Tonight I find myself thinking about a non-Yankee baseball thought. It’s the story of Edwin Jackson.
In the 2004 Edition of Baseball Prospectus, on Jackson, it said: “Some people consider Jackson to be the best pitcher under 21 in professional baseball. It’s easy to understand why: After a full-season at Double-A Jacksonville at the age of 19 (where he struck out more than a batter per inning, and posted a K:BB ratio of three-to-one), Jackson debuted at Dodger Stadium on his 20th birthday.” In fact, in the same BP 2004, Rany Jazayerli ranked Edwin Jackson as the best pitching prospect in baseball and the 6th best prospect overall in the game.
And, BP was not alone in their praise of Jackson. In Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects 2004, they listed Edwin Jackson as the top pitching prospect in the game and the 4th best overall prospect in the game.
Lastly, in his Baseball Prospect Book 2004, John Sickels listed Edwin Jackson as the third best pitching prospect in baseball – behind Zack Grienke and Ryan Wagner. Further, in an ESPN.com feature near the end of the 2003 season, this is what Sickels had to say about Jackson:
Although he has yet to receive much media attention, Dodgers right-hander Edwin Jackson has snuck into the upper tier of minor-league pitching prospects.
He has one of the best fastballs in the system, hitting 95 mph at times, with movement. He also has a very good slider. His curveball and changeup are inconsistent, but both have promise. Jackson’s command is excellent. He throws strikes with regularity, and his mechanics are both clean and consistent, which helps keep his command in gear. He has a good feel for pitching, needing only additional experience to round out his package of skills.
There are no holes in Jackson’s stat line. His K/BB, K/IP, and H/IP ratios are all significantly above league average this year. Of note is the increase in his strikeout rate between last year and this season, especially impressive since the improvement has come at a higher level against older competition. Jackson has given up just 11 homers in his professional career, another good sign. Lefties have hit him at just a .188 clip this year, another positive marker.
Jackson has had no significant injury problems. His athleticism and clean mechanics should help keep him healthy, and he has less mileage on his arm than many pitchers his age.
So, what happened?
Jackson tanked in 2004 and 2005. He lost some life on his fastball and command as well. And, prior to the season of 2006, he was traded by the Dodgers, at the age of 21, to the (then) Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Sadly, he struggled in 2006 as well. But, then in Spring Training of 2007, Edwin Jackson, still (then) just 23 years of age – the same age as Ian Kennedy and just a year older than Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes now – got back on track.
During Spring Training 2007, Edwin Jackson pitched in 7 games, covering 20.6 innings, allowing just 17 hits while whiffing 18 batters. On the spring, his ERA was a sparkling 1.74 – and it appeared that Edwin was back to where he was at the start of 2004.
And, what happened?
Jackson, in 2007, pitching in the big leagues, tanked again. Of all the pitchers to log 150+ IP in the A.L., he was the least effective pitcher in the league.
It’s pretty interesting how a guy can go from being considered, universally, as the best pitching prospect in the game at age 20 to being the worst pitcher in the majors at age 23 – without any serious injury to tie it back to as the cause.
It just doesn’t seem possible, does it? But, it happened. Back at the end of 2003, I bet few predicted that the next four years would be as bad as they have been for Jackson. Baseball is a funny game.