SDI Prospect Rankings: #9 Luke Jackson

Meet Luke Jackson: 23 year old right handed pitcher from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Jackson was drafted by the Rangers 45th overall in 2010, but didn’t pitch for the organization until 2011. Most people’s first impression of Luke is a laid back dude with long hair and a go with the flow mentality. However, Mr. Jackson possesses deception in his pitching repertoire as well as his personality. The two things he loves most outside of baseball are Chipotle and “exploring this vast beautiful world.” This dude is smart as a whip and as fiery a competitor as there is in the Ranger system. He stands in at around 6’2” using that tall, sturdy frame to sit mid 90s with his fastball. Electric is the best word to describe this kid’s heater. It has good late life that makes it appear faster than the 93-95 it sits, and the 97 it touches. His other weapons include a power curveball, sneaky slider, and a changeup with increased usage.
In 2011 Luke started his professional career in full season ball as a 19 year old. During the next three seasons, Jackson spent 32 starts at both Hickory and Myrtle Beach. At each level, Jackson’s ERA dropped noticeably. However, his most impressive season didn’t come until 2013. In 19 Myrtle Beach starts, Jackson compiled a solid 2.41 ERA in 101 innings. His 9.3 K/9 paired with a 1.25 WHIP, earned him a promotion to AA Frisco where he took his game up a notch. Luke only pitched in six Frisco games, four starts, but he destroyed the Texas league in those 27 innings. He allowed 2 earned runs, 13 hits, and struck out 30 of the 103 batters he faced. After this dominant close to the season, Jackson earned the Nolan Ryan Minor League pitcher of the year award for the Rangers organization. Going into 2014 Jackson was the clear cut top pitching prospect in the Ranger farm system.

Frisco remained a successful place for Mr. Jackson into the 2014 season. That jumpin’ fastball continued to be Luke’s primary weapon for accumulating strikes and racking up K’s with his high heat. Because Luke wasn’t focusing as much on his secondary pitches, Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews had him incorporate his changeup more. There were difficulties at first, but once he got a knack for it, good things followed. When I say good things, I mean strikeouts and a promotion southbound on 35 to Round Rock.

If baseball were like sandwiches, Luke’s 2014 Frisco stint would be an A1 thick and hearty burger from Whataburger. It is artwork, it smells delicious and every time I see/consume it, I feel glee. In that regard. Luke’s 2014 Round Rock stint would be a chicken salad sandwich because I can’t stand chicken salad. The texture, the smell, and the essence of the stuff just causes me distress even being around it (sorry dad).

This accurately describes how I felt watching Jackson in Round Rock last year. I’m not trying to say I think Jackson is a bad pitcher or that he won’t bounce back, it’s actually the opposite. Watching him last year after his July promotion upset me because I just didn’t understand what I saw. Was this the same guy I saw dominate 110 innings of Texas League batters? The most maddening thing about these starts is that he would start off so strong. Many times Jackson would rack up 5 or 6 punch outs in the first few innings and make hitters look silly like in Frisco. According to most minor league savants, the most difficult jump in the minors is between high A to AA. Jumping from AA to AAA is also a huge step up in competition. Very few AA guys have ever sniffed the majors, but in AAA there are many players that have faced major league competition.

Luke Jackson has never faced major league hitters in a game, so he was accustomed to facing batters much more likely to take his bait. In 10 starts, 40 innings, Jackson had a 10.35 ERA, a 2.1 WHIP, and gave up nine bombs. His walks/9 more than doubled from 2.6 to 6.3. He did increase his strikeout rate from 9.0 per 9 innings to 9.7 per 9 innings. During this tough stint, I noticed one great thing: no matter how badly he was getting hit, Luke never lost his demeanor on the mound. Many guys in slumps show it clearly in their body language. No matter the score Luke held his head high and competed the entire time he toed that rubber.

That demeanor is a solid indicator for the makeup that propels prospects into big leaguers. During his four seasons Jackson never endured a prolonged rough patch before, so it will be interesting to see how he rebounds from his struggles. I’d put money on him coming back as strong as ever. A good head on your shoulders is the most important tool for a prospect to have. Good control over all four pitches will be key to his success next year.

Next year look for Luke to return to Round Rock at the beginning of 2015 to anchor the starting rotation. If he bounces back, as many expect, he could see Arlington around the midsummer classic. Best case scenario puts LuJax as a no. 2 starter with a deadly fastball, nasty curveball, and a solid changeup. More likely is a mid to back end rotation piece that racks up K’s and doesn’t maintain dominance from start to start. Absolute worst case scenario puts Mr. Jackson as a back end bullpen assassin with killer fastball velo and a wipe out curveball. This scenario only happens if those command issues against AAA hitters persist to the point where he can’t be effective as a starter. Luke has had success at the upper levels, so there is little chance he doesn’t see the big leagues some time relatively soon.

If Jackson absolutely kills it during spring training, it isn’t out of the question to make the rotation out of camp. He has more upside than both Nicks, Martinez and Tepesch. A danger for Luke if he wants to stay a starter would be if he succeeds enough to make The Show, but only as a bullpen arm. If he kills it out of the pen, the front office will likely have some trepidation transitioning him back to starting given the recent failures in that arena. Nobody knows what the future holds, so let’s kick back and watch the exciting show that Luke Jackson’s 2015 season is bound to be.

SDI Prospect Rankings: #10 Ryan Rua

Brice Paterik
Brice is a Junior Journalism major at Texas Tech University in pursuit of a career in Sports Journalism. Growing up in Dallas his whole life, Brice has been a Rangers fan since before he batted against a machine. He's a sucker for a high ceiling athletic prospect without a hit tool or 20 year olds who throw 100 mph and can't hit the zone. He over values every prospect and is a hopeless romantic for baseball. She's broken his heart a million times but he will always come back for more.

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