Austin Jackson | Centerfield| #14
2014 salary: $6 million
2013 statistics: .272/.337/.417, 12 HR, 30 2B, 7 3B, 8 SB, 52 BB, 129 K
Projected role: Starting Centerfielder
Austin Jackson was the subject of several trade rumors this offseason but apparently none of these supposed offers ended up making sense for the Tigers. As such, Jackson will return to patrol the vast centerfield of Comerica Park this season with a lot to prove. With a new skipper and the addition of Ian Kinsler and it is quite possible that Jackson will no longer serve as the Tigers’ lead-off hitter, a spot he has occupied for the entirety of his big league career.
In 2010, fresh out of the Yankees’ system in exchange for Curtis Granderson, Jackson put up some very good numbers (.293/.345/.400) and looked to be a key part of the Tigers’ future. Unfortunately, in 2011, his offense disappeared for long stretches of the season (.249/.317/.374) and he racked up an eye-popping 181 K’s. The 2012 season saw Jackson breakout to the tune of a .300/.377/.479 line while belting 55 extra-base hits.
The pendulum again swung the other way for Jackson in 2013, his batting average dropped 28 points, his on-base percentage fell by 40 points and his slugging percentage plummeted 62 points. The good news is that Jackson kept up his trend of reducing his strikeouts, only tallying 129 for the year.
Offensively, the move out of the lead-off spot could be beneficial to Jackson. With more freedom he could be a bit more aggressive at the plate. That sounds weird to say for a guy who has struck out 614 times in his four-year big league career, but there was often times when Jackson would look at two, if not three, of his strikes in any given at-bat. Jackson will also have a different crew coaching him this year which could dramatically impact the ups and downs he experiences in a season.
If the even number trend continues to play out, 2014 could be a very good year for Jackson offensively. He has the potential to be a guy who could give the Tigers 65-70 extra-base hits per year and has shown he has the ability to his around .300 and put up good OBP numbers.
Who knows, maybe the new crew can figure out how to increase his success on the base-paths too. After stringing together back-to-back 20+ steal seasons in 2010-11 where he accumulated 49 stolen-bases while only being caught 11 times, 2012-13 saw his effectiveness at thievery disappear. The past two years Jackson’s success rate has been less than 50 percent and only tallied 20 SBs the past two seasons combined.
Defensively Jackson is a mixed bag. He refuses to dive for balls – which is somewhat understandable given the limited range of those playing in the corners. He contributes a handful of assists each year and rarely makes errors. Range Factor says he rates below the average CFer though – 2.40 per 9 innings vs the AL average of 2.66 (which doesn’t really equate with what we see in games, he seems to cover a lot of ground when needed).
This season will need to see Jackson re-emerge as an impact hitter for the Tigers. They have too much invested in 2014 to have one of the more important positions on the field become an offensive black hole. If Jackson starts slow and his slump continues into May, the Tigers would likely begin exploring their options for a replacement. Given the market price for offensively talented plus defenders in center, Tigers fans should hope that scenario doesn’t come close to occurring.