Minor League Insider: Rangers’ top pitching prospect one step away

06/28/2014 6:06 PM

06/28/2014 9:04 PM

Sure, Luke Jackson pays attention to what’s going on with the big league club and knows opportunities in the Texas Rangers’ rotation could be on the horizon.

Martin Perez underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery and isn’t expected to be ready until the middle of next season. Matt Harrison appears to have a long road ahead of him if he’s to come back from spinal fusion surgery. Colby Lewis and Joe Saunders are on one-year deals and might not be back next year.

That puts Jackson, the organization’s top pitching prospect, seemingly in the mix for a rotation spot next year, and possibly a call-up later this season.

“You hear all the noise and everything going on with the big league team, especially being in Frisco,” Jackson said. “You want it to be you next and you’ve been working your whole life to get to the big leagues. You try to be that guy.”

Jackson, 22, continues to put himself in position to be the next guy. It came as little surprise when the organization promoted him to Triple A Round Rock last week, and he’ll make his debut Sunday in Memphis.

It’ll even be a lesser surprise when the team puts him on the 40-man roster this off-season, if he doesn’t get called up this year, in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

Jackson went 8-2 with 3.02 ERA over 15 starts at Double A Frisco, and has allowed only five home runs in 831/3 innings. He also has an 83-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season.

Most importantly, though, has been Jackson’s ability to implement his changeup whenever he’s needed it. He came out of Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2010 as a hard-throwing righty with a fastball and hard curve.

But the Rangers essentially forced Jackson to develop a changeup, a much-needed change-of-speed pitch, and it’s paid off.

“No pitcher who throws hard wants to throw a changeup because it feels like you’re throwing a BP fastball,” Jackson said. “But I found out it’s one of the best pitches in the game. It’s become a huge pitch for me, and I’m 100 percent happy they pushed me to throw it.”

General manager Jon Daniels agreed that Jackson’s changeup has helped separate him, saying that having it as a reliable third pitch was critical for Jackson to get the go-ahead for the promotion.

The organization also liked Jackson showing improved command of his fastball and working out a few mechanical kinks in his delivery.

“The development group felt that Luke was ready for [Triple A],” Daniels said. “It’ll be nice to see him challenged at a higher level.”

Jackson is excited about the opportunity and facing players who have been in the big leagues in Triple A. It’s been quite a ride so far; he only started pitching in the ninth grade.

“I feel like I’ve evolved more into a pitcher rather than a thrower,” Jackson said. “Now I’m a step closer to making the dream come true.”

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