The Texas Rangers knew prep right-hander Luke Jackson would be difficult to pry away from the University of Miami when they selected him with the 45th overall pick in this year's draft.
Realizing Jackson wouldn't be an easy sign, the club brought the young pitcher to Arlington for sort of a recruiting trip as top picks Jake Skole and Kellin Deglan signed their first professional contract.
"I went to Arlington two days after the draft," Jackson said. "We flew out there. They did the press conference for Skole and Deglan. We just sat, watched, and it was awesome stuff because they had just drafted us. It was a really neat experience being there."
The recruiting didn't stop there. One week later, the Rangers had the supplemental first-round pick as a guest when the team visited South Florida to face the Marlins. And once again, Jackson was able to get a first-hand look at life in the big leagues.
"They let me on the field," he said of his second visit. "I got to meet the players again. I just got to stand and watch BP and see what it's like out there. They showed me around and it was a cool experience."
While Jackson enjoyed himself on the trips, the eventual deal––like in most college-versus-pro cases––came down to dollars and cents. The Rangers ended up signing Jackson to a $1.545 million bonus––just slightly less than Skole received as the draft's 15th overall pick.
Jackson says he wouldn't have minded attending the University of Miami, but in the end, he's satisfied with how everything worked out.
"The decision was difficult because I actually like to go to school," said the Fort Lauderdale native. "It came down to the last minute––that kind of thing. I liked Miami a lot, and I like the Rangers a lot. But in the end, I thought the best possible decision was for me to go play professional ball."
Because the hurler didn't sign until the mid-August deadline, he didn't pitch in any official games this season. He reported to the rookie-level Arizona League and worked out with the club for the final two weeks of the season.
Now, Jackson is participating in Fall Instructional League alongside 56 of the Rangers' top young prospects, and he is enjoying the experience thus far.
"It's a grind every day," he said. "You're working to get better. It's baseball all day and every day. It's like you're going to school for baseball, almost. We just get out here in the heat and keep going at it until we get better."
Jackson, who hadn't pitched in a game since his high school season, finally recorded his first professional outing late last week. He threw 22 pitches (11 strikes) in one inning, giving up one run on a hit and two walks. Jackson fanned two.
While the 19-year-old was clearly shaking the cobwebs off stuff- and command-wise, he was excited to be back on the mound in a competitive situation.
"It was fabulous," Jackson said of pitching in a game again. "Because I haven't even been on a mound in I don't know how long––maybe three months. It was good to get the first one out of the way. I felt good, but I was working out a couple kinks. I'll be back on in a couple days."
The righty threw his fastball in the 87-90 mph range, though he generally sits at 90-94 mph and touches the mid-90s when at full-strength. He also threw two promising 74-75 mph curveballs in addition to two changeups.
As is generally the case with hard-throwing high school arms, Jackson didn't use much of a changeup in high school.
"I rarely ever used it in high school," he said. "And if I did, it was normally like a BP fastball. This is the first time I've gotten to actually use it and use it for real. Now I'm working as hard as I can to get it as a plus pitch here."
But he did get a swinging strike on just the second change he threw in professional ball. The pitch looked deceptive and had some life to it.
"It felt good," Jackson said of getting an immediate positive result with his third pitch. "I was like, ‘Sweet, it works finally. The first time I throw it."
In addition to refining his changeup, the prospect wants to use instructs to work on commanding his three-pitch repertoire in general.
"Command is the big thing for anyone," he said. "I would love to work on my changeup, but really it's my command of all three pitches. If I can just locate them all, then I hope to go somewhere."
After Jackson's 22-pitch, one-inning professional debut, he will likely pitch at least a few more times before instructs comes to a conclusion. However, he says most of the outings will likely be very abbreviated.
"We're just going to go one inning for awhile and then maybe two here and there."
Jackson shaking off the rust
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