Name: Steven Jackson
Position: Relief Pitcher
DOB: March 15, 1982
"I thought I threw the ball pretty well," Jackson said of his 2008 season. "Overall I thought I was pretty consistent.
"If I took away three or four outings – I had three really bad outings in Double-A and then one really bad one in Triple-A – but if you took those three or four away I thought I threw the ball really well."
A sinker-ball starting pitcher in the Diamondbacks organization, he went just 4-8 with a 5.87 ERA for the Scranton Yankees in his first year with the Yankees in 2007, most of it coming in the staring role.
Shifted to the bullpen at the end of that season, he made the permanent transition to the bullpen in 2008 and responded quite well.
"It hasn't been bad," he said of the role switch. "I pitched a little bit in the bullpen in college but most of my pitching has been starting.
"I just took it as another chance to pitch in the big leagues and just didn't think about it too much. I just went out there and tried to get people out."
The numbers, especially in Triple-A Scranton, were demonstratively better this past season. He went 3-0 with four saves and posted a 3.17 ERA.
Jackson believes his newest role not only suits him but he credits an increased comfort level in his second season with the Yankees as the reason for the quick turnaround.
"I think the biggest thing was my stuff was there last year but it was better this year," he admitted. "I don't know why but last year my stuff just wasn't as good as it was in the past with the Diamondbacks. It started coming back to me towards the end of the season last year though.
"The biggest thing was just letting the coaches get to know me and me getting to know the coaches. They were just seeing me for the first time and I was seeing them for the first time.
"Last year was just a work in progress working through all of that and this year I was a whole lot more comfortable and pitched the way I knew I could."
Seeing a bit more movement with his fastball and also rediscovering his plus splitter were obvious differences between the two seasons, as was the continued development of his slider.
"The biggest thing is my slider has gotten a lot better," said the right-hander. "Before I was really just a two-pitch guy.
"When I was starting I would only throw three or four sliders a game and now it's gotten to be a lot better pitch that I can use whenever I want to. I feel a lot more confident with it now than I did back then."
Harnessing his stuff into a solid three-pitch arsenal, especially for a pitcher of his size, allowed Jackson to secure one of the coveted 40-man roster spots this offseason and he knows he is now just one phone call away from helping the Yankees out at the big league level.
"I feel like I'm there," he opined. "I just think I need an opportunity and when I get that opportunity I just need to go out there and prove myself.
"That's what they want from a guy coming out of the bullpen, someone they can rely on who can come out and throw strikes and get people out on a consistent basis. That's what I want to go out and prove to people to get there and stay there."
Repertoire. Fastball, Splitter, Slider.
Fastball. Jackson is a sinker-ball specialist. He pounds the strike zone with sinking two-seam fastballs that average anywhere from 91-94 MPH and he generates a ton of movement with it. Standing 6-foot-5 also allows him to give opposing batters a different look with the sinker and he commands it very well. He also throws a four-seam fastball occasionally, but it is mostly just every once in a while to give batters another look and it isn't a true weapon for him.
Other Pitches. Jackson, who had averaged less than seven strikeouts per nine innings pitched in his career prior to 2008, saw his strikeout ratio bump to over ten batters per nine this past season and it was primarily due to generating even more movement with his plus splitter. It simply dives down on batters and they have a hard time picking it up. But perhaps the biggest development in his game was developing his previous show-me slider into one he can throw for strikes with regularity. He can even go to it for a strikeout at times.
Pitching. There is no mystery to Jackson's game. He attacks batters with his sinkers in an attempt to induce early contact and then goes for the kill with his splitter once he gets ahead in the count. His ability to induce harmless grounders also makes him a very good candidate to pick up the big double-play when needed. He has very good command of a solid three-pitch big league arsenal and that allows him to keep batters guessing, quite the weapon for a reliever. As a former starting pitcher and one who is naturally strong, he also has the ability to throw multiple innings in consecutive days and that makes him an innings-eater in the bullpen.
Projection. Jackson's size, strength, command, and three-pitch repertoire gives the Yankees incredible flexibility role-wise. He certainly has the stamina and solid overall game to be a spot starter when needed, but those same traits make him a reliable innings-eater in the bullpen and those guys are very valuable. His game is very much like J. Brent Cox, a reliever the Yankees had envisioned as their double-play specialist and bullpen workhorse down the road, but his taller height gives them an ability to change the look for opposing batters. Size-wise and effect-wise he resembles Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Chad Qualls as both an innings-eater and one who has some put-away ability as well.
ETA. 2009. Jackson, now a member of the 40-man roster, will be on the short list of potential reliever candidates should the need arise next season. With the bullpen pretty crowded right now, however, he will most likely have to bide his time in Tripe-A Scranton to start the 2009 season.