When the Braves traded a couple of decent pitching prospects to the Mariners for outfielder Alex Jackson in late November, many observers wondered why. What did the Braves see in Jackson, a 2014 first-round draft pick whose prospect status had fallen sharply since he posted a .753 OPS over parts of three minor league seasons, and hit .243 with 103 strikeouts in 333 at-bats in Single-A ball in 2016?
Well, what the Braves saw was a big, strong kid who had, as Chipper Jones said after watching Jackson one morning on a backfield this spring, âlight-tower power.â And they saw a guy who had perhaps struggled because he was miscast as an outfielder in the minors and spent too much mental energy on learning that new position.
What if, the Braves thought, we move him back to catcher, a position of need in the Braves minor league system, and the position where Jackson excelled ?Â After all, the burly Jackson was highly regarded as a catcher in high school, a three-time prep All-American at Rancho Bernardo in San Diego.
And while it’s too early to judge, so far that is looking like an astute trade by Braves GM John Coppolella and president of baseball operations John Hart, and one that could have long-range impact for a team low on both catching and power-hitting prospects.
Jackson, still just 21 years old, went 3-for-6 Wednesday and hit his seventh home run of the season for the high-A Florida Fire Frogs, tying him for the overall minor league home-run lead. The sturdily built Californian is hitting .338 with a .364 OBP, .676 slugging percentage and 16 RBIs through 18 games while splitting the catching and DH duties with Jonathan Morales, another catching prospect the Braves are high on.
âJacksonâs off to a good start,â Hart said. âItâs not like weâre taking a guy and converting him whoâd never caught before. He caught his whole life, and then when he got drafted so high and (the Mariners) thought, letâs just put him in the outfield and get to the big leagues in a hurry. But weâre going to take our time; I think this guy is showing some aptitude behind the plate. Heâs not perfect, but heâs showing heâs got a plus arm â really, itâs an above-average arm. And he moves well back there. I just think heâs going to need to get reps.
âI think the batâs going to play (at the big-league level). Maybe itâs not the bat that they wanted at (No. 6 overall selection in draft), but if itâs a catcher, itâs a real bat. Because the power is real.â
At that point I mentioned to Hart what Chipper had said at spring training after watching Jackson hit some bombs on a backfield. The âlight-tower powerâ comment.
Hart nodded at the description and repeated, âThe powerâs real. And heâs a good enough hitter that he can get to his power. But as…