Tampa Bay Rays Select NAIA 2-Way Star Ty Jackson in Rd 32


It is great when a player has a variety of skills because it gives him the ability to help his team even when one thing, say his hitting, is not going well. Something we don’t usually think about, though, is a pitcher’s ability to hit, especially when we are talking about an American League franchise like the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays chose Ty Jackson as a pitcher, but he will hope to find some way to use his hitting to give him a better chance at making the major leagues.

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Jackson, a 6’3″, 225 right-hander and first baseman, is a redshirt junior coming out of Lewis-Clark State in the NAIA, essentially the NCAA for smaller four-year colleges. He actually began his collegiate career at Washington State in 2012 before redshirting in 2013 after Tommy John Surgery and transferring to LCSU. Jackson spent two extremely productive years with the Warriors, appearing both as a pitcher and a position player. In college, a pitcher is allowed to be his team’s designated hitter–there are several complicated rules based around that. In any event, Jackson wishes that there was something like that in the minor leagues.

In 2014, Ty Jackson went 4-1 with a 2.73 ERA but just a 13-9 strikeout to walk ratio in 29.2 innings pitched. He was more productive at the plate, hitting to a .254/.355/.430 line with 4 doubles, 7 homers, and 37 RBI in 44 games. Then this season, Jackson actually made major strides in both regards. On the mound, he went 8-1 with a 1.76 ERA, striking out 68 while walking just 19 in 76.2 innings. In the batter’s box, meanwhile, he could hang his hat on a .322/.383/.538 line with 14 doubles, 9 homers, and 54 RBI in 57 games.

We know nothing about Jackson’s stuff (feel free to contribute in the comments), but his improvement in strikeout to walk ratio was enormous. You always wonder how a pitcher is going to respond after Tommy John Surgery, and it may have taken Jackson a little while to return to form. At the plate, Jackson’s outstanding power wouldn’t be likely to translate to pro ball because he has questionable pitch recognition and limited bat speed. He has the ability to be an excellent hitting pitcher and just maybe an occasional pinch-hitter, but that’s about it.

The ironic thing, though, is that much of Jackson’s upside comes from the fact that he will no longer be hitting. You never know what can happen when a player commits to pitching full-time, and there is a chance that he can gain velocity and/or make a lot of progress on his secondary pitches in a short time. Jackson is unproven in two ways–his questionable competition and the fact that he was a position player in addition to a hitter. Those aren’t clear positives about his game, but down in the 32nd round, you might prefer an unproven commodity over one you know is unimpressive.

Finally, it is worth noting that Lewis-Clark State isn’t just any NAIA program–they’re the best of the best. Then went 46-12 in 2015, and as Jeff Sackmann of the Hardball Times detailed back in 2007, LCSU would be expected to put up a .552 winning percentage in Division I. They have had multiple players drafted every year but one since 1999, and they have had 14 players make the major leagues. And of those 14 players, six were drafted in the 20th round or later.

Historically, MLB teams haven’t appreciated just how good Lewis-Clark State players are, and their alumni have a track record for exceeding expectations in professional baseball. Ty Jackson will hope to join that storied history and make the majors for the Tampa Bay Rays.

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