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2017 IBI Preview Capsule: Austin Jackson

The Indians made a late offseason addition this week signing veteran outfielder Austin Jackson to a minor league deal with hopes he can shore up their center field defense and their outfield depth overall. The IBI's Jake Dungan looks at what exactly he can bring to the Tribe.

The IBI Preview Capsules are back for 2017 as Jake Dungan takes an in-depth look at all the players who could impact the Tribe in the upcoming season from the established stars to the prospects on the verge of being called up to the majors to the non-roster invites to spring training.

Austin Jackson, CF

Throws: Right -- Bats: Right -- Entering his age-30 season -- Contract: Minor league deal ($1.5 million base, plus $4 million in incentives)

2016 In Review: Last year was pretty much a lost season for Austin Jackson after the White Sox signed him to a one-year deal last offseason. Before his season could really get started, however, he suffered a torn meniscus in early June that required surgery and a slow recovery kept him on the shelf for the remainder of the campaign. Up until that point, the 29-year-old had batted .254 with no homers and 18 RBI's in 54 games. Jackson broke into the majors in 2010 with Detroit and finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote behind Neftali Feliz. After four more seasons in Detroit, the Texas native was shipped off to Seattle as part of the David Price blockbuster trade. Over the next three seasons, Jackson would play with three different teams, including both Chicago clubs reaping mixed results at the plate. The Indians had reportedly shown interest in Jackson last offseason prior to the White Sox signing him. Now a year later, they get their man on only a minor league deal to potentially bolster center field as well as provide insurance for Michael Brantley, whose status for the upcoming season is still unknown.

Versus Right-handers: Most of the initial reactions to the Jackson signing include the fact that he provides a right-handed platoon counterpart to the left-handed Tyler Naquin in center field. Looking at his career splits, however, his career numbers are actually better against right-handed pitching as he has slashed .278/.332/.401 against them versus a .257/.332/.384 career line against southpaws. Not a massive discrepancy, as evidenced by the mere 18-point difference in his OPS splits, but it's enough evidence to show that while the idea of a platoon would be nice, it's not a perfect fit for Jackson. Last season, that gap was much wider, by over 100 points in each category to be exact as the veteran center fielder had significantly more success against right-handers at .285/.346/.394, which would make him a bigger mismatch for a platoon with Naquin if that should continue.

Versus Left-handers: Although he only played in 54 games, 2016 was far and away Jackson's worst performance against left-handed pitching for his career as his average dipped below the Mendoza Line for the first time ever at .159 while his OBP and slugging percentage sat at .229 and .182, respectively. Of course, with only the first two months of last season having been completed before his injury, there's no way of knowing for sure whether those splits would have evened out more over the remainder of the campaign. Plus, also consider that in the two years prior, Jackson had actually been more productive against southpaws than right-handers compiling an OPS of .735 in 2014 and .770 in 2015. Maybe it was the start of a new trend for him that was derailed before it could continue last season, so we shall see what he can do once healthy again over a full season.

Defense: When Jackson first came up with the Tigers, he was quick to not only make an impact with his bat, but also with his glove as within his first two seasons, he had shown himself to be one of the top defensive center fielders in the game logging double digit defensive runs saved, including 26 in 2011 and impressive UZR numbers. Looking at his metrics since then, however, there's a trend of possible decline going down steadily from six DRS and a 3.5 UZR in 2012 to -5 DRS and a -4.6 UZR last season. He did see a bit of a spike in 2015 between the Mariners and Cubs at -1 DRS and a 7.5 UZR. Again, though, 465 innings isn't a lot, so seeing him again over a full season in 2017 should also provide a better picture of whether his fielding skills in center field really are in decline. Then again, the Indians were in the bottom tier in DRS (-21) and UZR (-4.9) as far as center field defense last year, so even a declining Austin Jackson would be an improvement.

Fantasy Impact: While the meniscus tear and surgery shouldn't be a factor for Jackson heading into the new season, it's still hard to project someone who missed two-thirds of the previous campaign. Fangraphs has the former eighth round pick playing somewhere between 40 and 50 games in 2017 with a 2-3 home runs and around 20 RBI's to go with a .257/.315/.371 slash line. The major intrigue with signing Jackson to a minor league deal a year removed from a significant injury is obviously trying to catch that lightning in a bottle, which the Tribe has done successfully in the past with the likes of Scott Kazmir, Ryan Raburn and Dan Otero. At the very least, Jackson offers a more reliable starting option in center field with a longer track record of success at the plate.

Summary: This situation can be highly beneficial to both Jackson and the Indians as he is looking to reestablish his value after an injury-shortened 2016 and the Tribe was in need of someone to temporarily fill a role in an area of weakness on the roster, which is currently in center field. With top outfield prospects Bradley Zimmer and Greg Allen fast approaching big league call-up status, the long term future of the center field position in Cleveland could resolve itself as soon as next year. In the meantime, the Indians now have a more comfortable amount of options to piece together a serviceable outfield for what hopes to be another special summer in Cleveland.

Check out our other 2017 Preview Capsules here:

Jake Dungan is the Managing Editor for IBI and a podcast host on the Smoke Signals Network. Email him at jdungan@indiansbaseballinsider.com or follow him on Twitter @JakeDBaseball.


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