With Opening Day just a day away, the Braves have made their intentions clear — Alex Jackson will begin the season as the team’s second catcher behind Travis d’Arnaud. The 25-year-old has yet to maintain success in the majors to this point, but the sample sizes have been small, and it appears the Braves finally want to see what they have in him over a longer stretch of games. But what if he continues to be an offensive zero with the bat?
A former farmhand of the Seattle Mariners, Jackson will never hit for average but has tremendous power, which he showcased in AAA. In just 85 games for the Stripers in 2019, he hammered 28 homers and recorded an OPS of .846. If he can replicate that in the majors, he’ll be one of the most productive offensive catchers in baseball; however, it’s fair to have some doubts about whether he can do that.
Jackson also made his MLB debut in 2019, appearing in four games and going 0-13 at the plate with five strikeouts. He did pick up his first major-league hit last season, going 2-7 in five games, but he also struck out four times, and his performance in Spring Training thus far hasn’t exactly inspired confidence. He only has six hits in 31 at-bats, albeit two of them did go for home runs.
The Braves aren’t expecting Jackson to hit for average; he hasn’t done that his entire minor-league career. They hope for someone who can manage the staff and pop a home run every now and again, something Jackson has provided at every level of the minors, which is why FanGraphs currently has him as the 8th best prospect in the Braves system. I think that’s far too high, but it doesn’t change the fact that Jackson possesses a lot of potential, and it’s time to see if it will ever translate to the majors.
I imagine the Braves will give him at least a month or two to get his feet wet before they even think about moving him back to Gwinnett. However, a lot of it will likely depend on how William Contreras adapts to AAA. The Braves’ top catching prospect appears close to being major-league ready, but he has yet to log an at-bat with Gwinnett. If his transition is seamless, Jackson’s leash may be a lot shorter, but there’s a good chance that Contreras is still a year away from being an everyday player in Atlanta.
If Jackson struggles, I think it’s more likely that Alex Anthopoulos attempts to bring in a veteran catcher. Tyler Flowers remains a free-agent, and Jonathan Lucroy was just released. Either of those guys could be serviceable backups behind d’Arnaud. With that being said, the plan coming into the season appears clear. The Braves want to see what they have in the former first-round pick, Jackson. For that to happen, they have to let him stay up for at least a couple of months.
Photo: David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire
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