Results tagged ‘ Luke Jackson ’

Luke Can Pitch Now: Catching Up with Luke Jackson

Luke Jackson, the 45th player overall taken in the 2010 first-year-player major league draft by the Texas Rangers, made his pro debut with the Hickory Crawdads in May 2011, in the middle of a playoff drive. He and 2010 second-rounder Cody Buckel – both sporting Justin Bieber-inspired coifs – were both inserted into the Crawdads starting rotation.

The native of Ft. Lauderdale, then just 19, sported a mid-90s fastball and a sharp-breaking curve when he joined the Crawdads. But in many ways, he was like a toddler with a toy tool set. The ability there could be fantastic, but it the results could also be ugly. Jackson admitted at that stage of his career, he had no idea what he was doing.

He had mixed results with the Crawdads. He took the ball every five games and got his first pro win in his fifth start – a one-run, two-hit, five-inning outing at Lexington on June 11. However, it is the next start on June 16 that I will remember most. For it showed what kind of pitcher Luke could be; it also had the chance to be a disaster.

Facing Charleston (S.C.) to start a four-game series to close out the first half – with the team holding a half-game lead in the standings – Jackson was brilliant through four innings. He had struck out eight of the first 12 batters and took a 3-0 lead into the fifth. Gary Sanchez – now with the Yankees – led off the inning with a moonshot homer to the leftfield corner. Jackson sandwiched outs between a single, but then walked two and in the process uncorked a wild pitch that crashed into the plexiglass window in the netting behind home to load the bases. With action in the bullpen, manager Bill Richardson and pitching coach Storm Davis decided it was time to “see what the kid’s got.” Jackson rewarded the trust with a flyout and the Crawdads went on to win 5-1.

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Hickory Crawdads vs Charleston Riverdogs 6/16/2011 – L.P. Frans Stadium – Hickory, North Carolina Photos by John M. Setzler, Jr. Pictured: Luke Jackson

In a lot of ways, that outing summed up Jackson’s career of living on the edge. Jackson came back to Hickory in 2012 to figure some things out and then at Myrtle Beach the following year, he soared. He was the starting pitcher in the Carolina-California all-star game in 2013 and MiLB.com named him the Rangers organizational all-star.

Jackson had similar success at AA with Frisco, but after getting toasted at AAA, the Rangers moved him to the bullpen in 2015. Texas brought him up for a taste of the big leagues in 2015 and 2016, but then shipped him in the offseason to Atlanta, where he is currently pitching out of the Braves bullpen.

Jackson’s personality is perhaps a better fit for the bullpen and it could be that his 2011 teammates knew that then when the “Crawdads Bullpen” – a group that included Ben Rowen, Jimmy Reyes, Jorge Marban, Ben Henry among others that still maintain a social media presence – made him one of their group. The highlight of their antics included an ill-advised swim in the dugout.

It is that story with which I began the interview with Luke in the Atlanta Braves dugout at Sun Trust Field. As it turned out, it was the afternoon prior to his first major league win.

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There’s been a few bridges since we talked last time. I talked with Ben Rowen last year and there was a certain picture of you guys in the dugout and there was a flood.

Jackson: Yes, I have some great memories with those guys. The bullpen down there was quite hilarious. That was the day when there was a light little rain shower that filled up the dugout to about the brim – so about 4 feet deep – and we decided that we were going to go swimming and do laps, race across the dugout doing laps. Once we realized the toilet was under water, we realized it was a horrible idea and then covered our body with hand sanitizer and took showers. It was pretty funny while it was happening.

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Members of the “Crawdads Bullpen” take a swim in the dugout following a 2011 thunderstorm at Hickory’s L.P. Frans Stadium

 

So nobody got e-coli

Jackson: No, we lived – barely – but, we lived. It was pretty interesting.

 

That was an interesting year as far as the whole bullpen crew, and they accepted a starter as a part of that.

Yeah, I actually lived with three of them. That bullpen had some of the funniest antics and routines and things they did throughout the year. I think just because I lived with them they always tried to include me in them and to this day we still – it’s call the Crawdads Bullpen Group Chat – still a text message group that is lively to this morning it was going on – same guys, pretty impressive.

