Today, many of you may have read that Brett Jackson was ranked at MLB.com as the 5th best OF prospect in the majors behind Bryan Harper, Mike Trout, Bubba Starling, and Wil Meyers. Sometimes I'm inspired to write an article by questions that are put to me in the comments section, e-mail, etc. In response to a question earlier today, I mentioned that I expected Jackson to be a "solid to good" major league regular, and by that I meant a player who puts up good all-around numbers annually and is on the cusp of making the all-star team every year. He may even make a few all-star games, but I don't expect him to be a perennial participant, much less a Hall of Famer. That's not to say he can't surpass my expectations, or course!
We've heard the scouting reports on Brett Jackson, which describe a player with average to above average tools across the board, good plate discipline, strong makeup and work ethic, and a slight concern about too many strikeouts. But what does that translate to numbers-wise? I decided to look into it a little further...
Let's take a look at some of the projections for Brett Jackson in 2012:
ZiPS: .254/.335/.419 with 16 HRs and 22 SBs. OPS+ is 99 (about an ML average offensive player)
Bill James: .251/.333/.434 with 9 HRs and 15 SBs. wOBA is .342 (again, about ML average)
Keep in mind that James has him with less than half the plate appearances as ZiPS. The slash lines are similar, but the biggest difference is in terms of speed and power. Extrapolating James' numbers over the same number of PAs as ZiPS, you get about 20 HRs and 33 SBs.
So basically, if you want to talk standard numbers, we're talking about a .250 hitter with 15-20 HRs and 20-30 SBs in his first season. He's also projected as an average CF'er and he would rank as very good in either corner. That's not a bad rookie season and, of course, there's every expectation that Jackson will get better as he gains experience and continues to develop, but those kind of numbers are a reasonable expectation for the upcoming season if Jackson makes the Opening Day roster. As to what kind of player Jackson might be in his career, ZiPS came up with two interesting comps: Bernie Williams and Ray Lankford. They were actually more similar than you might think in terms of value at their peaks, it's just that Bernie Williams sustained his excellent play over a longer period of time.
In other words, what we should expect is an average MLB player his first year with the potential to be a good player down the road -- very good if he reaches the level of Bernie Williams. Despite completely different body types, the stockier Lankford makes a better comparison to me because of the high strikeout and walk rate, though I expect Jackson to be a better defender at every OF position than Lankford was.
The trouble sometimes with comps is that we tend to forget how good some non-superstar players were. We know how good Williams was, but Lankford is somewhat forgotten these days. He did have a nice career, though, rating as a 4+ WAR player 6 times. This included 4 seasons over 5 WAR and a career best of 6.5 WAR. A very good player, indeed, but Lankford only made one all-star game in his career. Would I be happy with that? Yes, I think I would. But like everyone else, I'm hoping he comes out to be a little bit more like Bernie Williams.