Today 27-year old RHP-Steven Jackson was designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates to make room for Ryan Church and/or Brandon Jones. Now that he is fresh on the market, does he fit into the present or future of the Kansas City Royals? If you read my last post, you already know that I think the Royals should try to work a deal with the Pirates to get both Brandon Jones and Steven Jackson. What you don’t know is why I think they should acquire Jackson. After reading this you will.
Steven Jackson*, who will turn 28 on March 15th, was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 10th round of the 2004 draft. On January 9th, 2007 he was one of four players the D-Backs traded to the New York Yankees to acquire Randy Johnson. On May 18th, 2009 the Pirates selected him off waivers. That means, Jackson has not spent any time in the Atlanta Braves organization. Huzzah.
*If I make it through the entire article without calling him Zack Jackson, I will be very proud of myself.
He is different from the previous three players I have profiled in the Market Fresh series* because he has never been a highly rated prospect. Jackson has had to scrap and claw to earn a shred of prospect shimmer. That finally happened when he cracked the Yankees 2009 top-30, as ranked by Baseball America. He entered last season as the 29th rated prospect in their system.
*I have decided to make this an ongoing series for a number of reasons. First, it has been well received by you the readers. Second, researching guys being released from other teams is a nice change of pace and I always learn a lot about them. Third, I find these profiles incredibly fun to write.
In six minor league seasons Jackson has a 4.32 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9, and 2.26 SO/BB in 544.0 innings pitched. He had a 1.88 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 5.0 SO/9, and 2.67 SO/BB in 14.1 IP with the Yankees Triple-A affiliate before he was placed on waivers and eventually claimed by the Pirates. With Pittsburgh he pitched 18.0 innings in AAA with a 6.50 ERA and 1.56 WHIP. He did, however, put up a nice 3.40 SO/BB and 8.5 SO/9.
Jackson made his major league debut with the Pirates on June 1st and gave up earned runs in only 7 of his 40 appearances. He finished the year in the majors having thrown 43.0 innings with a 3.14 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 4.4 SO/9, and 0.95 SO/BB. Most people will look at the fact that he issued 22 walks while striking out just 21 and assume that he’s not worth the time. In reality those numbers mask the pitcher that Jackson has become in the last couple of years.
The 2009 edition of Baseball Prospectus had this to say about Jackson:
A move to the bullpen added velocity to Steven Jackson’s fastball, sink to his splitter, and control to his slider. According to StatCorner, Jackson led International League relievers in swinging strike-percentage, a sign that the sole remaining product of the second Randy Johnson trade may be ready to help.
Combine the above thoughts with the following out of the 2009 Baseball America Prospect Handbook:
He previously lacked a putaway pitch and was too predictable with his modest slider. With a higher arm angle, he was able to add some tilt to his slider, making it an average pitch. His new arm slot allows him to elevate his fastball more easily, making his plus splitter more effective.
With the thoughts of both sources in mind and coupled with his 2008 and 2009 seasons, Steven Jackson has the look of a late bloomer who could contribute to a major league bullpen in 2010. His excellent 2009 BAbip (Batting Average on balls in play) of 0.257 figures to jump back up closer to league average, however both his 0.77 GB/FB (Ground Ball to Fly Ball Ratio) and 0.95 SO/BB should improve as he continues to get comfortable with his role as a reliever and continues to refine his mechanics. He can get better and even with the warts in his 2009 season still managed an ERA+ of 131 with Pittsburgh.
As I wrote earlier today, I think the Royals should try to work a trade with the Pirates to acquire both players in a package deal. Pittsburgh is motivated to move some talent since they will need to make room on the 40-man roster once Octavio Dotel officially joins the team. They reportedly claimed Jones banking on the fact that one of the 28 teams behind them in waiver priority would have interest in him.
UPDATE: RHP-Merkin Valdez, profiled in the January 18th edition of Market Fresh, was acquired from the Giants by the Toronto Blue Jays for cash considerations.