Minor League Insider: Rangers see big upside for pitcher drafted 45th overall

Posted Saturday, May. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information Elsewhere on the farm Triple A Round Rock: Right-hander Josh Lindblom continues to impress in the rotation. He threw eight scoreless innings, scattering two hits with two walks and five strikeouts, in his last start on Wednesday against Iowa.… Left-hander Ryan Feierabend, promoted from Double A Frisco earlier in the week, allowed three runs on seven hits over five innings in his Express debut Friday night. Double A Frisco: Right-hander Cody Buckel was moved to the bullpen and the early indications are there won’t be a quick fix to his troubles. He allowed three runs on one hit and three walks over one-third of an inning in his relief debut Wednesday.… Second baseman Guilder Rodriguez was leading the team with a .314 average going into Saturday’s game. High A Myrtle Beach: Second baseman Rougned Odor had a seven-game hitting streak going into Saturday, and was batting .278 with .823 OPS (on-base plus slugging). … Former first-round pick Jake Skole is struggling. The 21-year-old outfielder was batting .152 with 25 strikeouts over his first 79 at-bats going into Saturday’s game. Low A Hickory: Left-hander Sam Stafford, a University of Texas product, has a 6.00 ERA through his first four starts and is on the disabled list with forearm stiffness. He is expected to be activated and start next week.

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If you ask anybody within the Texas Rangers’ organization about an up-and-coming pitcher to watch, Luke Jackson is almost certainly a name that will be mentioned.

Jackson is a 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander who sits in the low-to-mid 90-mph range and has touched 97 mph with his fastball. He has good life on the fastball and complements it with a curveball and changeup.

It’s an impressive repertoire for a guy who has a self-taught delivery and didn’t start pitching until his sophomore year at Calvary Christian Academy in Florida.

Jackson only threw eight innings his sophomore season, and then became the primary starter his junior year when the high school ace went down with an injury. By his senior season, Jackson had established himself as the ace. He went 8-0 with a 0.90 ERA with 87 strikeouts his senior season.

Jackson chuckled when asked if he could be in professional baseball as a position player.

“No, I was a shortstop but wasn’t very good,” Jackson said. “I just wanted to play the field so I could hit. But I love pitching and have fallen in love with the routine of it.”

Jackson thought he had more potential as a soccer player growing up, believing he would play at a small Division I school or possibly D-II. Or maybe even pursue football in college, as he was the quarterback and kicker of his high school team.

But he gained an understanding of pitching relatively quickly and caught the eye of several scouts. The Rangers, in particular, have become fond of taking high-ceiling players and certainly followed that mindset when they used the 45th overall pick in the 2010 draft to take Jackson.

The Rangers were impressed by the athleticism Jackson had shown, and it didn’t hurt that both of his parents were college athletes. His dad, Edward, played football at Florida State, while his mom, Kim, ran track at Louisville.

“The makeup, the family history, the kid, the stuff, the projection, the upside, we liked everything about him,” said Kip Fagg, the Rangers’ director of amateur scouting. “I couldn’t say there was one thing over the other that stood out.”

Now, the 21-year-old Jackson is in the developmental stages of his professional career. He went 5-6 with a 5.64 ERA over 19 starts at Low A Hickory in 2011, and improved last season by combining to go 10-7 with a 4.65 ERA over 26 starts at Hickory and High A Myrtle Beach.

“I had some ups and downs, but the last month went real well,” said Jackson, who had a 2.41 ERA over his final seven starts last year.

“I kind of just took that and put it into this year. I’m just pitching and trying to get outs.”

Jackson is off to his best start this season. He is 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA with 30 strikeouts over 26 1/3 innings in his first six starts at Myrtle Beach.

While the results have been positive, the Rangers would like to see Jackson use his secondary pitches a little more. As of now, he is mostly overpowering the Class A batters with his fastball.

Jackson could also benefit by trying to pitch to contact earlier in at-bats rather than going for the strikeout. But nobody is complaining too much about where he is in his third professional season.

“We’re very pleased with his progression,” said Danny Clark, the Rangers’ minor-league pitching coordinator. “He’s a great athlete and he’s got a great ceiling, a top-of-the-order type potential. He just has a really good feel for what he’s doing out there and he’s a driven young man.

“He has a chance to be great.”

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @drewdavison

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