Archive for December, 2017

#172: Alex Jackson – Catcher

by Gil Elliott

 

 

 

In 2014, the Seattle Mariners in the first round and with the 6th over-all pick in the Amateur Draft chose Alex Jackson. Jackson, a kid who had been a catcher his entire amateur baseball career was immediately assigned to the Mariners rookie affiliate in Arizona and move to the outfield to learn that position. The Mariners, who had been impressed by Jackson’s hitting prowess, wanted to move him to a position where his bat could play every day. Needless to say, the experiment was an abysmal failure as Alex’s hitting suffered from the pressure of trying to learn a new position.

In 2014, at rookie league Arizona, Jackson hit a respectable .280 in 23 games and 82 at bats. In addition, his slash line was .344 OBP, .476 slugging and .820 OPS while racking up 23 hits, 6 were doubles, 2 triples and 2 home runs.

 

In 2015, Jackson only hit .207 in 76 games between class A Clinton Iowa of the Midwest League and short season class A Everett Washington in the Northwest League. In the two minor league stops he hit a total of 56 hits 271 at bats. His slash line was .207BA/.318OBP/.365Slug/.683OPS. In his 56 hits, 17 were doubles, 1 triple and 8 home runs. He had 21 walks and 61 strike outs between the two minor league teams.

Aug 24, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; American catcher Alex Jackson (10) rounds second base during the 2013 Under Armour All-American Baseball game at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports

To say the least, these were not the kind of numbers expected for a first round draft pick who had signed for a tidy $4.2MM dollars. He was traded to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for right handed pitchers Max Povse and Rob Whalen in November of 2016. The Atlanta Braves acquired Jackson plus a player to be named from the Mariners for two pitchers whom the Braves felt were no longer part of their long range plans.

While not the most polished of catching prospect, Jackson never the less was assigned to the Braves’ Advanced A affiliate, the Florida Fire Frogs as a catcher. It was a position where the Braves felt he had the most potential and the Braves had the greatest need. With the Fire Frogs, Alex played in 66 games, amassing 70 hits in 257 at-bats. Of those 70 hits, 17 were doubles and 14 home runs. He also drew 13 walks and struck out 74 times. He had a .272 batting average and an OBP of .333, a .502 slugging percentage and an OPS of .835.

In July of 2017 he was promoted to AA Mississippi where he appeared in 30 games. In 110 at bats he posted a .255 batting average and delivered 28 hits, 4 doubles and 5 home runs. His on base percentage was .317, a .427 slugging percentage and a .744 OPS. As I stated earlier, he is not the most polished defensive catcher and in the minors, his fielding percentage is .979 with 7 passed balls and 16 caught stealing to go with 61 stolen bases against. These are not stellar stats but he is only 21 years old and a work in progress.

This fall, the Braves assigned Jackson to the Peoria Javalinas in the Arizona Fall League to play against some of the best minor league talent in the game. He put up good numbers in the AFL batting .263 in 20 games with 80 at bats. Among his 21 hits were 2 doubles and 5 home runs to go along with 23 strike outs. This translated to a .813 slugging percentage and a OPS of .826. These numbers were pretty much in line with his 2017 minor league stats of a .267 BA.

One of the things I have noticed about Jackson is the consistent numbers he has put up in all of his stops along the way. Those being strikeouts equal to the number of games he has played in and decent OPS numbers. He does draw his walks but his strike out totals are high but not unreasonable for a slugging catcher.

Alex Jackson still has work to do before he can be considered a major league catcher. His defense is a concerned but it is likely that it will be his bat that will get him to the Show. While he may not be considered spectacular prospect as a catcher, he is a very solid player. He is one of many young prospective catchers now working their way through the Braves minor league system. I expect for him to be assigned to AA Mississippi to begin the 2018 season but if his success continues at that level, look for him to be promoted to Triple A Gwinnett by the All-star break.

 

 

 

[Editor’s Note:  my car is a year older than Jackson is. :/ ]

#171: Austin Riley

Gil from Mechanicsville

Another of the Braves stable of wunderkind is 20 year old Austin Riley. Austin is listed as being 6-3 and 220 pounds officially and was drafted 41st overall in the 2015 MLB Amature Draft. He is a product of DeSota Central High School in Southhaven, Mississippi. Austin is another young prospect in the Braves long search for a permanent replacement for Hall of Fame bound Chipper Jones. The road to Atlanta is littered with “can’t miss” prospects who fell short. However, Riley is built like a prototypical third baseman and he has been described as having light tower power.

