Cody: Austin Jackson could be the next Curtis Granderson for the Detroit Tigers

ESPN is reporting a three-way trade which, among many things, would send Detroit Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees and land minor league outfield prospect Austin Jackson in Detroit.

It's funny how two years time can change a team's direction. Not long ago, it was the Tigers who shipped off prospects (Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller) for well-established talent (Miguel Cabrera). Now, Detroit finds themselves on the other side, dealing a starter and all-star (Granderson) for up-and-coming talent (Jackson).

Losing will take its toll on any organization in any sport. Instead of spending big money to gear up for one more World Series run next season, it appears the Tigers' front office is content to go through another painful rebuilding phase.

Granted, Granderson's performance last season was far from perfect. A .249 batting average and .327 OBP is hardly what any team wants from its lead off hitter. But, Granderson plays a solid center field in spacious Comerica Park and is a great member of the community. Defense and community outreach are always overlooked, but are vital to the success of a baseball team.

Thankfully, the Tigers may be receiving a right-handed reincarnation of Granderson in Jackson. Although he is still raw, Jackson has progressed steadily through the Yankee's farm system and is considered a top-50 prospect.

The 22-year-old was named the International League Rookie of the Year in 2009 as a member of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (AAA). He hit a flat .300 in 504 at bats, and had a .354 OBP.

Scouts peg Jackson as an everyday center fielder who is good at many things, but not great at any. He has above-average speed (24 stolen bases in 2009), but lacks power (only 4 home runs in 2009, or 1 per every 126 at bats). Playing in 96 games as a center fielder last season, he had only one error in 209 chances.

Jackson could be ready to be an everyday starter as early as next spring, so it will be interesting to see how the Tigers bring him along. Within the past decade, Detroit has been traditionally conservative in how they have handled outfield prospects.

Granderson spent parts of two seasons with the Tigers before becoming the everyday center fielder in 2006. Before being shipped to Florida in the Cabrera deal, Cameron Maybin had spent only 24 games in the majors.

In Jackson's case, the Tigers may have to rush as there is little proven talent available to play center field in Motown.

Ryan Raburn showed promise with the bat and glove last year, but started only five games in center.

Clete Thomas seems to be the most likely opening-day starter, as he filled in for an injured Granderson two seasons ago and has played a substancial amount of center field in the minor leagues.

Both Thomas and Raburn played pivotal roles as backups last season behind the aging Magglio Ordonez and oft-injured Carlos Guillen. Those roles will fall to Wilkin Ramirez and Don Kelly should either Thomas or Raburn be thrust into a starting role.

Seeing Granderson go will not be easy for many, especially since he is headed to the evil empire that is the Yankees. At the very least, the Tigers picked up an outstanding prospect to replace him.

(Kudos to TheKuLeR for the photo off of Wikimedia Commons. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.)


December 8, 2009 at 5:34 PM Katy said...

I'm interested to see how Grandy does in the significantly smaller stadium in New York. His speed was useful in Detroit, but it won't be as necessary further east. I wonder what this will do for his numbers in the stolen bases category?
It's also difficult to predict what will happen with Jackson in Detroit... With Raburn and Thomas having both shown that they can compete, will Leyland take a safe bet and keep Jackson in the dugout? He hardly can if he's lost Granderson for Jackson.
It could be an interesting season for all, if only because of this trade.

December 8, 2009 at 5:49 PM Cody Eding said...

You raise a good point, Katy. Granderson should easily be able to cover Yankee Stadium, which lacks a massive right-center field like Comerica Park.

Granderson has never been a huge base stealer (20 stolen bases in 2009, career high is 26 in 2007). However, the Yankees like to run a bit more than the Tigers so those numbers could easily increase.

I have a hunch Jackson would start the season in the minors, especially to see how he performs in Detroit's system. I wouldn't be surprised to see him struggle after having such a good year in AAA this season. He could likely be a mid-season call up assuming he doesn't totally tank.

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