The primary pet peeve among scouts is the tendency of some D-I programs to take batting practice with numberless jerseys, making identifying players frustratingly difficult. (Editor's note: In fact, scouting directors brought this up to college coaches at their annual Winter Meetings get-together, and the college coaches remain somewhat stubborn on the matter.)
The University of California Golden Bears are an offender on this point. However, no one has a problem in picking out Brett Jackson, Cal's 6-foot-2, 200-pound, lefthanded-hitting, righty-throwing center fielder.
Jackson sticks out with his high socks and distinct inward-turning, hand-pumping, leg-kicking, load-up and let-it-fly swing. Solidly built with a muscular and athletic frame, Jackson also possesses a distinct swagger on the field.
In Cal's first two games this past weekend at Long Beach State, Jackson dominated. He collected seven hits in 11 at bats, scored three runs, drove in two and stole a base. Every base hit was a line-drive rocket. Despite a 1-for-6 cool-off on Sunday, Jackson exited Blair Field hitting a comfy .429, with a .500 OBP and slugging .600 after eight games. The Bears swept the series.
Jackson's primary tool is his speed, which he uses to patrol large swaths of outfield territory as well as bedevil opponents on the bases. A throwback to hyper-aggressive baserunners like Kirk Gibson, Jackson may need to use a Kevlar vest to protect himself from injury due to so many head first slides. In Friday's game, Jackson tagged up and advanced from second to third on a line drive to medium-deep left field.
The 2009 draft eligible D-I class offers few potential fivetool players. Jackson may be the primary candidate among outfielders, as some have compared him physically to J.D. Drew. He is an excellent defensive outfielder, has terrific speed, and his line-drive bat—which currently shows gap-to-gap power—figures to develop home run power with time and experience.
At this stage, the only concern with Jackson is his throwing arm. His tosses are erratic and inconsistent, with some showing flat trajectory and a single quick hop into the target; others are looping throws or multi-hop grasscutters. Proper technique and extra work should bring Jackson's arm up to major league average.
Blake Smith, Cal's 6-foot-2, 220-pound two-way player, did not enjoy as productive a weekend as did Jackson. An outfielder and pitcher, Smith was dreadful in his Saturday start, lasting only 2 1/3 innings while surrendering four hits, four runs and five walks. Smith struggled from the beginning, battling poor command. Patient Dirtbag hitters got ahead in the count and then nailed Smith's fastball, which has plus velocity but is dead straight to his glove side.
Resembling Mike Marshall a bit on the mound, Smith struck out three in his abbreviated stint and did flash interesting raw stuff. His 92-94 mph fastball exhibits excellent arm-side movement, in contrast to his glove-side four-seamer. Smith's 81-82 mph change shows both arm-side movement and "drop dead" action. From behind home plate, his change acts exactly like an old-fashioned palm ball, which is now nearly as extinct as the passenger pigeon.
Cal's pitching staff is not overly strong, but the Bears field one of the finest crop of position players in the nation. Speedy freshman Marcus Semien and sophomore infielder Brian Guinn are already contributing significantly, as is freshman outfielder Danny Oh, a Washington prep product who has an outstanding lefthanded swing. No one could hope to adequately replace David Cooper at first base, but sophomore Mark Canha showed promising power on Friday with a towering fly ball home run.
Veterans Michael Brady and Dylan Tonneson anchor third base and catcher, respectively, and second baseman Jeff Kobernus has taken 2008 Mets draftee Josh Satin's spot. Kobernus is a fine all-around player, with a quick bat, good speed, quality defensive skills and a tall, lanky and athletic fame that can comfortably fit into other defensive spots on the diamond, if need be.
There is no doubt, however, as to who Cal's leader is. Many years ago, the head coach of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks was asked what role star forward Marques Johnson played on the team. The coach's response could now be applied to Brett Jackson: "He has no role. He does everything."