need to completely re-invent the wheel in terms of talking about what Martin Perez did in 2008 or something like that. So don't complain about that.
Moving right along, today we are looking at the #12 player in the community prospect rankings, Luke Jackson.
Luke Jackson is a 6'2", 185 lb. righthanded pitcher who the Rangers selected with a supplemental first round pick (#45 overall) in the 2010 draft out of Calvary Christian High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Baseball America had Jackson ranked as the #126 prospect in the 2010 draft, with Jackson getting high marks for his athleticism and what BA described as "electric" stuff, but inconsistency and lack of a quality second pitch pushing him down in their rankings.
Jackson's bonus demands had many expecting he would wind up going to college, but the Rangers ended up giving him at well-above-slot $1.545 million bonus, the third highest of the 2010 supplemental round (only Nick Castellanos and Anthony Renaudo got more), and only a hair less than the $1.557 million Jake Skole got from Texas as their first pick in that draft. Nevertheless, as a late sign, Jackson did not make his pro debut until 2011.
Jackson spent the 2011 season in the South Atlantic League with the Rangers' low-A affiliate, the Hickory Crawdads, and had an up and down year. Jackson did put up impressive strikeout numbers -- 78 in just 75 innings over 19 starts -- but he also walked 48 hitters and allowed 9 home runs while posting a 5.64 ERA. The surface numbers were disappointing, but Jackson was relatively new to pitching, not being on the mound regularly until he started high school.
The 2012 season saw Jackson return to Hickory and struggle statistically, putting up a 4.92 ERA in 64 innings, striking out 72 while walking 33 batters. Nevertheless, Jackson earned a promotion to high-A Myrtle Beach, and he put up almost an identical line -- a 4.39 ERA in 66 innings, with 74 Ks and 32 walks. The rankings of Jackson varied widely this season, with LuJack ending up as high as #6 in the Baseball America rankings to as low as #17 in Jason Cole's rankings.
Jackson provides an interesting contrast with Cody Buckel, another righthander taken by the Rangers in the 2010 draft out of high school. Buckel's reputation is that he "knows how to pitch," and while he doesn't have great stuff, he can throw a variety of pitches for strikes and knows what he's doing on the mound. Jackson, on the other hand, has a mid-90s fastball and electric stuff, but is still trying to learn how to pitch. Buckel's more refined repertoire allows him to terrorize lower-level hitters, but because his stuff is more on the pedestrian side, he's more likely to hit a wall when he gets to the upper levels. Jackson, on the other hand, could potentially never have much success even on the lower levels, making him much more likely than Buckel to simply flame out, but he also offers a much higher ceiling than Buckel, should things click for him.
Jackson's repertoire right now is a live fastball that is his calling card that BA says sits at 93-94 and can touch 97, along with a curveball and changeup that are both works-in-progress. Like a lot of the high school pitchers the Rangers seem to target, Jackson isn't very big, but he's athletic and has what Jason Parks describes as a "fast arm." Parks has described Jackson's curveball as a potential plus pitch, and obviously, if he's going to have success at the major league level, he's going to have to have at least one of his offspeed pitches develop significantly.
Where is Jackson in 2013? After spending the 2012 season between low-A Hickory and high-A Myrtle Beach, my guess is that Jackson returns to Myrtle Beach to try to build on what he did there in 2012. With a really strong spring, and if the Rangers feel like he's ready to take a step forward, he could conceivably start the year at AA Frisco, but I'd expect him to start the year in the Carolina League, and get a promotion to the Texas League sometime in the middle of the year.
What sort of ceiling does Jackson have? The stuff is good enough that Baseball America still calls him a potential #2 starter. He still is a long way from that ceiling, and if his command and offspeed pitches don't come along, he'd profile more as a late-inning reliever. But if you're just talking ceiling, Jackson is on the short list for the highest-ceilinged pitchers in the Ranger minor league system.