 

Did you guys get under Bill Richardson’s skin?

Jackson: We were playing well at the time when that all started going on so he didn’t say much, but I guarantee it definitely irked him a little bit. Bill’s a great guy.

 

Here you are in the major leagues – what was the call-up like when you went to Texas?

Jackson: In ‘15 yeah, I get called up in July or early August and it was pretty surreal. It was probably the best memory I have of baseball. My whole family got to come up to see me in Seattle. It was awesome. I didn’t pitch in the Seattle series. We ended up going to Anaheim after that I debuted, but it was nothing like I can explain. Then in ’16 playing the big leagues and now this year playing with the Braves.

I mean, I got the chance to play with two different teams. The group here is absolutely amazing: coaching staff, players. The first seven years I spent in the same organization and then I come here and I feel like I’ve been with them for seven years. All unbelievable guys and just all for the same goal of getting better and winning games.

 

There was a hashtag that went around #CanLukepitchnow. Did you get wind of that?

Jackson: (Laughing) Of course, Tepid is one of my favorite guys ever. Michael, I would always see his tweets. He’s a super fun guy and I would always like the way he wrote about guys. He’s super positive and just encouraging. I would always see stuff like that and that would make me laugh. My parents would ask, “Are you going to throw today?” I was like, “I don’t know, I’ve got to do it how it works.” He’s the man; I think he started all that off. He’s a special guy to have on your side.

 

Did you ever wonder if you were going to pitch?

Jackson: There was a point where I was like, “Maybe I’m just here as a prop, or something, just hanging out.” That was kind of funny. It took a little while, but I think expected.

 

What is the memory of you getting called up? What did you do? How did you respond? Who did you call?

Jackson: I was in New Orleans. Actually, my girlfriend had just gotten there. I was just sitting in the hotel room. I had gotten back from the field and I got a phone call and Woody (Round Rock manager Jason Wood) was like, “Hey, I’d just like to be the first one to tell you, congratulations, you’re going to the big leagues.” I was like, “Oh wow, I’m actually going up to the big leagues.”

I called my mom four times, but she didn’t answer. I called my dad a couple of times and he didn’t answer. I was like, “Hmm, maybe I’ll just call in the morning.” But I was like, “I’ve got to tell them.” So, I called my sister because she would wake mom and dad up. So, I called her and she walked over and woke them up and put it on speaker phone. I said, “Hey, I just want to tell you guys that I’m going to the big leagues.” They were pretty pumped; mom was crying.

It was pretty surreal to see stuff like that work out. Every time you see somebody called up for the first time, you know what they’re going through. It’s one of the coolest feelings. You worked your whole life to get to this focal point of your career. Now that you’ve made it, the goals start from here for you to stay.

 

What was your reaction when you got traded?

Jackson: I heard it every year in the middle of the year, even when I was at Hickory. I’d go to high-A I’d hear, “Hey, you’re getting traded at the deadline.” And then next year, “Hey, you’re getting traded at the deadline.” At Frisco, I was hearing the same thing, “you’re probably going to get traded.” My agent calls and tells me, “There’s actually a good chance you’re going to get traded.” I was like, “Every year is something like that.”

So, I get a call from (Texas Rangers general manager) Jon Daniels and he said, “I just wanted to let you know you’ve been traded. Best of luck with your endeavors. Thank you so much.” Jon, to this day, is an amazing guy. Whenever I’d talk with him and have a conversation, he was genuine as all get out. He just told me I was going and wished me the best of luck. Then I got a call from (John) Coppolella (Atlanta Braves general manager) and he told me “You’re coming to the Braves. Congratulations and get ready to get the season going.”

It was kind of a surreal whirlwind the night I was traded. I was kind of, “Wow.” I called my parents and told them, “I think I’m with the Braves.” I knew I was, but I wasn’t really sure that how it worked then. It was pretty cool and I’m happy to be here.

 

What do you think about the ballpark?

