Minor League Report: Austin Jackson
Speedy outfielder appears to be on the fast track to New York
TAMPA, Fla. -- Austin Jackson shuffled carefully across the clubhouse and plopped down in the chair in front of his locker. The outfielder leaned back, closed his eyes and held a cold bottle of water to his temple.
"Man, I'm tired," Jackson said.
It's been a long road for Jackson since he was chosen in the eighth round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, and now that he's finally in the clubhouse for his first big league camp, he's discovered that there's not many opportunities to catch his breath at this level, either.
"I think they're trying to get the players in better shape," said Jackson of Yankees manager Joe Girardi's conditioning regimen. "You need to be in pretty good shape to get through 162 games. This year, it seems like Girardi is a little bit more serious about it."
It's good for Jackson, though, he said, because the more difficult things have gotten for him, the better he seems to have performed. A highly touted prospect out of Ryan High School in Denton, Texas, the speedy outfielder struggled with mechanics at the plate and was forced to spend more than a season at Class A Charleston, working out the kinks.
"There were a lot of things I had to work on," Jackson admitted. "It was a lot different that high school, obviously. On top of that, the pitching pretty much dominated me early on."
The nearly 800 at-bats he gathered in low-A ball would pay off, and the 22-year-old emerged with a shorter, more balanced swing that saw him hit .345 (89-for-258) with 15 doubles and 10 homers in the Florida State League before he was promoted to Double-A Trenton for the season finale.
It's there that he'll likely begin the 2008 season. Should he continue to produce, he may see time with the Yankees as early as 2009, which would create a stir in the veteran outfield. Still, it's something Jackson said would definitely make all of the work worthwhile.
"I've always wanted to be able to play in Yankee Stadium one day, and now they're starting to let younger players develop in the Minor Leagues and giving them a chance to play in the big Yankees games," Jackson said. "Younger players are starting to get more involved and be able to play at that level."
On the move: At 24 years old, outfielder Brett Gardner brings three seasons of experience, fleet feet and another left-handed bat to the lineup that'll make him a viable asset this season, perhaps even as a fifth outfielder in the big leagues.
The Yankees' third-round pick in 2005, Gardner swiped 39 bags between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2007, and compiled an 84 percent success rate throughout his Minors career.
Gardner's drawback may be his lack of power as he learns to use his legs in tandem with his upper half to develop his swing: He's gone deep just six times in his career, including five times with rookie league Staten Island.
Girardi's got his eye on Gardner should something happen to his regular outfield troops, and said there's a lot to like about the speedster.
"[Gardner's] a guy that can really run down balls in the outfield and steal a base," Girardi said. "There are some things that he can do. Obviously, you hope that your outfielders stay healthy during the course of the year, but it doesn't always work out that way."
On the pine: Right-hander Andrew Brackman continues to progress through his rehab from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his throwing arm, meeting or exceededing all of his goals so far, but is still a season removed from actual competition. Brackman's throwing regimen is limited to long toss from about 100 feet. ... Humberto Sanchez is a bit further along in his recovery from the same surgery, and the right-hander is slated to begin working off the mound sometime in March. The best-case scenario for the burly righty is to find himself in the Yankees' bullpen sometime in 2008.
First-rounders: Former third baseman Eric Duncan, drafted in 2003, now has a combined full season of first-base experience under his belt and has adapted well to the Yankees' future plans for him. If the 23-year-old can gain consistency at the plate, he could be called up as early as this season. ... Phil Hughes, drafted in 2004, will see his first action of the spring season on Friday against the University of South Florida. Hughes, who's scheduled to throw the fifth inning, will likely be in the starting rotation. ... C.J. Henry, drafted in 2005, is back in the Yankees' Minor League system after being dealt to the Phillies in the Bobby Abreu trade. The club believes he can rebound after correcting vision problems that hampered him with Philadelphia. ... Joba Chamberlain, drafted in 2006, is preparing as a starting pitcher during Spring Training and could either start or relieve for New York this year. He's slated to throw the first two innings of Thursday's game. ... Ian Kennedy, also drafted in 2006, has a very good chance of breaking camp in the Yankees' rotation, though he could also open at Triple-A. He'll follow Chamberlain on Friday, and work the third and fourth innings.
Class of '07: Behind Brackman, catcher Austin Romine is in big league camp with the Yankees, helping out with bullpen sessions and the like. A second-round Draft pick out of high school, the 19-year-old Romine will be reassigned to Minor League camp later in the spring after logging just one game with the Gulf Coast Yankees last season.
What they're saying: "I've always liked the Yankees since I was little. Ken Griffey Jr. was my favorite player, but I always liked the Yankees because they were always the team to beat." -- Jackson
Dawn Klemish is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.