Prince Fielder may have been the most scrutinized player on the Detroit Tigers‘ roster last Fall, but leadoff man Austin Jackson was a close second.
Through the first eight games of the 2013 postseason, Jackson was essentially an automatic out, as he struck out a mind-blowing 18 times in his first 35 plate appearances. However, he really turned over a new leaf after being dropped to the No. 8 spot, and he went 6-for-9 in the final three games of the ALCS. This spring, he has seemingly picked up right where he left off.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Jackson is batting .455 with a home run, a double, a triple and eight RBIs in Spring Training games. The word out of Tigers’ camp is that Jackson has been working diligently with new hitting coach Wally Joyner on discovering his “natural swing.” The question, however, is what does Jackson’s natural swing look like?
It could very easily be a swing that produces a .270-.290 batting average, with 20-plus home runs and 80-plus RBIs over the course of a 162-game season. Jackson has been plagued by strikeouts his entire career, and the leadoff spot never appeared to be his natural place in the lineup. At times, Jackson’s swing seemed forced when his name was listed at the top of the lineup card.
It is a relatively safe bet that Jackson will exceed 100 Ks for the fifth straight season in 2014, but the strikeouts will not be nearly as big of an issue if he relinquishes his leadoff spot to Ian Kinsler and bats in the No. 5 or No. 6 spot, as many believe he ultimately will. Jackson will be able to relax and let it all hang out if he bats lower in the lineup, which could very easily lead to an increase in his power numbers.
As a matter of fact, Jackson has already reached double-digits in the home run category in each of the past three seasons. He hit 12 last season in 129 games, slugged 16 long balls back in 2012 in 137 games, and hit 10 during the 2011 season. Therefore, if Jackson can stay healthy for a full season and play in 150 or more games in 2014, which is something that he has not been able to do over the past two seasons, he should have a great chance to touch the 20 home run mark this year.
Jackson hitting for more power will also bode well for Victor Martinez, as the Tigers will have a formidable power threat to place behind him who will actually be able to provide adequate protection for him. It would also consequently allow the Tigers to leave Torii Hunter in the two-hole, where he has really grown comfortable over the past two seasons.
It became clear last season that Jackson is never going to be Rickey Henderson. Alternatively, he has a better chance to become more of a Mike Cameron-esque hitter, but with a chance to hit for a greater average than Cameron did. Look for 2014 to be the first season where Jackson notches 20 homers.