With the Dodgers 40-man roster dwindling down to two healthy pitchers available in the minor leagues (one being the recently-signed Cole Hamels) with 13 pitchers currently on the injured list, Oklahoma City right hander Andre Jackson makes his major league debut on Monday night.
Jackson will pitch in relief against the Pirates, following opener Justin Bruihl for the Dodgers.
The 2017 12th-rounder has already had a circuitous journey to the top rung of the minor leagues and at 25 years old has suddenly become a hot prospect. While his overall profile is still a little rough around the edges, Jackson’s resurgence from a step back from High-A to rookie ball in 2018 to representing the organization in the Futures Game in 2021 is the latest and arguably strongest testament to the success of the Dodger player development team.
When Jackson does take the mound for Los Angeles, what might fans expect to see? For starters, Jackson’s athleticism stands out in a now more repeatable delivery that lends itself to more consistent arm speed and slotting. Jackson has added more upper body movement to better time with the rhythm of his lower body mechanics and, despite a small stab in back, his arm slot appears more consistent now.
Largely an arm-strength prospect coming out of Utah, Jackson has refined his repertoire to give him a chance to stick as a starting pitcher. The biggest difference I now notice is the sharpness of his stuff has improved. Jackson’s fastball has lively arm side run that really takes off at the upper reaches of his velocity band (96-98 mph). His best pitch might be his changeup, which looks like it comes naturally for him and features plenty of fade. He has a steep 11-to-5 breaking ball that generates swings and misses, and a sharper slider that gives him a pitch to work inside on left handers.
Control has been Jackson’s biggest issue and ultimately led him to pause his assent in 2018, to return to rookie ball and clean up his mechanics and approach. The walk rates have since improved, but some of the underlying issues remain. Since 2019. Jackson has roughly kept the same strike percentage of 62 percent (62.9% in Low-A and 61.8% in High-A in 2019, 62.9% in Double-A in 2021, and 61.7% currently in Triple-A). Comparatively, the last notable call-up Josiah Gray has hovered around 68-70-percent strikes in a similar time frame. Jackson’s lively stuff can be difficult to harness at times, and he still might find more eventual success dropping the curve to focus on three pitches in relief. He’s missed fewer bats since promotion to Triple-A, but he’s still found success in a tough pitching environment.
While I do have some concerns that some of Jackson’s improvement in walk rate might stem from the generally lower quality of play and “bat rust” in the minor leagues this season, he’s made tangible strides in fine-tuning his pitches and holding his higher velocity as he climbs the ladder. As a four-inning spot starter, he’s enough of a wild card to find some success in riding the momentum he has carried over from his Double-A promotion. Longer term, Jackson’s inclusion on the 40-man roster gives him less of a leash to stick in the rotation if the control isn’t there, but he has real swing-and-miss stuff to eventually settle into a multi-inning or even late relief role.