Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano is glad to see Jackson find some success this year. Being a high draft pick, it's no secret that he's felt a lot of pressure.
"[Jackson has] had to handle more than just about any kid in this clubhouse has had to handle," Fasano said. "What happens when you're a first round draft pick is a lot people put expectations on you that aren't fair. You're a first round draft pick, yeah, because you're talented. So now it's a matter of executing on a daily basis."
Jackson's raw talent has never been questioned, but something new is clicking for him this year. The pieces look like they are coming together. In the past, Jackson has been known for being a more timid ballplayer. His career batting average is only .235, his best season ending with a .259 through 92 games last year with A-advance Dunedin.
This year, though, he entered Tuesday night's home game against the Binghamton Mets hitting .368 [14 hits in 38 at bats], and his coaches say it has a lot to do with his newfound confidence this year.
"Any time a kid believes in himself, and he feels like he can play at this level, he's going to have success," Fasano said. "That's where Justin is right now, and I hope he continues to believe in himself."
Hitting coach Jon Nunnally has played a big role in Jackson's development. Fasano has seen Jackson benefit from his relationship with Nunnally, both as a hitter and an outfielder.
"It's good to have coaches that you can trust," Fasano added. "And I think Justin trusts Jon a lot."
When he first arrived at Spring Training, Nunnally recalls Jackson being much less aggressive at the plate. Being the team's new hitting coach, he had only heard of Jackson's reputation - that he was afraid to swing at most pitches, took too many strike threes and that he often waited for pitchers to walk him rather than look for a good pitch to hit. By not swinging very often, Jackson had never really learned what pitches to swing at.
"It's kind of like he was hitting to walk as opposed to [saying] ‘I'm going to hit to walk,'" Nunnally said. "He'd go up to the plate to hit, and if a walk comes out of it, that's fine, but it was kind of like he was going up there walking to hit ...so I said ‘Listen, all Spring Training, I want you to make sure you get the [right pitch] to hit, but I want you swinging at every pitch, I don't care if you strike out. I need you to swing.'"
With Nunnally's instruction, Jackson took off. He started approaching at-bats with more confidence. He attacked tough pitches, and by swinging more, he had a hands-on learning experience, feeling out what pitches he would whiff on and which ones he would put solid wood to. Since taking to Nunnally's approach, he's been much better with pitch selection.
Jackson's walk on Sunday against the New Britain Rock Cats stands demonstrated just how far Jackson had come with his patience. He looked poised against Luke French, a player with Major League experience, and his confidence paid off. He looked like he was "hitting to walk", and not "walking to hit" as Nunnally put it.
"I think he's working harder than he ever has before," Fasano said. "He's in the cage on a daily basis, he's learning to master his routine, I think he's done a great job with Jon Nunnally every day in trying to develop a game plan and he's executing the game plan."
Jackson is also dealing with the process of swapping positions, moving from shortstop to centerfield. He's adjusting, but his status as a "new guy" in the outfield has been exposed on a few occasions this season.
He has four errors already this season. In addition, he nearly misjudged an easy fly ball, moving forward too quickly before realizing the ball was about to sail over his head. He made the catch, but the near misses like that one are part of the learning experience.
Fasano cuts Jackson slack. He knows learning a new position is tough on anyone. Having a former Major League outfielder around to show Jackson the ropes gives Fasano confidence that he'll pick it up soon. It isn't a matter of talent. According to the manager, Jackson has all the tools a centerfielder needs.
"He can run, he can throw, and he's got one of the best arms, his arm will rival [former Fisher Cats Anthony] Gose and [Moises] Sierra," Fasano said. "He's got a quicker release than those two guys.
"He hasn't really learned to harness his speed yet. He's kind of like a mustang right now, and once he harnesses that speed, he's going to run like a thoroughbred."
"[I'm] trying to teach him," Nunnally added. "To keep both eyes on the baseball, just knowing angles, just knowing exactly what to do out there. Looking above the ball instead of underneath the ball. [if you] look above the baseball, it's a lot easier for you to stay behind it. Just learning the the different things you need to do out there."
"In the maturation process of a player, he's right on track," Fasano said. "He's  years old. He's just a baby. You know, he's starting to blossom into something, and you know his body has physically changed over the last three years, and he's getting stronger and more confident."
Fasano concluded. "He's gonna be okay, that kid."
MANCHESTER, NH - In his fifth year with the Toronto Blue Jays, 23-year old, 2007 first round draft pick Justin Jackson is finally starting to come around. He's growing into his athletic 6-foot-1, 186 pound frame, learning how to identify his strengths and finally gaining confidence.
Justin Jackson has had a rough go of it in past seasons but he's putting it together now.
New Hampshire Beat Writer
Jackson is getting more aggressive at the plate
Apr 19, 2012