After a relatively disappointing year in 2013, the signing of Ian Kinsler following the season and considering the window of time the Detroit Tigers have to make a run at the World Series, this Spring Training for Austin Jackson may be the most important of his career.
Detroit fans know all about Jackson’s struggles in 2013 and all but booed him out of town on some occasions, but for good reason. On a playoff-caliber team, one that should be playing for the World Series, Jackson was the leadoff man who just didn’t cut it. In the playoffs against the Boston Red Sox, he was dropped down to the eighth spot, which actually seemed to help him.
That’s a good sign for Jackson because it likely means his issues have have been largely mental, and not a sign of someone losing their physical edge.
After all, Jackson is only 27, so he should be in the prime of his career. He batted .272 last year which is not that bad on the whole, but compared to seasons in 2010 and 2012 batting about .300, it seems like a down year. He still plays a very good center field, so if he can amp up his hitting, Jackson could be one of the key missing pieces for the Tigers.
That all depends on how he prepares in Spring Training, and whether or not he views the competition for the leadoff spot with Kinsler as a good thing.
When coming off a down season, the following Spring Training is crucial for a player to get their confidence back. It’s a fine line between getting warmed up for the season and over-performing to prove the player’s worth again. With Kinsler in the lineup now, Jackson should look at the possibility of losing the leadoff spot as a blessing in disguise. It will take the pressure off just like it did in the playoffs, and hopefully help him focus on hitting.
However, if Jackson continues to decline in Spring Training and loses his leadoff spot to Kinsler, there’s a chance that he could continue to spiral downward. It will be up to new manager Brad Ausmus to coordinate the situation and to help him gain back his confidence. He is a key player for the Tigers, but there are young players waiting in the wings who would be happy to take over center field and rip a few line drives from the bottom of the lineup.
I still believe Jackson can be an outstanding player for the Tigers, but the management of his psyche during Spring Training leading up to the 2014 season could make or break his season — and the Tigers’ run at the World Series.