Jackson's hot bat in Memphis forces Cards to take notice
ST. LOUIS -- Ryan Jackson hadn't heard.
The praise, bestowed by St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak before a Cardinals game last week, took its sweet time getting down to Memphis.
Mozeliak had been sitting in the Cardinals' dugout when the subject turned to Jackson. The utility infielder currently playing for the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate in Memphis has been great at the plate this season, so much so that he's forcing himself into the Redbirds' lineup -- as well as back onto the Cardinals' radar.
"He's having just an outstanding offensive year," Mozeliak said at the time. "I think, in Jackson's case, playing him everywhere right now is most important. His value continues to grow as he continues to hit. It's good to see."
That quote didn't hit Jackson's ears until he chatted with me Tuesday afternoon.
"That's great news," he said.
Missed opportunities at the plate hurt Jackson's chances of sticking during previous stints with the Cardinals. He played 13 games in 2012 and two more early this season, acquiring just two hits in 20 at-bats during that time. But since his most recent demotion, which came when David Freese came off the disabled list in April, he has made strides.
Jackson's .320 batting average is currently the highest of any active Memphis player. He has a .395 on-base percentage, a .434 slugging percentage and an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .828. In 256 at-bats, he has three home runs and 24 RBIs.
"Working with [Cardinals hitting coach] John Mabry, and even [former Cardinals hitting coach] Mark McGwire when I was up last year, there were some things that really triggered in my mind," Jackson said. "It's really helped out. A lot of it is just the mental aspect, in terms of having a real solid approach at the plate and having a feel for what the pitcher is going to try to do to you to get you out."
Jackson is comfortable playing shortstop, second base and third base, and he has bounced around this year in Memphis. While that makes him more marketable, his biggest ally right now is his bat. He is competing against prized prospect Kolten Wong, a middle infielder and Jackson's Memphis teammate.
Jackson's and Wong's numbers are actually pretty similar.
Wong's batting average is one tick lower (.319), and his on-base percentage is not as high (.368). But the 22-year-old beats Jackson in slugging percentage (.471) and OPS (.839). In 20 more at-bats than Jackson, Wong has homered five times and totaled 25 RBIs. Jackson strikes out more often (52 times compared to Wong's 39), but also draws more walks (34 compared to Wong's 22).
Right now, Jackson's only option is to keep hitting. The Cardinals' infield isn't in need of immediate attention. But Jackson has earned the right to be a potential piece in the puzzle if a shift has to occur at some point this season.
"He's reestablished himself in the organization," Mozeliak said.
That's good news for Jackson, whether he hears it or not.
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