Jackson: Unbelievable. It’s spectacular. They kind of took the best of every part they found and jumbled it into one and this is what you get. It’s high end, first class: the dugouts, locker rooms, the stadium. The Battery in the outfield is beautiful. Everything they did is just top of the line.

 

Who is the current or former major leaguer that you’ve met that you’ve said, “man, I can’t believe I’m talking to this person”?

Jackson: Bartolo Colon.

Last year, when I was rehabbing in ’16 to start the year. The only people hurt in camp were me and Josh Hamilton. So, I spent every waking day of four weeks riding the bike next to him and talking life and getting to know him. That was a surreal moment in my career. I read his book prior to meeting the guy in high school. There I am rehabbing with him and that was pretty awesome.

And then having PFP groups this spring training with a guy that’s been in the league for 21 years. He’s an unbelievable human being and one of the best teammates you could have in Bartolo. That was pretty awesome.

Just every day, just getting to see people and meet people and come across people and ex-high school teammates and seeing people you came up in the minor leagues with is all so fun to do.

 

What are your expectations for the year?

Jackson: You always set the bar as high as you can and then go out there and post as many zeroes and see how many games this team can win. I think this squad is good and when everything starts to click, I think it’ll be a pretty good run.

 

When you and I had a conversation back in your second year in Hickory and you accepted that you needed to come back to find things. What did you learn out of that experience now that you’ve gotten here?

Jackson: Oh wow. Just looking back at those years, I would say that I didn’t even know what I was doing. The first year out of high school, actually my first year out of high school was low-A, coming in, I didn’t know how to pitch at all. I was just trying to throw the baseball to the plate.

Looking back on it, I think my second year at Myrtle Beach was when I figured I started pitching. Brad Holman helped me a lot with that. I had Storm Davis mentally getting me prepared for all that. That was pretty awesome. The group of coaches and the staff we had along my career, I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done.

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Luke Jackson during a 2012 start (photo by Tracy Proffitt)

When He Was a Crawdad: Luke Jackson

Former Hickory Crawdads pitcher Luke Jackson came to the team in May 2011 to make his pro debut. He certainly showed the stuff that made him the 45th overall pick in the 2010 draft: a sharp curve and a mid-90s fastball that missed bats and occasionally missed everything but the backstop. Getting his feet was on the mound back in 2011, he was definitely a work in progress. He struck out 78 in 75 innings, but walked 48.

The game I will remember most from the 2011 season was a game on June 16 at home against Charleston, S.C. The Crawdads entered the final series of the first half in a virtual three-way tie for first with Greensboro and the Bryce Harper-led Hagerstown Suns with four games to play.

Jackson was masterful for most of the five innings he pitched that night. He allowed just two base runners over the first four innings and stuck out nine, including four in the second. Then came the fifth.

Hickory took a 3-0 lead into the inning before Yankees catching prospect Gary Sanchez launched a 2-0 fastball from Jackson that may have orbited the moon on the way before landing beyond left-field fence near the foul pole. (Along with Mike, now known as Giancarlo, Stanton, it was among the most impressive homer by a RH hitter I’ve seen at LP Frans.)

Michael Ferraro then struck out before Kelvin De Leon singled up the middle.

Jackson retired Jeff Farnham on a grounder to second and was poised to get past five innings for the first time as a pro Then, his control fell apart as he walked two with a wild pitch thrown in the mix to load the bases.

Shown here in a game against Charleston on June 16, 2011, Luke Jackson pitched out of a bases-loaded jam to help the Hickory Crawdads to a key win en route to a SAL first-half title (Photo by John M. Setzler, Jr.)

Shown here in a game against Charleston on June 16, 2011, Luke Jackson pitched out of a bases-loaded jam to help the Hickory Crawdads to a key win en route to a SAL first-half title
(Photo by John M. Setzler, Jr.)

With a reliever warming up in a crucial game for the first-half title, manager Bill Richardson made the decision to stay with Jackson. The righty rewarded Richardson’s faith by getting Ramon Flores to fly to center.

