PITTSBURGH — Since taking over as the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ben Cherington has shown an eagerness in making low-cost, potentially high-upside acquisitions.
There have been a number of former prospects with pedigree who have played for the Pirates in the last few seasons.
Whether it’s a former first-rounder like Zack Collins, an ex-Top 100 prospect in Tyler Beede or a Rookie of the Year runner-up in Miguel Andújar, for the most part, the Pirates haven’t received substantial contributions from most of the players that fit this category.
Enter Andre Jackson.
The 27-year-old peaked as high as 11th on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ top prospects list, according to MLB Pipeline.
The Pirates acquired Jackson from the Dodgers on June 25 in exchange for cash considerations after the right-hander was designated for assignment.
I know, it’s still early. But after allowing only a pair of runs across 6.0 innings to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night, Jackson has continued to impress since joining the organization.
Jackson entered Thursday’s game in the second inning after Rob Zastryzny was used as an opener for the first inning.
Jackson allowed both of his earned runs in his first inning of work, but he went on to hold the Cubs scoreless through the rest of his outing. His six-full innings set a new career-high.
“I just made some adjustments. It looked like they were a little passive with the heaters early in that first inning I was out there,” Jackson said on his outing. “They got some spin pitches that I left up, so I was trying to be aggressive and speed them up a little bit. I just stuck with that the rest of the game and was trying to read swings a little bit. The heater was working with it.”
After another impressive performance, Jackson now owns a 3.32 ERA through his first five appearances with the Pirates.
He’s given the Pirates’ pitching staff a much-needed boost in wake of injuries and some poor performances.
“The pitch mix. Using the changeup and the slider,” manager Derek Shelton said on Jackson’s success so far. “Being able to double up on the changeup. The slider has been good. On top of it, the execution of the fastball at 95-96 is what has allowed him to keep them off the breaking stuff.”
No matter the role the Pirates have asked him to fill, Jackson has delivered.
His first two appearances were out of the Pirates’ bullpen and he combined for five perfect innings.
For his next two appearances, Jackson was used as a starter. He wasn’t necessarily spectacular (5er/8.0ip), but he kept the Pirates in the ballgame each time.
Then, of course, Jackson was used as a bulk-reliever on Thursday to mop up six innings and give the Pirates’ bullpen a needed breather.
“My main objective is to see how many outs we can get in any role, whether it’s starting or coming out of the pen, said Jackson. “I’ve been pitching in a lot of different roles this year. The one objective, always, is to get as many outs as you can as efficient as you can.”
What stands out about Jackson is the stuff. He has an impressive four-pitch mix, with one offering in particular that has caught my attention.
The mid-90s fastball definitely has life to it. The slider has looked sharp and he’s mixed in a couple good curveballs. But it’s the changeup that has really jumped out as a pitch he can rely on to miss bats and keep hitters of balance.
A big reason as to why the changeup has been an effective offering for Jackson is that it’s complemented well by the fastball. That’s by design.
“Yeah. I keep (the changeup) in my back pocket. It helps me a little bit,” he said. “I haven’t had to throw a lot of changeups. It doesn’t give hitters a chance to see it a lot. Just try to move the heater around and mess up their timing.”
In baseball, you always have to be wary of small samples. It’s a long season, and what Jackson has logged so far is just a drop in the bucket.
But if what he’s shown so far is what can be expected moving forward, the Pirates may have finally found gold.