"Edwin Jackson was one of the top prospects in baseball a few years back. This is a great chance to see if he can recapture that status."
At first glance, I don't buy that argument. For some perspective on the state of affairs when his prospect status was at its pinnacle:
- The Tigers were just coming off of a 119 loss season.
- Dontrelle Willis had just gone 14-6 in his rookie season, Miguel Cabrera had just emerged as the starting left fielder, and Pudge Rodriguez was an apparent leader. These three helped lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series title.
- This was 163 home runs ago for Cabrera and 205 home runs ago for Albert Pujols.
- Rick Porcello was starting his freshman year... of High School. Justin Verlander had just started his Junior year of College.
- George W. Bush's approval rating was north of 50%.
Edwin Jackson was a sixth round pick by the Dodgers in 2001, straight out of high school. After sitting the rest of the 2001 season out, Jackson was assigned to South Georgia of the South Atlantic League (Tigers' fans, this is the equivalent of West Michigan in the Midwest League) where he and Francisco Cruceta -- yes, that Francisco Cruceta -- were the anchors of their '02 starting rotation. Baseball America ranked him the 99th best prospect in baseball after that season, placing him square between Seth McClung and Nic Jackson.
It was the 2003 season when Jackson really started to make waves. Skipping high-A, he went to AA and didn't miss a beat, dominating the league and moving to the top of most people's prospect lists. There were some warning signs, however, in this AA domination. In 148 innings, Jackson did manage to walk 53 guys and post an ERA of 3.71. While those aren't bad numbers and his 157 strikeouts were impressive, they aren't the numbers of the top pitching prospect in baseball, especially at a pitcher's park like Jacksonville. This was a very impressive performance for a 19 year-old pitcher in AA. While the season in AA gained him attention, it was the September cup of Coffee that vaulted Jackson into the limelight. Specifically, it was his victorious duel with Randy Johnson on his Major League debut that is still remembered to this day by those lamenting what could have been. I will be quick to point out this game to those who want to pin their hopes on one cherry picked game in a player's past. While the season was an extreme success for Edwin Jackson, one has to look back with some hesitation. The slightly above average ERA and walk rate may suggest that he wasn't dominant in AA, and the MLB experience was just 20 innnings... not nearly enough to draw a meaningful sample. (You could make the same points about Matt Joyce, and it would be fair.)
After 2003, Baseball America ranked Edwin Jackson as the #4 player in baseball behind Joe Mauer, B.J. Upton, and Delmon Young and just ahead of Rickie Weeks, Alexis Rios, Kaz Matsui, Greg Miller, Grady Sizemore, and Prince Fielder. I'll get back to this list in a moment, because I want to go over the past five years of Edwin Jackson's career.
As great as his '03 season was, Jackson's '04 was as much of a disaster. Penciled into the starting rotation in the spring, Jackson proceeded to blow up in the spring and lose his spot. In AAA-Las Vegas, a tremendous hitter's environment, he was awful, posting an ERA of 5.84 and walking 55 guys in 91 innings. Nonetheless, injuries to the Dodgers' starting staff pushed Jackson into a spot starter's role in the summer. Upon filling in for Odalis Perez in July, he had to leave a game in the second inning with an elbow injury, yet started again five days later. No word on if Kevin Rand was consulted for this decision. It should come as no surprise that Jackson spent some time in July on the disabled list after this before heading back to Las Vegas for further struggles before a pretty brutal cup of coffee in September with the Dodgers. It was a year to forget for Edwin Jackson.
It was more of the same in 2005 for this enigma. Despite constant praise from his Major League manager Jim Tracy, Jackson just couldn't put it together in the minors, warranting a June demotion from Las Vegas back to AA Jacksonville, where he recovered somewhat. Unfortunately, it was more of the same in the late season call-up. Edwin Jackson was quickly becoming a flop.
With his biggest supporter, Jim Tracy, out of a job, the Dodgers shipped Edwin Jackson to Tampa Bay in a deal for relievers Danys Baez and Lance Carter. Clearly his stock had fallen hard, and very few players were in need of a change of scenery than Jackson. However, the 2006 season wasn't much different for Jackson. He struggled in AAA Durham before a complete lack of Tampa Bay pitching forced him into being completely overmatched to the tune of a 5.45 ERA in relief.
Jackson has been in the Majors for good for the past two years, but it was only because he was out of options and the Rays felt they would lose him on waivers. They simply didn't have any other pitchers to force him off the staff, either. This past year, Jackson stayed on as the Rays' fifth starter, but was clearly a notch below everybody else on the staff, only appearing in three games during the postseason, each in a mop up role. Jackson's improvement in his ERA and win totals were largely the results of improvements around him. The Rays' defense was upgraded from one of the league's worst to the league's best, and they were simply keeping runs off the scoreboard. While it appears that Jackson may have found himself, it is likely that he is the same middling pitcher that has frustrated the Rays, Devil Rays, and Dodgers for the past five years.
This post is much longer than I anticipated when I started writing, so I will save the rest for another post. The one question I want to address is whether or not we can expect a resurgance out of Edwin Jackson because of his former prospect status. We'll take a look at that later in the week.