Prep star’s hitting too hard for M’s to resist

Mariners take California high schooler Alex Jackson with the 6th pick, and his booming bat is headed for the outfield

Staff writerJune 6, 2014 

SEATTLE — Tom McNamara said he saw Alex Jackson play a few different positions while he scouted him the past few years — mostly at catcher, some in the outfield and some at third base — though Jackson is most likely to begin his professional career as a right fielder.

But all of that is relatively immaterial to why the Mariners chose to select Jackson with the sixth overall pick Thursday during the first round of the 2014 first-year player draft.

“We took the bat,” said McNamara, the Mariners’ director of amateur scouting.

That’s why, as general manager Jack Zduriencik explained, they want to put him in the outfield to begin with.

The Mariners already have a young catcher in Mike Zunino, which made for an easier decision to start Jackson as an outfielder. But Zduriencik said he’s more concerned about seeing Jackson “let the bat do the talking for him.”

Hard to argue with that.

Jackson, considered by many analysts to be one of the top power hitters available in this year’s draft, hit 11 home runs and posted a 1.459 OPS (on-base plus slugging) as a senior at Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, California.

The 18-year-old from Escondido, California, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, and finished his high school career with 47 homers and a .375 batting average.

“We like his hit-ability mixed with his power,” McNamara said. “He’s not just a one-dimensional hitter. He’s a combination of both, and we’ve been scouting him for the last three years, all summer, fall and spring, and like I said before, we were very happy that he was there when we made our selection.”

As for his position, Jackson said during a conference call that he doesn’t mind playing outfield because he learned the value of versatility at a young age.

“That’s one of those things where I just want to get out and play baseball, whether it’s in the outfield like I was drafted as, or behind the plate,” Jackson said. “I just want to get out and play baseball. ... I’m looking forward to going out there, having a great time, enjoying myself and playing hard.”

McNamara said it’s too early to tell how quickly Jackson might be able to work his way through the Mariners’ minor league system and into the big leagues.

But he said the fact that he attended Rancho Bernardo — the same school that produced Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels and former Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock — puts him ahead of most high school prospects.

Baseball America rated him the No. 1 position player in the draft.

Jackson, who is being advised by agent Scott Boras, has orally committed to play baseball at the University of Oregon. He said he has “no idea” when (or if) he might decide between playing for the Ducks or signing with the Mariners.

Zduriencik didn’t seem eminently concerned about all that.

“I think any time you take a high school player, you always have that,” Zduriencik said. “But when you take a player this high, how many opportunities does any player, anywhere, ever get to be taken in the top 10 picks in the draft? How are you going to better yourself? By the time he gets through Oregon, he may very well be a big leaguer. I think that’s important, and I think his desire is to play pro ball.”

This is the third consecutive year the Mariners have used their first-round pick on a position player. They picked third baseman DJ Peterson 12th overall in 2013 and selected Zunino with the No. 3 pick in 2012.

The Mariners also made the 74th and final selection of the first day of the draft, picking outfielder Gareth Morgan out of Blyth Academy in Toronto. He is described in reports as a power hitter and is listed at 6-4 and 220 pounds.

The draft continues at 10 a.m. Friday with rounds 3-10. Rounds 11-40 will be held Saturday beginning at 10 a.m.

christian.caple@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @ChristianCaple

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