Luke Jackson Scouting Report: Luke Jackson ranked #8 on the LSB Community Prospect Rankings.
In the days leading up to Opening Day, I'm going to offer write-ups on the 30 players who made the Rangers' LSB Community Prospect Rankings Top 32 list, and who didn't get traded. 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-2014. 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.
Jackson also was the subject of many trade rumors in the summer of 2013, with Jackson and C.J. Edwards both supposedly in the mix when the Rangers were talking to the Cubs about the Matt Garza trade. 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, but ultimately, it was Edwards, not Jackson, who went to the Cubs.
Interestingly, despite his step forward in 2013, 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.
2014 was a tale of two seasons for Jackson. He started out the year in AA Frisco and was great there, putting up a 3.04 ERA in 83 IP, striking out 83 batters, walking just 24, and allowing only 5 home runs. That performance earned LuJack a promotion to AAA in late June, and had fans expecting to see him in Texas when rosters expanded in September, if not earlier.
Unfortunately, Jackson's AAA performance was a disaster. He allowed at least 3 runs in every one of his 11 AAA outings except the first one, where he gave up 2 runs in just 3 innings. Jackson made it more than 5 innings just once -- at Colorado Springs, when he went 5.2 IP while giving up 3 runs -- and that was often the result of his pitch counts getting out of control. Jackson threw 830 pitches to 201 batters in 40 innings for Round Rock -- a ridiculous 20.75 pitchers per inning, and 4.13 pitchers per batter. To put this in perspective, the MLB average for pitches per plate appearance is 3.85, and of everyone who threw a pitch for Texas last season, the only pitchers to average more than 4.13 P/PA were Phil Irwin, Jason Frasor, Justin Germano, and Mitch Moreland.
Jackson's numbers in Round Rock were ugly -- he had a 10.35 ERA in 40 IP, and allowed opposing hitters to put up a .333/.428/.607 slash line against him. That late season collapse resulted in Jackson generally being slotted a tier behind contemporaries Chi Chi Gonzalez and Jake Thompson in the Rangers' prospect rankings, showing up in the second half of most Rangers top 10 lists in the 2014-15 offseason. Jackson did, however, finish 7th in the Baseball America Texas League top 20 rankings, although he wasn't in their list of the top 10 Rangers prospects.
In terms of his repertoire, Jackson has a fastball that he throws in the 90s, with BA describing it as a "95-97 mph heater that features plenty of life." The issue with Jackson continues to be his secondary pitches, with his curveball continuing to need refinement, and his change being described as "a work in progress." The issues with him repeating his delivery and the quality of his secondary pitches has some observers believing he will end up in the pen, and the fastball is good enough to make him a viable reliever. The Rangers, for now, are opting to continue to let him start until he shows he can't stick in the rotation.
The Rangers added Jackson to the 40 man roster this offseason, and he'll almost certainly start the 2015 season in AAA Round Rock, along with, most likely, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Lisalverto Bonilla, and the Two Nicks.
What sort of ceiling does Jackson have? The stuff is good enough that he's been seen in the past as a potential #2 or #3 starter, but the lack of progress with his command and secondary pitches makes that less and less likely. At this point, he probably profiles as a potential back-end starter who could be a #3 if things click, or, more likely, a late-inning reliever.