Jackson’s inclusion was intriguing. Atlanta decided to retain him simply for depth purposes, but his long-term outlook isn’t as surefire as it was a year ago.
The Mariners drafted Jackson sixth overall out of San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo High in 2014. He was the top prep bat in his class, but he underwhelmed in three seasons with Seattle while playing right field.
Jackson played catcher as an amateur and moved back behind the plate when the Braves traded for him after the 2016 season. They hoped he would combine power with capable defense. Jackson tried to model himself after Ivan Rodriguez.
“He played hard, had fun all the time, swung the bat well,” Jackson said, “and just to watch him play, how he went about himself . . . And that’s not even talking about how good he was defensively as a catcher.”
Jackson ranked as the No. 20 prospect in the game entering 2015 but quickly played his way out of the Top 100 Prospects. When the Mariners traded him, he brought back only minor league righthanders Rob Whalen and Max Povse.
The Braves’ buy-low bid quickly paid dividends. Jackson hit .267/.328/.480 with 19 home runs in 2017 at high Class A Florida and Double-A Mississippi, earning organizational praise that fashioned beliefs he could be a pillar. Jackson attributed some of that success to the Braves switching him back to catcher, where he was quickly re-acclimated.
“It’s not necessarily the physical aspect of catching that takes adjustment, it’s more learning how to deal with pitchers, reading the game in different situations,” he said. “Physically, flexibility, stuff like that, but that comes naturally over time.
“The biggest parts were reading the pitchers, learning how to handle different situations in the game, lots of mental and strategical things that come along with the game of baseball.”
Perception has since changed. Jackson’s development stagnated as defensive concerns persisted. In 2018 he hit .201/.286/.360 with eight homers and a 36 percent strikeout rate at Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett, while tacking on 12 errors and 12 passed balls.
Jackson is now considered more of a fringe prospect, with 2019 integral for his place with the Braves.
The Braves’ acquisition of Josh Donaldson won’t cloud top third baseman Austin Riley’s future, but it could impact his present. He will try left field during spring training, according to general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
Riley, who missed time with a knee injury that might have cost him a callup, hit .282 with an .810 OPS over 75 games at Triple-A. The Braves were in the thick of a division race in September, prompting them not to call up their prized slugger.
“The fact he turned 21 at the start of the season, the plus defense, the makeup I heard before I got here was off the charts,” Anthopoulos said. “It just continued. We’re very, very high on him and very excited about him. He’ll develop mentally, we’ll continue to get him at-bats and see where it goes.”