Justin Jackson was the 45th overall pick in the 2007 draft, the fourth player selected by the Toronto Blue Jays (after Kevin Ahrens, J.P. Arencibia, and Brett Cecil). The son of former major leaguer Chuck Jackson, Justin is in his first full season at the Double-A level after playing 28 games for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats last season. He is currently hitting .244 with eight stolen bases in 36 games. His current 28:17 strikeouts-to-walks ratio is currently by far the best of his career and an encouraging sign for a player who has progressed slowly through the system.
Jackson and I spoke recently before a game against the Portland Sea Dogs. We talked about his time as a bat boy in Asheville, his defensive versatility, and his use of Twitter.
First thing I’ve got for you is, your dad had a lengthy professional career. How did his experience affect your career, if it did at all?
At a young age, obviously, I was brought up in the game and been around the game since I was born, really, so it’s kind of always, “You need to do this eventually.” So I worked towards it. He had lots of great things to teach me, obviously, and really helped shape my game at a young age.
You were still pretty young when he stopped playing. Do you have a lot of memories of his playing days?
My biggest memories were a city-to-city kind of thing. I was always with my mom, obviously, and getting to watch. I remember being in Oklahoma City and just here there and everywhere, really.
Also I read that you were a batboy for the Asheville Tourists when you were younger. How did that experience affect your development as a player? Did it help you at all?
It was awesome. I got to work with a lot of different rovers, back when they would come through. Jonathan Herrera, who’s in the big leagues with Colorado, one summer, really helped me a whole lot. He taught me a lot of different things that work at the professional level. I was young, kinda like a sponge at that age, so I was soaking it up, and getting to watch the games as a batboy just getting myself prepared for what I eventually was going to do.
You and your high school teammate, Cameron Maybin, were both drafted a couple years apart. Did his experience with the draft give you some idea of how things were going to be when your time came?
Oh definitely. I got to – from a firsthand, front-row seat – watch how the draft unfolds and the things to do. So I got to see that and it definitely helped me. It made it a lot easier. I knew what to expect with a lot of things. The basic things I knew what to do.
Do you guys still keep in touch now?
Yeah, I talked to him not too long ago. We text, that’s easiest, he’s on the west coast. But yeah, he’s doing well. He’s always giving me words of encouragement.
Is that the sort of relationship where you can go to him for advice?
In the off-season we work out together whenever he’s in town, so we always chit-chat baseball, you know. We’re both baseball guys. We played Little League together, so we always kind of kick back and forth some things.
The past couple years you’ve started to transition way from playing shortstop, where you came into the pros, into the outfield. Has that been easier this season where you’ve sort of settled into centerfield, it seems like, instead of playing shortstop or second or all the outfield positions? You’re in one spot. Has that been easier?
It’s been definitely different. I had the responsibility to lock down that position this year and it’s been good. I’ve been working really hard on it. Like I said, last year I was playing seven positions, so it was a little different maintenance for each position. This year I’m able to focus on one thing and get the most out of it, so it’s pretty good and just continue to work. I’ve got some things to keep on working on and just keep getting better at it.
That versatility, though – is that sometime that you feel gives you more value down the line? You know, they can look at you and say, “Oh, he can play all these spots”?
Definitely. I think it’ll be something that as my career progresses, it’ll be something that’ll be very important and very valuable and I can do more than just be in one spot. At this point, I can play everywhere in the infield and outfield, so I think that in the long run it’s definitely going to help me have more value as a player.
One of your big strengths that I read about was your throwing arm. I read you were clocked in the low-90s at one point. If your offense doesn’t continue to develop, would a conversion to pitching be something that would ever cross your mind?
Why not? I mean, I love baseball, so whatever keeps me in the game. But right now I’m just really focusing on doing the things I have to do. I’m working with my hitting coaches, I’m making lots of improvement with the bat, and defensively out in center field, so just keep on going.
Alright, the last thing I wanted to ask you about was Twitter. You’re easily, I’d say, the biggest Twitter user on this team, if not one of the biggest in the minor leagues. How did you first get into that?
It’s funny. I wanna say two offseasons ago I made a Twitter account – I think it was maybe 2009, actually – and I used it for about two days and I was like, “I’m not into this.” I didn’t have any friends on there, I didn’t even know really how to use it, didn’t understand it. So it laid dormant for about two years, and last spring training I started using it and it got a little bit ridiculous I guess. [laughs] I really enjoy it. It’s cool, I get to keep up with my friends with it, and people actually follow me. They listen to what I say, which is kinda funny. I enjoy it, it’s pretty cool, and now a lot of our teammates kinda mess around with each other on there, so it’s a good time.
Are there any negatives to it?
You just have to be responsible, just like anything. Doing an interview, doing a press conference, you know what’s right and what’s wrong. Some people take it too far, and we have a job and we have to show a certain level of class, and we have a responsibility.
Thanks to Chris Shuker and Tom Gauthier for coordinating this interview.