Jackson faced adversity at the beginning of his Double-A career. He lost his first three outings and had a 9.45 ERA.
"I was dealing with personal issues. Then I worried about if I was going to get sent down after my bad outings," Jackson said of his slow start. "I wasn't making the pitches I needed to make and all the coaches were telling me I have the stuff to make them. I was just in my own head at that time."
In Jackson's last eight starts, he's posted four wins, no losses, and a 1.14 ERA.
"I've just gotten comfortable with myself and started having fun again. That's the main part. I had a lot on my mind. I was just worried about a lot of things. Finally I was able to put things behind me," Jackson says.
Jackson gets much of his motivation to enjoy the game from a source beyond baseball. His sister, Jasmine, was born with Down Syndrome 18 years ago and has been an inspiration throughout his career.
"I just look at her and everything she does, she's just so happy with doing," Jackson said.
"You never know what's going to happen so I try to take that approach to just have fun and enjoy what I'm doing because not a lot of people get to do this. When I see her enjoying everything she does, it makes me want to enjoy everything I'm doing, too."
"The way I've grown up and the way I've handled things has made me able to say, ‘this is a tough situation but I know I can get through it, and even still if I do give up a run or two, I can still have fun with it. I can still make the pitch and still enjoy doing what I'm doing regardless,'" Jackson says.
While his relationship with Jasmine inspires him to view baseball lightheartedly, he draws other inspiration from things that have happened within the sport.
The Cubs selected Jackson out of Furman University and made him the 281st overall pick, and it also made him feel slighted by other teams.
"I feel like the teams did what they thought was right. I do have a little chip on my shoulder about that. Initially I heard that I was going to go higher than the ninth round and then I kept falling and falling. I want to go out there and show them that they should have picked me," Jackson said.
"I think it helps the people that do get drafted in the later rounds to make that push and make it to the big leagues and have an impact."
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what happened on draft day, but Jackson has some ideas as to why he fell to the ninth round.
"I've heard different stories," said Jackson. "I don't think it was really signability, but what I've heard was people didn't know if I was going to be a starter or a reliever. They say it was also my outing I had when all the scouts were there. It was a cold day, it was rainy and the umpire had a tiny-tiny strike zone so I struggled a little bit.
"But like I told everybody else, the numbers I put up my junior year in college, hitting and pitching, they don't lie. I was in the national leaders in every pitching category."
Regardless of his draft spot, Jackson is now near the top of many Southern League pitching categories. His 59 strikeouts rank seventh in the league despite missing some time with a small fracture in his right fibula.
"I don't see myself as too much of a strikeout pitcher. I see myself more as someone who goes out there and gets people out. I have stuff where people miss balls and that's definitely a benefit, but other than that I go out there and just try to be an aggressive pitcher," Jackson said of his pitching style.
Smokies pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn sees more in Jackson's game than just a good fastball.
"He's a really good athlete. He can help himself out on the mound fielding his position. He can really swing the bat as well. Because he's a good athlete, it allows him to have a good delivery. He's able to command the baseball really well because of that. There are a lot of things that work in his favor," Lewallyn said.
Jackson has high aspirations for his pro career, and with the way he's been pitching, they seem realistic -- perhaps in the near future.
"Ultimately I'd like to skip Triple-A and join the big league club. That is going to take a lot of work and a lot of luck, but if I continue to pitch well, I don't know what the cards hold. Maybe if I keep this streak up and keep pitching well, I'll get that call up," Jackson says.
Jackson Rolling Over Competition
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