Zach Jackson was the 102nd pick of the 2016 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays out of Arkansas.
Zach Jackson was at the head of the class in high school and he’s looking to get there again in his journey to the majors. The 2013 valedictorian from Berryhill High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma earned his first mid-season promotion by getting the call to join the Dunedin Blue Jays earlier this month after a dominant stretch with the Lansing Lugnuts that began in late April.
Jackson won his Midwest League debut despite giving two runs (including a home run) over two innings against the Great Lakes Loons April 8. The righthander gave up runs in three of his first four appearances that saw his earned run average rise to 6.43. Then he began to find his groove as he ran off a scoreless string of 10 appearances that spanned 12 innings. That cut his ERA down to 2.37 before it rose to 3.15 when he surrendered two runs in an inning against the Lake County Captains June 1.
The Blue Jays saw Jackson deal with his first challenge in full-season ball and he passed with flying colours. In 20 innings of work, he struck out 25 as Midwest League hitters batted just .181 against him. He also did a good job of limiting baserunners with a WHIP of 1.08. Though he issued eight walks, that represented an improvement of his control with Vancouver last year when he had a walk rate of just over six in 17-2/3 innings.
Zach Jackson has a strikeout rate of just over 11 per nine innings in his minor league career.
Jackson’s 2017 season so far is similar to his first pro season in 2016 in that he struggled early but succeeded late. After the Jays selected him in the third round of last year’s draft from the Arkansas Razorbacks, Jackson was summoned to Vancouver after making his first pro appearance with a scoreless frame July 9 with the Gulf Coast Blue Jays. The 6-foot-4 righty would win his Northwest League debut in Boise in Boise July 16 despite giving up two runs in an inning that saw him walk two and strikeout two. He scuffled with a 13.50 ERA after his first four appearances before keeping the opposition scoreless in eight of his last 10 outings. That effort helped Jackson get promoted to Lansing for the Crosstown Showdown exhibition game against Michigan State.
Now the next hurdle for Jackson is trying to conquer the Florida State League and he’ll have a different pitching coach to watch over him in Mark Riggins after Willie Collazo looked after him in Lansing this year and Vancouver last year. Jackson told Lansing play-by-play man Jesse Goldberg-Strassler in an interview last month that he and Collazo were able to hit it off.
“(Collazo’s) personality and mine mix really well,” said Jackson. “He’s very black and white, which is how I am. He’s tweaked the little things mechanically with me that really helps. I’m definitely fortunate to have had him both years.”
Zach Jackson was named to three pre-season All-American teams with the Arkansas Razorbacks in 2016.
Jackson is a challenge for pitching coaches when it comes to his unusual delivery that features a long arm path and a deep shoulder tilt.
“I actually threw a lot like (Chicago White Sox pitcher) Carson Fulmer where I just literally get my body going as fast as I could in high school,” said Jackson. “When I got to college and I realized that 90 miles an hour couldn’t get blown by a lot of people so I just switched things up a little bit and started learning to locate a little bit better…As far as how unorthodox it is, a lot of it came from me. It’s just how my body feels that I’m going to get the most power if I throw that way.”
Zach Jackson struck out 23 batters over 17-2/3 innings with Vancouver in 2016.
Scouting reports have Jackson throwing a plus-fastball in the 93-95 mile per hour range and an average changeup. His best pitch is said to be his curveball, which MLB Pipeline gave a 60 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale. He says a change in NCAA regulations in 2015 to use a flat-seamed baseball really helped the pitch take off.
“I had a decent breaking ball in high school but then once I switched my motion up, it just kind of came with it, I guess,” said Jackson. “I honestly didn’t throw a breaking ball hardly at all my freshman year. I was a fastball-changeup guy and then my sophomore year came around and (the NCAA) switched the balls to lower-seam balls and it just really helped – the lower the seam, it was easier to spin. I’d been throwing it since I was 11 but my dad would never let me turn it over like a true curveball so I just put a knuckle-curve grip on it. As I got older, it just became so comfortable.”
Now Jackson will try to get acclimated with the Dunedin Blue Jays. His control problems resurfaced by walking three Daytona Tortugas in two-thirds of an inning in his first game with Dunedin June 3. Jackson didn’t walk anyone in his second appearance and whiffed a trio of Bradenton Marauders five days later but he gave up a run on three hits over two innings to take the loss.
Since then, Jackson has not been scored upon in his last four outings. He recorded his first save as a D-Jay with a one-walk ninth to preserve a victory over Tampa Friday evening. Despite five walks and four strikeouts in 6-2/3 innings with Dunedin, Jackson has an ERA of 1.35.
If Jackson holds true to form, he’ll find his footing with Dunedin soon enough and it may earn him another promotion to the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats before the year is out.