The first time I saw Luke Jackson was in Spring Training. I'd seen the video clips, the photos, and read the scouting reports. I'd seen the flat bill, the pajama pants, the unkempt mop-top, and the crooked smile. I knew a bit about him. I've gotten to know Luke a bit better over the last couple of years and as it turns out, my first impression was correct. The first time I saw him, he wasn't even pitching. He was sitting on the metal bleachers that are perched behind every backfield, the same way they accompany every little league field. Luke was there alone, with Rangers' Special Assistant, Mark Connor. Mark has been a pitching coach, in some capacity, since 1974 and Luke was rapt. He wasn't looking away, or down, or giving off patronizing body language. He was listening to everything Mark was telling him. I'd suspected that his hat, his pants, his hair, etc, was a ruse, and I was right. Maybe "ruse" isn't the right term. Luke doesn't set out to deceive you, but he does. A quick smile and a polite quick wit, matching an Instagram account, a Twitter profile, and a Chipotle obsession that belies his attention to detail. His passion for pitching, his craft, can be deceived by his persona. He's not goofy, he's not left-handed, and though I've never asked him, I doubt he'd be willing to crank out an impression of any announcer- living or dead. Though there's a free-spirit within him, a South Florida guy just as at home on the water as he is on the land, but it's juxtaposed by an intense competitor. That's a similarity he shares with Texas' dog-owning lefty. Luke wants to be great, he wants to get guys out. Then, after he's gotten all the outs, then he wants Chipotle.
Texas used the third of their four "1st Round" picks in the 2010 draft to grab Luke from Calvary Christian High in Fort Lauderdale. He skipped all that rookie ball nonsense, and jumped straight into the rotation for low-A Hickory in 2011. Splitting time between the Crawdads and the high-A Myrtle Beach squad in 2012, Luke began to show up on the prospect radar for a lot of folks. A soccer player in his youth, Luke had come to pitching late in his high school career, but had taken to it quickly and was sporting some premium velocity and a curveball that had promise. He began the 2013 campaign as a Pelican again, but finished as a Frisco RoughRider. All along, there's been growth and development of his skill set. After spending the 2013 season turning on a good changeup, Luke's now a 3-pitch hurler with a previously shelved slider holding in the quiver for occasional use as well. It'll all play off his fastball, which is consistently in the 93-97mph range with improving command. Pitch efficiency is a stated goal for 2014 and that means taking the quick out if it's there and not trying to retire every hitter via colossal swinging whiff. The ability to consistently get deep into games, while keeping your team in it, is a very important step for a developing starter. Repeating his mechanics, locating his fastball, staying healthy, throwing secondaries for strikes; these are the final steps a rotation member must surmount. There are folks who think, in part because of the moving parts in his mechanics, Luke will ultimately end up as a bullpen beast, but I'm not one of them. I think he's a starter. He's an upper level starter now, so the results have begun to matter. The strikeouts are nice, but consistently getting to the mound in the 6th and 7th innings is becoming important too.
Here's some footage of his mechanics from a pre-game warmup late last season. Peep the grip on his spike CB.
Luke Jackson 8.14.13 (via Tepid Participation)
I recently had a chance to catch up with Luke before Frisco's 2014 campaign got underway and I decided to fire off a few questions sent in via Twitter. As always, Luke was game, so without further ado, let's get to know 22 year-old Florida native, Luke Jackson:
Via @stonecutter7 :
Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses, or 1 horse-sized duck?
"100 duck-sized horses. A giant horse duck is intimidating. That peck."
How important is your faith to you? Is that something you were raised with?
"Yes, born and raised in a Christian family, I'm thankful for. Mom's from La Grange, Kentucky, Dad's from Miami and he was raised in a Christian home. Mom really instilled it in us when we were younger and I graduated from a Christian high school. I'm a big believer in faith and I kind of carry it with me wherever I go. It's a good foundation for me."
Why hasn't every pitcher adopted Alex Claudio's changeup?
"That's a special art you have to be born with. That thing is not taught. It's a God-given ability right there. It's beyond feel."
How many miles are on the Silver Bullet? [a legendary vehicle known around Surprise, Arizona]
"It stays at 75,000 miles, doesn't go up or down since I've had it. It's a 1984 Ford Escort Station Wagon. It has a 10 minute radius, after 10 minutes- the radiator goes- and there's a crack in the piston head. Right now [Will] Lamb has it. You can only go to Chipotle or the fields and then you have to go right back, or else it has to stay parked for a couple hours. It just stays at the fields. Whoever needs it, clubbies, whatever, can use it. I bought it after instructs my first year in Arizona. It was $700. It's done me well. Every year we buy a new air freshner. We've got hula girl in there now, it's ready to go."
Via @seanb1223 :
What was the craziest thing you saw or did in Italy? [family vacation this winter]
"Nothing' too crazy, but I really enjoyed traveling through Venice's waterways. We got to do a kind of personalized kayak tour, on our own, which was awesome."
Do you foresee yourself using the slider more in 2014? Do you want to mix in 4 pitches?
"I'm a predominant fastball guy, but I do want to make the SL, not a put away pitch, but to a righty, I don't throw changeups to righties often, but sometimes it's not the right type of hitter to throw a changup to, so 0-0 might start with a slider. Just to show him something different, right off the bat. My biggest thing is pitch efficiency. I'm using so many pitches through the innings, that if I can get a 0-0 slider, broken bat grounder to the second baseman, I'll take it. That's what I want, that first pitch out."
Via @rrrubennnnnn :
Build me the perfect Chipotle taco bowl, step by step
"White rice, sometimes brown rice, pinto beans or black beans- doesn't really matter, chicken always I don't really dabble with anything else, sour cream, light salsa, cheese, and guacamole".
What's a book you've read, a magazine you read regularly, and a website you visit often that would surprise people?
"I'm a big Popular Science guy. If I'm on an airplane or something I grab that or Entrepreneur. Books- I like anything by Malcolm Gladwell. I just read David and Goliath. If I'm traveling I love to read. I read paperbacks, tablets hurt my eyes. Website I hit all the time is CNN. I'm a big news guy. Check CNN everyday."
Your Dad played football at Florida State when?
"Well, Deion Sanders was his[Dad] last year there. He said Deion's the most unbelievable athlete he every saw in his life. They would play pickup basketball before morning workouts and he could do 360 dunks despite being kind of a littler guy."
Toughest hitter you've ever faced, consistently? Intrasquads, games, whatever.
"Oh, Brett Nicholas. Hardest guy for me to face. Good eye, patient. I like to face the 2-3-4 hitters to be honest. Brett's a 2-3-4 hitter, don't get me wrong, but he's an unconventional 2-3-4 because he sees a lot of pitches. 7-8-9 guys I hate facing because they like to take a lot of pitches, they're up there trying to get on base and I'm the guy who's nibbling a lot. 2-3-4 is up there swinging. Coach is always like "hey you got 2-3-4 coming up" and I'm like, "yeah, I know those are the ones I want because you can get some swings early." Yeah, Brett is my hardest guy to face, for sure."
See, whimsy mixed with fire. Don't be fooled by the flat billed cap. Don't get suckered in by the Instagram paddle boarding photos. Don't worry about the Chipotle addiction. He's got an element of intellectual curiosity, mixed with humility and self-awareness, and he likes to collect experiences, but Luke's a pitcher. More than anything else, he's here to collect outs.
Enjoy Baseball! Love Ya!