This fall, Austin was assigned by the Braves organization to play for the Peoria Javalinas of the Arizona Fall League. Against top flight minor league competition he slashed a tidy .300/.364/.657 with a sparkling OPS of 1.021. In 70 at bats, Riley posted 21 hits including 5 doubles, 1 triple and 6 home runs. He struck out 21 times and coaxed 4 walks. While the number strikeouts is a bit disconcerting, he is after all, a power hitter and still is only 20 years old. Coming into the fall league, he reputation was his defense at the hot corner was suspect but he showed good quickness at the hot corner and a strong arm.

After being drafted by the Braves in June of 2015, Riley split time with the Braves’ Gulf Coast League affiliate and the short season rookie team in Danville. He posted a combined .304/.389/.544 and an OPS of .993 in 60 games and 217 at bats. In 66 hits, he slugged 14 double, 1 triple and 12 home runs striking out 65 times. If you are paying attention, you will note he seems to have equaled his hit totals with strike outs.

Austin Riley

In 2016, Riley was promoted to Rome of the A class Sally League. He appeared in 129 games and had 543 plate appearances amassing 134 hits, 39 doubles, 2 triples and 20 home runs. He also struck out 147 times and drew 39 walks, scoring 68 times while driving in 80. His line for the year was .271/.324/.479 and an OPS of .803.

Defensively, in 1045.1 innings played, he had 355 chances recording 92 put outs and 213 assist. He committed 30 errors and posted a .910 fielding percentage. He also had range factor of 2.63. To give a point of reference, the major league average range factor for third baseman(a saber metric stat) is 2.70. Unknown to me are how many of Riley’s errors were fielding miscues verses the number of throwing errors.

In 2017, Austin again split time in two levels of minor league teams. He began the season with Advanced A Florida Fire Frogs and was promoted after 80 games to the AA team in Mississippi. Between the two levels, he hit .275 in 129 games with 542 plate appearances. He scored 71 runs and drove in 74 slugging 19 doubles, 2 triples and 20 homeruns. He also walked 43 times and struckout 124 times. If you compare his numbers for the two seasons he has spent in the minors to date, you will notice his numbers are pretty consistent. His over all fielding appeared to improve with a .932 fielding percentage in 1093.1 innings. He handled 326 chances registering 91 put outs and 215 assist while committing 20 errors at the hot corner. His range factor was 2.52 for the year.

Excerpts from a March 2017 article by Mark Bowman:

“I looked at his first-half numbers and thought, ‘He’s better than that,'” Jones said of Riley, ranked as the No. 13 prospect in Atlanta’s farm system by MLBPipeline.com.  “Then you saw the second-half numbers and it was obvious something clicked. So when I saw him this year, I asked, ‘What was the deal?’ He said, ‘Breaking balls for strikes and 2-0 changeups.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Welcome to the three-hole, buddy. That’s the way it is. When they come to the ballpark, what they’re saying is we can’t let Austin Riley beat us.'”

Though he is not a part of this year’s big league camp, Riley made his second start of the Grapefruit League season during Thursday’s 8-7 loss to Yankees. He recorded a pair of hits against the Marlins on Saturday, but he has gone hitless in the four at-bats that have followed.

As Jones has spent time with Riley over the past week, the two have traded offseason hunting tales and discussed those mental aspects that could help the 19-year-old Riley develop a better plate approach as he prepares to begin the upcoming season at the Class A Advanced level.

“Austin Riley could be Freddie Freeman’s protection in the lineup within the next two to three years,” Jones said. “That’s what we’re shooting for. So, I’m really trying to talk the mental side of hitting as opposed to the fundamentals because the fundamentals are there.”

Just two years removed from high school, Riley garnered the attention of Bobby Cox during the 2015 Instructional League and then ended up with an .803 OPS despite experiencing a disappointing first half of his first full pro season last year. He also committed 30 errors, but as he moves closer to ending his teenage years, he has started to grow into his big frame and gain the mobility he’ll need to serve as an adequate defender at third base.

“Chipper and I have talked about last year’s first half and how I could have done things better,” Riley said. “It was all about how I could have simplified things. He gave me some feedback and it all made sense about why the first half went bad and the second half went good. During the first half, I was looking offspeed. In the second half, I was hunting the fastball and it went a lot better.”

At age 20, Austin appears to be right on schedule to make his debut in Atlanta by the end of 2019 or 2020. Short term, the organization will want to see how he fares against stiffer competition at Triple A Gwinnett. I am unsure if Riley will begin the 2018 season at double a Mississippi or triple a Gwinnett. A lot will depend on what organizational moves are made in the off season by the new regime of Alex Anthopoulos. Currently, the Braves have three possible choices to play the position in Adonis Garcia, Rio Ruiz and Johan Carmargo. The word is the Braves want an upgrade to play third base and will look outside the organization to bridge until Riley is ready to make his appearance in Atlanta.



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