2004 MLB Draft Preview: Zach Jackson

<center><b>Potential Phillies Pick</b></center><br> Major League team scouts are scrambling to come up with the best talent that they can get for their organization. In a pitching heavy draft, many teams will be able to benefit and fill their needs in the endless arms race. The draft class will include star amateur pitchers such as Jered Weaver, Jay Rainville and Gio Gonzalez to fill these holes. Another young pitcher that will draw tons of attention will be Texas A&M lefthander, Zach Jackson.

Vital Statistics
Name: Zach Jackson
DOB: May 13, 1983
Height: 6' 5"
Weight: 220
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Place of Birth: Latrobe, Pennsylvania
College: Texas A&M University

You heard correctly, Zach Jackson is a young, talented left handed arm. This fact alone will spell a likely first round selection for Jackson out of Texas A&M in his junior year. Jackson was drafted once before straight out of high school in the 50th round by the Cincinnati Reds but opted to go for a college career at The University of Louisville. After an outstanding and dominating high school career, Jackson struggled slightly and in his sophomore year he went 7-6 with a 4.31 ERA in 112.2 innings pitched. However, he did end up compiling the third best record in school history in his two year stay there. Jackson finished his Louisville career with a 17-9 record overall. The young lefthander would then move on to Texas A&M for his junior year in this 2004 season where he is having a fine season and preparing for the upcoming MLB Draft.

As a high schooler, Zach Jackson was for obvious reasons the ace of the staff. In his four years of varsity play at Seneca Valley High School, Jackson compiled an incredible record of 25-4. In his final game of his high school career back in 2001, he struck out an amazing 17 batters to cap off a fantastic run at Seneca Valley and make his pitch for that year's draft. He also earned a great honor when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette named him the Player of the Year in the state of Pennsylvania. At that point, he was also recognized by Baseball America as one of the top high school prospects in the state as well. Even though he had already agreed to attend the University of Louisville, it seemed that Jackson was preparing to be drafted by a Major League organization. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette back in 2001, Jackson spoke about his draft status. "These days, it's all about money," Jackson said. "I have to make the best decision for me financially." For reasons very tempting to a young ballplayer, the lefty was eyeing the pros. Even his coach, Eric Semega, speaking in the same interview said "There are a few teams who are really interested in him. I don't think there's any doubt he's going to get drafted". "It's just a matter of how high."

It turned out that in 2001, Jackson was drafted but not in the spot or for the money that he had expected. He was taken in the 50th round by the Cincinnati Reds. Jackson felt that the offer and the draft selection were not tempting enough to draw him away from college. Also, many scouts felt at the time that playing at the college level would greatly help Jackson's career and draft status down the road. So, he moved on to the University of Louisville where he would play his Freshman and Sophomore years.

Zach Jackson showed no signs whatsoever of resentment or even nerves in his first season of college ball. In only his first year out of high school, the lefty tied the Louisville record for wins in a season as he went 10-3 with a 4.77 ERA as he earned a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman team. The next season did not quite match his sophomore year as far as gaudy numbers are concerned but he did however make some improvements. In this, his final year at Louisville, Jackson went 7-6 with a 4.31 ERA. However, what should be well noted is that his control was vastly improved and his hits per innings pitched dropped in a big way as well. Jackson also become a rock in the staff and tossed 112.2 innings for the team. This was the season in which scouts began to start taking a serious look at Jackson as a polished college pitcher and not the highly talented but raw player that was drafted in the 50th round two years prior. More success for Jackson would be on the way but at a different school with a strong baseball program, Texas A&M where he would play his junior year.

It did not take Zach Jackson very long to get comfortable in his new surroundings as a new transfer to Texas A&M. In fact, he was comfortable enough to throw a no-hitter in his first ever start in an Aggies uniform. In an interview with the University website Jackson said of the event "I have never been so nervous in my entire life--championship or anything. People told me how exciting and incredible baseball games are here. I still get entertained everyday when I go to the park." The entire season has been spectacular for Jackson and he has put up some of the best statistics of his amateur career. So far, he is 10-4 with a career best 3.40 ERA. Jackson has been one of the big anchors of the staff all year long in 15 starts thus far.

The draft could and most likely will bring more changes for Zach Jackson as he will probably be headed to an organization that will look for him to be a a big part of their future. Jackson will bring his lefty stuff into the draft and surely will not have to worry about another disappointment like the one he suffered back in 2001. Now, he has been through college and has become the polished pitcher that the dozens of scouts that now attend all the games he pitches expected would emerge after gaining the maturity and experience that was necessary.

Year

School

W-L

SV

IP

H

BB

SO

ERA

2002

Louisville

10-3

0

83

80

24

46

4.77

2003

Louisville

7-6

0

112.2

121

29

75

4.31

2004

Texas A&M

10-5

0

104

96

24

110

3.55


* Stats as of 5/27/04

Repertoire. Fastball, Curveball, Changeup

Fastball. The fastball of Zach Jackson is by no means an overpowering pitch that can blow a hitter away. However, he can locate it very well and work in and out and up and down in the strike zone. His fastball can reach up to 92 MPH but is usually between 89-91 MPH. Jackson gets good movement on the heater and uses it to set up his breaking and off speed pitches that he uses to get the majority of his outs with.

Other Pitches. Besides his solid fastball, Jackson comes at the hitters with a pretty basic repertoire. Like most effective big league lefthanders, he has a slow, looping curveball that comes in at about a 72-77 MPH clip. His curve can be very tough on lefties when he is right. His changeup is what keeps the hitters off balance against Jackson and has worked for him pretty well. Jackson has shown this season that he can and will throw that pitch for strikes. With three quality pitches in his repertoire, Jackson should continue to be very effective.

Pitching. Location, location, location. That is the key for Zach Jackson. He is not overpowering and he needs to locate his pitches to be successful. Normally, especially this past season or so, he has done an excellent job of doing that. When he is locating his pitches and throwing his curveball for strikes to go along eith the changeup, he is able to dominate a ballgame.

Projection. It is hard to tell right now what might be in store in the long career that he could have ahead of him. Considering that he is a lefty with good stuff, there is a good chance he will be around for a long time. Jackson might be a good number two starter down the road and maybe, just maybe improve enough to become an ace of a staff. But, it appears that he will be more of a number two caliber pitcher on a starting staff in the future.

Comparison. Mark Mulder. There are no two pitcher's exactly alike and this comparison by no means signifies that Zach Jackson will become the next Mark Mulder in the MLB. However, both have nearly the same body type with the tall frame and weighing in at slightly over 200 pounds. These two lefthanders have developed better control over their careers while having some power pitching abilities to get some strikeouts when they are necessary. Along with Mulder, Jackson has a fairly basic mechanical delivery which makes him much more flaw proof. With these simple mechanics that both have, pitching slumps are less liable to occur.

Draft Possibilities. Being that he is a lefthander, there will be teams fighting over Zach Jackson in this year's upcoming 2004 MLB Draft. So many teams including some big-time contenders will be looking for pitching and better yet, one that is left handed. Who might take an extra long look at Zach Jackson this year? Jackson could end up at any number of destinations. He is a rare commodity for this day and age and a luxury that any team would love to add.

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