SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A move back to catcher changed the trajectory of Atlanta Braves prospect Alex Jackson‘s career and he capped off an impressive fall with a 2-RBI day, helping the Peoria Javelinas to their first Arizona Fall League championship since 2002 and fifth overall.
The 21-year-old Jackson drove in two of the Javelinas three runs in the third inning with a single up the middle and finished his AFL season with 18 runs batted in.
Alex Jackson (@Braves No. 16 prospect) laces 2-run go-ahead single after Ronald Acuna‘s game-tying knock in @MLBazFallLeague championship game. Watch live: https://t.co/VthMFmaAQk pic.twitter.com/5ZP19sMXJ6
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) November 18, 2017
“Whether they come out swinging hard or put some runs on the board, we’re confident we can stick in it,” Jackson said. “After that first inning, there wasn’t even a thought into our head that we weren’t going to come back, put the ball in play, make things happen and we were able to.”
Jackson finished the AFL regular season tied for third in home runs (five) and had plenty of memorable games. He nearly hit for the cycle on Oct. 18, finishing the day with four hits. Four days earlier, he hit one of only four grand slams hit in the AFL this season.
But Jackson was not the only player who starred in Arizona. Ronald Acuna took home MVP honors, Max Fried led the league in wins, he finished second in wins and opponents batting average, logged the third-most innings and had the fourth-lowest WHIP and sixth-lowest ERA. Third baseman Austin Riley finished second in home runs and runs batted in and tied for first in extra-base hits.
“We’ve been playing together all year,” Jackson said. “It’s fun watching everyone play. We all have a blast and love what we do. When you put it all together good things happen.”
Many thought Jackson could have been the No. 1 overall pick — some thought he was the best bat overall — and at the very least the top high school hitter — which is impressive for a catcher. The Seattle Mariners end up selecting Jackson out of high school with the sixth overall pick in 2014 and moved him to the outfield.
But learning a new position might have hurt his development at the plate. He hit .207 between two levels in 2015 after hitting .280 in 23 games for the Rookie Level Mariners in 2014. Jackson rebounded with 11 home runs and 55 runs batted in in 92 games for Double-A Clinton in 2016, but the Mariners traded Jackson for two pitchers and filled a need in their farm system — right-handed power.
In two seasons time, Jackson has gone from a player with a washed up bat playing an unfamiliar position to finding his hitting stroke again after a move back to his primary position.
“It definitely helped a little bit,” Jackson said. “It allowed me to see more pitches and get locked in a little more quicker.”
The Braves decided to move Jackson back to catcher where he had success, and his bat picked up along with it. He established new career highs in batting average (.272), home runs (14) and runs batted in (45) in his first season in the Braves’ organization at High-A Florida. After 66 games, Atlanta promoted Jackson to Double-A Mississippi where he hit a respectable .255 with five home runs and 20 runs batted in across 30 games.
But he said the trade has nothing to do with his resurgence.
“The past is the past,” Jackson said. “Right now, I am just going up there being myself — trying to find good pitches to hit and when I get them, put a good swing on it.”
Jackson will head into the offseason looking to build on an outstanding 2017 and maybe reach the big leagues at some point in 2018. But for now, he will celebrate.
“Winning a championship is always a blast,” Jackson said. “We’re going to enjoy it. We worked hard and it definitely paid off.”