Is a slider or a curve? Doesn’t matter because Blue Jays top prospect, Zach Jackson is mowing them down in Lansing
When the Blue Jays used their 3rd round pick on Arkansas reliever Zach Jackson, the expectation was that he’d move through the system quickly. After struggling with command in his pro debut, a quick rise seemed unlikely.
From Baseball America
extreme stab in his delivery, a long arm action and trouble repeating his delivery, Jackson battles his near bottom of the scale control in most every outing….he has one of the best breaking balls in the draft, an outstanding tight 12-to-6 downer curve which grades as at least a plus offering. Too often he misses his fastball by feet, not inches and even when he’s locating it in the zone, hitters often seem to be able to time his 90-93 mph fastball when he’s up in the zone. He also mixes in a below-average changeup. There are many nights where Jackson has more feel in his curveball than his fastball. As good as the arm is, it will take a significant optimist to believe that Jackson can tone down his delivery enough to start, but his combination of a plus curveball and a plus fastball (it sits 92-96 mph out of the bullpen) has played better as a reliever and would play with even below-average control.
Jackson didn’t get too much work in during his rookie season, making 14 appearances between GCL (1 game) and Vancouver (13 games). During his 13 appearances, 17.2IP, with the Canadians Jackson proved Baseball America’s pre-draft report was bang on. He walked 6.11 batters per 9 innings while striking out 11.72 batters per 9 innings. He kept the ball in the park despite having more outs in the air than on the ground (0.76).
Zach Jackson was able to finish 2016 with a 1-1 record, 3.38 ERA, opponent batting average of .212, and 1.39 WHIP.
Baseball America #21
Baseball America is labeling his 12-to-6 curveball as Jackson’s ticket to a major league bullpen. They describe it as being a tight, hard downer in the low-80’s that grades as plus if not better.
Fangraphs Tool Grades (present/future) for Jackson are pretty good. They have his fastball and slider graded at 55/60 while his changeup was graded at 45/50.
MLBPipeline describes Jacksons best pitch as a ‘hammer three-quarter breaking ball with curveball break and slider velocity in the low 90’s’.
All the scouting reports that I’ve come across say the same thing about Jackson. Good feel for his curve/slider (depending who you read), trouble locating his FB, deceptive, and good downward plane.
Two Months In
Zach Jackson was assigned to Toronto’s Full-Season A-Ball affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts. Roughly two months into the season and Jackson is starting to turn some heads. He has lowered his walk rate from 6.11 with the C’s to a respectable 2.76. He has maintained his high K/9 and improved his LOB% from 68 to 82.
Jackson has posted a solid .296 xFIP and continues to get most of his outs in the air with just a 37.8 groundball percentage.
It seems that after throwing multiple inning relief appearances in April that Jackson has settled into a 20 pitch per inning reliever. While his usage has decreased in from April to May, his efficiency has improved. He threw 60.43% of his pitches for strikes in April and has thrown 63.24% of his pitches for strikes in May and in 5.1 IP he has not allowed a hit.
Over his last 8 appearances, Zach Jackson has not allowed a run, he’s allowed just 2 hits, walked 2 and has struck out 11.
1-0, 2.76 ERA, 1-for-2 in SV, 16.1IP, 9H, 5ER, 2HR, 5BB, 21K, .155 opp BA, 0.86 WHIP
In my opinion, Jackson would already be in Dunedin if the Lugnuts starting rotation was better. The Lugnuts need to keep Jackson around because of the strain the Lugnuts bullpen has had to endure due to the inability of the starters, not named Justin Maese or Patrick Murphy, to pitch deep into games.
With his improved command, I would not be surprised to see Zach Jackson remain in Lansing until mid-June, bypass Advanced-A, and head straight to New Hampshire.
*Featured Image Mandatory Credit: Wade Black – JFtC
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