Jackson Takes the Lead In Tucson

He was ranked the #2 propect in the Diamondbacks organization by FutureBacks.com. He plays along side Carlos Quentin, Sergio Santos, and Josh Kroeger. Still, Conor Jackson is having the best 2005 of any of those guys in Triple-A Tucson, so FutureBacks.com Managing Editor James Renwick talked a little with Conor Jackson about what the next step is, and how quickly he is going to get there.

How good has Conor Jackson been playing?  He's riding a four game hit streak, and his batting average has <i>fallen</i> in each game.

That's right, in Jackson's last four games he's 5 for 15, and his average is dropping.  But that's what happens when you're hitting in the .370s.

"It's all about preparation.  If you work hard, and put yourself in good positions, good things happen," Jackson said Monday, "Just knowing that you can go out and compete with these guys, not being intimidated, and reminding yourself it's the same game you've been playing since you were five."

For Jackson that game has been baseball.  One of two first round picks of the Diamondbacks in the 2003 draft (19th overall), Jackson has exceeded expectations at every level, and is poised to exceed expectations on the next level soon.

He is what scouts refer to as a ‘Professional Hitter.'  He simply puts up numbers.  Numbers so good he doesn't tend to stay in one place too long.  After the draft he was immediately move to the Short Season Rookie Level Northwest League and the D'Backs affiliate there, the Yakima Bears.  It was certainly a transition time for Jackson, in addition to switching from aluminum to wood bats and the two game a week college schedule to the everyday pro circuit, Jackson also moved from third base, where he played at the University of California at Berkley, to the outfield.  In 68 games, split between left field and Designated Hitter, Jackson hit .319 with six homers, 35 doubles, and 60 RBI.  And so it was time to say goodbye to Yakima.

He skipped Lo-A South Bend and started the 2004 campaign in Hi-A Lancaster, still playing left.  His average went up to .345, some of those doubles became home runs (he cracked 11), and the RBI still came in bunches.  He played 67 games in Lancaster, roughly half a season, and the Diamondbacks had seen enough.  So it was goodbye Lancaster.

On to Double-A El Paso, where Jackson would again show he could hit in any weather conditions, and also that he could hit no matter what position he played in the field.  Jackson certainly logged the most time in left, but also returned to third base occasionally, and toward the end of the 2004 season, when the Diamondbacks were promoting players to the big league club on a seemingly daily basis, Jackson found himself playing right field from time to time as well. 

After the 2004 season ended Jackson was given an invitation to represent the Diamondbacks in the Arizona Fall League.  The league, which brings the best players from each organization together for six weeks of intensive training and highly competitive games, was a showcase for Jackson, who crushed pitchers and seemed to finally get his bearings in left field, making significant progress defensively.

Which is why it came as something of a surprise when the Diamondbacks gave him a present right around Christmas.  It was a first baseman's glove.

"It's going pretty well at first," Jackson says from Tucson, where he has been assigned to the Triple-A Sidewinders.  "I get more comfortable over there as the games go by.  I've been moving back and forth between first and left, but I didn't take fly balls all spring, so I have to admit, I wasn't really prepared the first time I went out to the outfield this year."

That moving around started when Jose Cruz Jr. went down with a back injury and the Sidewinders everyday left fielder, Scott Hairston, was promoted to take Cruz's place on the big league roster.

"I've been working really hard on my defense at first," Jackson says, "but I worked really hard in left too.  They play me where they want to play me, and I'm going to play hard wherever they put me.  Even if I had a preference I'm not going to say it.  I was surprised when they moved me again, because I thought toward the end of the AFL I was really starting to get comfortable in left."

Any confusion defensively hasn't hurt Jackson in the least at the plate.  After going one for three with two walks Tuesday night (as the first baseman), Jackson's strikeout to walk ratio sits at a very solid 1:4 as both a first baseman and a left fielder, and there is only a nine point difference in his average. 

"The coaches are looking at me at these different positions, and I'm hitting the ball well, but I can't control anything except what I do on the field.  I work hard, and when there is a spot for me, I'll be ready."

Given his tendency to move through levels in about half a season, don't be surprised if he's on to Phoenix, and the big league club, sooner than later.

Jackson has even started talking like a clubhouse leader, and on a team that has four of the Top Five Diamondbacks prospects on it, that's a tall order.  Jackson has a natural understanding of how to handle his teammates.  Sergio Santos is a fellow Top Fiver, but has gotten off to a miserable start in 2005, hitting just .172 through Tuesday after having offseason surgery on his shoulder, but Jackson has no worries.

"Sergio just needs to take pressure off himself.  I've talked to him, and reminded him that it's so early it's not even funny.  We're not even a third of the way through the season, and he's going to get 400 more at bats, so there's no need to press.  Yeah, he's having a tough time right now, but it's not out of the reach for him to get to .300 by the end of the season, and that's where everybody expects him to be.  This is just not a situation where he needs to get down on himself." 

Jackson goes a step farther with Santos.

"He's got the tools.  I really think he has more pop than me or Carlos Quentin.  As long as he can trust that, he'll be fine." 

If there's one thing you can be sure Conor Jackson knows about, it's hitting, so it seems likely that his prognostications about Santos will come true. 

On a team full of rising stars Jackson has clearly stood out as one of the brightest, his total numbers in 2005 are staggering.  In 31 games he's hitting .368, and his 30 RBI are tied for third in all of the minors.  He has drawn 23 walks and stuck out only six times.  He has 12 doubles, tied for the fourth best total in all of minor league baseball, and three home runs, and he collected the sixth triple of his career last month, though that's not his favorite subject.

"The triple?  Oh, it was horrible, I needed oxygen after that, I was dying."

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