Hickory held on to win 5-1 and picked up two games on the Suns after Hagerstown lost a doubleheader. The Crawdads won the first half by .003 percentage points over Greensboro.

Richardson said after the game, “I’ve got to give (Crawdads pitching coach) Storm Davis a lot of credit for having confidence in his pitcher. I asked him and he said let’s see what he’s got right here.”

Jackson said that he had appreciation for his coaches on letting staying in the game.

“I was pretty pumped about that. I struggled and they stuck with me and I was able to get out of it with the help of my defense.”

The coolest thing about seeing kids like Jackson come here at the start of their pro careers is to watch the maturing process, whether it’s athletically or otherwise. By his own admission, Jackson had to grow up in many ways. I remember the stark contrast of watching Jackson in the clubhouse preparing for a start as opposed to the older college kid Nick Tepesch prepare for a start.

With the help of Storm Davis and others, Jackson learned about becoming a pro on and off the field and it was a cool thing to see. By the time Jackson was promoted to high-A Myrtle Beach in mid-June 2012, he was a different pitcher and he was prepared for the challenge.

I did a lengthy interview with Jackson on April 28, 2012 a night after a tough outing against Greensboro, during which he gave up five runs in the second. He talked about how differently he reacted to that start – he pitched into the sixth  – compared to how he handled things in 2011. Jackson also spoke with me about the adjustments he had to make coming out of high school into the pro game.

Let me first ask where you are from and where you went to high school?

Jackson: I’m from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. I went to Westminster for my first two high school years and then Calvary Christian for my last two (in Ft. Lauderdale).

Did you sign a letter of intent to pitch in college?

Jackson: I had signed to Miami.

What were the pros/ cons of signing vs. college?

Jackson: I just kind of talked about it with my family and prayed about it. A lot of it was that we set a number and if it was there I was going to go. I liked school. I was a pretty high-skilled student in school. I didn’t mind going to school at all, so that wasn’t a burden at all. The money was there, so I started my career early.

What was drawing you to Miami?

Jackson: Actually, I was pretty much committed to going to UNC (North Carolina-Chapel Hill) before that, but the track record of pitchers and injuries and pitching coaches. I really liked the Miami pitching coach and I had a good relationship with him. JD’s (Pitching coach J.D. Arteaga) a great guy and I had a couple of friends going there as well, so it was a good set up. It was about an hour-and-a-half away from my house, so at least I had a way of getting my clothes washed, so that was good. It was between UNC and Miami and I ended up choosing Miami.

What were some of the conversations that you had with the Rangers?

Jackson: Not really much. It was more of just they wanted me to keep playing ball. Actually, they didn’t want me to play summer ball, but they didn’t mind if I threw a couple of games here and there. I threw a couple of times. We talked a couple of times and communicated. There was kind of a set plan and a set deal. We didn’t really negotiate at all over the time. We were just waiting for the approval.

What made you decide to do this with the Rangers?

Jackson: That was one thing that me and my family talked about. We knew the kind of program that they ran. We got to go over the throwing programs and all that. I got to meet some of the strength coaches and pitching coaches and felt like it would’ve been a great fit. I like the way they ran everything. They pretty much stuck with the same program that I did in high school. That was awesome. It was a little bit of free reins. They didn’t restrict you as much. You were allowed to workout, which I loved. There were a lot of throw-longs, which I loved. There were great coaches and I heard only great things about the Texas organization, so that was kind of a plus.

Did the Nolan Ryan aspect factor in?

Jackson: Yeah, that was pretty cool. Even though we don’t see him a lot or talk to him a lot, we implemented his program and we knew how successful he was. It’s a pretty cool thing.

Was there someone with the Rangers that you talked with?

Jackson: Not really. You could just tell that all around there were a lot of good people from being on the field a couple of times and coming to my house and talking with my family. It seemed like they were people I could trust. It was probably the best choice I could make.

You went to instructionals in 2010 and then came here last year (2011) to start pro ball. What was it like coming to pro ball for the first time?

