Braves add high-upside bat in former first-round pick Alex Jackson
Trading from a position of strength to acquire another high-upside bat, the Atlanta Braves traded for Mariners outfield prospect Alex Jackson on Monday night. Atlanta sent pitching prospects Max Povse and Rob Whalen to Seattle in return for Jackson, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Jackson, who hit 11 home runs with a .332 on-base percentage last season for High-A Clinton, rated as the Mariners’ sixth-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. The 2014 Baseball America High School Player of the Year moved from catcher to the outfield immediately upon entering Seattle's farm system, though he could be given another look behind the plate for Atlanta. (He enters the Braves' system as the No. 13 prospect, sandwiched between Kyle Muller and Austin Riley.)
A 6-foot-2, 215-pound power bat, Jackson becomes the third first-round pick from the 2014 draft class the Braves front office has traded for since hitting the reset button, joining highly rated pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Touki Toussaint.
Since the franchise's rebuild began, general manager John Coppolella and president of baseball operations John Hart have acquired 11 former first-round picks from the six classes from 2010 to 2015.
Jackson's progress in the Mariners system was slower than expected, but Kiley McDaniel, who now works in the Braves front office, wrote back in 2015 that “Jackson is about as elite of a prep bat as we’ve seen in years.” Upside remains for the powerful right-handed bat, but Atlanta's minor-league staff will be charged with jumpstarting Jackson's development. Still, it makes plenty of sense for an organization searching for impact bats to take a chance on a 20-year-old considered one of the top prep bats of the decade just 30 months ago. More from MLB Pipeline:
Povse and Whalen are far from throwaway prospects, but in the Braves' farm system, where eight of their top 12 prospects are big-time arms, Atlanta could afford to deal from an area of depth. Povse was a former third-round pick while Whalen was acquired in the franchise's 2015 trade of Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson that also netted John Gant. Whalen started five games for the Braves' parent club last season, posting a 6.57 ERA with 25 strikeouts and 24 2/3 innings pitched.
Both right-handers were fringe top-20 prospects in Atlanta's system.
In terms of pure value, though, the Braves essentially flipped two MLB rentals (Uribe and Johnson) and a third-round pick for a top-10 pick and a controllable MLB-quality arm (Gant).
Once Ozzie Albies joins Dansby Swanson at the major-league level at some point in 2016, Jackson projects as one of the organization's top position prospects alongside Kevin Maitan, Travis Demeritte, Austin Riley, Ronald Acuna and reigning Minor League Player of the Year Dustin Peterson.
The trade also frees up a 40-man roster spot for Atlanta to presumably add super-utility free agent Sean Rodriguez.
“Jackson packages bat speed with enormous strength to generate plus power from the right side of the plate. Though he projects to hit for average once fully developed, Jackson's aggressive approach and lack of selectiveness have produced a disconcerting strikeout rate early in his career career. … After left shoulder and left hand injuries limited him to only 76 games in 2015, Jackson has remained healthy in 2016 and showed more of the offensive upside that made him a no-doubt first-rounder two years ago, especially after he toned down the big leg kick in his swing.”