Luke Jackson Scouting Report: Luke Jackson ranked #5 on the LSB Community Prospect Rankings.
In the days leading up to Opening Day, I'm going to offer write-ups on the 31 players who made the Rangers' LSB Community Prospect Rankings Top 31. I've done this the last couple of years, and I don't want to re-invent the wheel, so some of this will be a repeat of what I've written before, particularly regarding draft history or performance pre-2013. Also, this is not based on my personal observations -- I'm not a scout, and haven't seen most of these guys. I'm just aggregating the numbers and what others say about these players.
So, with that out of the way, let's take a look at 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. And while the surface numbers were disappointing, Jackson was relatively new to pitching, not being on the mound regularly until he started high school.
2012 was, statistically, another mixed bag for Jackson. He returned to Hickory to start the 2012 campaign, and put up a 4.92 ERA in 64 innings, with 72 Ks and 33 walks, allowing just 4 homers. Despite an ERA near 5, he got a mid-season bump to Myrtle Beach, where he had a 4.39 ERA with 74 Ks and 32 walks, against 2 homers, in 65.2 innings.
Jackson's stuff was still good enough that he ranked highly in the Rangers farm rankings after 2012, with Baseball America putting him at #6 in the system, ahead of, among others, Cody Buckel and Luis Sardinas, John Sickels ranking him #6 (ahead of Sardinas, Jorge Alfaro, Rougned Odor and Martin Perez), and Keith Law ranking him 10th.
On the other hand, he didn't make Jason Parks' top 10 list after the season, with Parks saying in the comments Jackson "wasn't close" to making the top 10, and Jamey Newberg only had Jackson at #15. Its fair to say there was a significant spread in the opinions on Jackson after his 2012 season.
2013, though, was a breakout year for Jackson. He went back to Myrtle Beach to start the year and impressed, putting up a 2.41 ERA in 101 innings there, earning a late season promotion to Frisco, where he allowed just 2 runs in 27 innings, striking out 30, allowing 12 walks and 13 hits, and not letting a ball out of the park.
Its worth noting, incidentally, while some have complained that Jackson has been repeating levels, Jackson has made 32 starts at low-A and 32 starts at high-A...basically, he's had the equivalent of one full season at each A ball level, and has done it while being young, or age-appropriate, for the level.
Interestingly, despite his step forward, Jackson dropped in the BA Ranger rankings, going from #6 to #8 (though that is more about other players taking big steps forward than about Jackson dropping, I think), and Keith Law didn't include him on his Rangers top 10 list. Parks had Jackson #7 on the Ranger list.
Jackson and C.J. Edwards were both supposedly in the mix when the Rangers were talking to the Cubs about the Matt Garza trade last year, and there are differing reports as to whether the Rangers preferred Jackson to Edwards, or if the Cubs simply wouldn't do the deal without Edwards coming over.
Jackson has a fastball that he throws in the 90s, with BA saying he can touch 97, and there's enough just with the fastball that he could make it in the bullpen if his secondary stuff and command doesn't come along. Jackson uses a curveball as his primary breaking ball, and it is more advanced than his changeup, which still has a ways to go.
What does 2014 hold for Jackson? Jackson will likely start the 2014 season in AA Frisco, and he and Chi Chi Gonzalez are the Rangers' top pitching prospects in the upper levels. If he makes strides this year, Jackson could end up getting some major league innings, much like Martin Perez did in 2012, and is positioned to start fighting for a regular major league spot in 2015.
What sort of ceiling does Jackson have? The stuff is good enough that he's seen as a potential #2 or #3 starter, but he's still a long way from actualizing that potential, as he needs to take significant strides with both his command and his offspeed pitches. Jackson probably has a higher ceiling than Gonzalez, but has a lower floor, as well, because of the work he needs to do on improving his command.