2012 Season: 149 G, .300 AVG, 16 HR, 66 RBI
Though some other Detroit Tigers may be more talented or get more accolades, outfielder Austin Jackson is one of the most important players on the Tigers in 2013. Jackson adds a dimension to this team that very few other Tigers players can offer: his speed.
Once Jackson gets on base he is a threat on the base paths and puts pressure on the opposing pitcher. This alone shows his value to a team like the Tigers, who aren't known to be fleet-footed. Once you add in Jackson's other attributes, the Tigers are lucky to have him.
Jackson, who turns 26 today, has developed into a special player that Tigers fans have embraced for his upbeat attitude and willingness to constantly improve.
When Jackson came to the Tigers in a trade with Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, and Daniel Schlereth in 2009, it was unthinkable at the time that Jackson would make Tigers fans forget the popular outfielder he was replacing—Curtis Granderson.
Granderson was very popular in Detroit and by coming up through the farm system fans felt a connection, like they were invested in his success and watching him grow into an All-Star.
Jackson knew he wasn't a power hitter like Granderson and couldn't live up to Granderson's shadows, but he wanted to make Detroit forget about his predecessor by being the type of baseball player that he always was.
In 2010, Jackson's rookie year, he quickly showed fans that he was a future star by exhibiting strong defense in the vast expanse of center field at Comerica Park and by utilizing his speed to get lots of infield singles. If there was one knock on Jackson, it was that he struck out 170 times and only walked 47 times. As a leadoff man these numbers were disappointing, as he needed to learn to take pitches and get on base any way he could.
In 2011, Jackson had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season. He got on base less, increased his strikeouts and hit for a lower average. The one encouraging part—which showed Jackson's maturity—was that while he may have been slumping at the plate, he wasn't letting it affect his defense.
Last year, Jackson shook off his disappointing sophomore season and made a tremendous jump. He improved in all aspects of his game. Jackson's power increased to 16 HR from 10 in 2011, his average climbed to .300 and his on-base percentage rose to .377. Most encouraging was that his strikeout totals decreased drastically to 134, while his walks increased to 67. The only negative was that his stolen bases dropped to 12 from 22 in 2011. Part of what makes Jackson so dangerous is his ability to steal bases, so he needs to be confident once he's on base.
In the future, I believe Jackson will eventually develop more power and could potentially hit 20 HR a year. While Jackson is currently the leadoff man, I can see him being pushed down the lineup towards the middle where his strikeout totals would be more acceptable and his low walk total wouldn't be as big of an issue.
Jackson's greatest asset is his willingness to improve all aspects of his game. The Tigers have hired a baserunning consultant in Jeff Cox and Jackson plans to use it to his advantage to learn tricks that he can apply once on base. Jackson told George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press, “Stolen bases, I feel like it’s another one of those things I need to work on and hopefully I get better at it."
I don't know what Jackson will do on the base paths this year, but after watching him these past three years, it is clear that you can never count him out on improving.
2013 Prediction: .305 AVG, 18 HR, 70 RBI