Jackson: It’s kind of weird. I felt like last year, I was a thrower in high school and that got me through everything. When I got out here I had to learn how to pitch. That’s kind of what (Crawdads pitching coach) Storm Davis and (Crawdads manager) Bill Richardson and all our pitching coaches tried to teach me as fast as possible. Coming back here a second time, I can tell I’ve turned a corner maturity wise learning the game, learning how to pitch instead of throw.

What was the first reality-check for you?

Jackson: I think it was the strike zone, that was the biggest thing. I thought I could throw the ball anywhere near the plate and it would be a strike. In high school and even in spring training and in instructs there was a pretty big zone and everyone was swinging at everything. You get here and you realize at that point that the pitch you thought were strikes and they are balls. It kind of shocks you a little bit and you think, “I really have got to throw it closer to the hitter.” That was probably the biggest thing for me.

What were the adjustments you had to make from being a thrower to a pitcher?

Jackson: Actually locating pitches low and away and not just raring back and throwing it low and away. But actually bear down right here and I’ve got to throw it away. I’ve got to get a changeup over for a strike, got to get a first pitch curve ball for a strike. You’ve got to mix your pitches well and sequences. I think Storm helps us so much with sequences and the mental part.  He knows my delivery probably better than anyone.

What have you learned about the mental part of it?

Jackson: You’ve got to accept failure. I’d go from a bad start and I would carry it over to the next start.  Whereas now when I struggle, you’ve got to shake it off, put it all behind you and come back and play again. You’re going to have bad starts. Last night was one of them. I’ll come out here to face the same team next week and put it all out there with a vengeance.

To be honest, last year I’d be so mad when I’d give up a base hit on a garbage pitch and I’d be so mad and Storm would be like, “Calm down, focus in and throw a first pitch strike on the next batter.” He breaks it down for me pretty easy, so that helps a lot.

Jackson, shown here in a game vs. West Virginia on 6/2/12, finished with 150 Ks in 139 IP for Hickory (photo by Tracy Profitt)

Jackson, shown here in a game vs. West Virginia on 6/2/12, finished with 150 Ks in 139 IP for Hickory (photo by Tracy Profitt)

Stormy has talked about how you’ve had to learn to pitch to contact. How have you’ve gone about figuring that out?

Jackson: In high school, you don’t have your best players in the field and in the outfield. So, I mean you’ve got a guy at second; you’re trying to strike everyone out. You don’t want anyone getting on base or any ball hit pretty hard.  It’s pretty much going to be a base hit. So in high school, I pitched for people to not to be able to hit the ball.

But here, you have a pitch count. You’ve got to learn how to get through innings. If you’re getting through seven innings, you’re going to make a pretty good career for yourself. So, you’ve got to keep that pitch count down. First-pitch outs, first-pitch strikes, and getting guys to swing at your pitches. I still don’t like people hitting the ball hard, but pitching to contact is probably the biggest thing.

When I talked to Storm Davis about you, the first sentence from him about was about your maturity:  What was Luke Jackson like last year vs. Luke Jackson this year?

Jackson: Last year was my first year being out of a structured situation. You’re living on your own and all that stuff and finding a good routine. Last year I’d stay awake real late and then get up and get in here. You’ve got to put yourself to sleep. You’ve got to get into bed and force yourself to get to sleep so you can wake up and get your breakfast and get that nourishment in.

Last year, I was waking up at 1, showering, yawn and get to the field and be kind of sluggish all day. Now, it’s I’ve got to get up, get my meal. They give us a structured plan, so that’s pretty easy. This year I’ve kind of turned the corner on that.

That’s been a real big thing as in coming back for a second time now. I’m 20 and it’s my second time here and I feel like I’ve been pushed into a leader role, even though I’m a younger kid.

I kind of have to step up and, not show them the ropes, but lead the other guys out there. I’m trying to put that on my shoulders a little bit and learn how to do that more and more every day.

Do you think you would have responded to a game like last night differently last year than you do now?  If so, how.

Jackson: Guaranteed. Last year, I would not have made it out of the second. I don’t have all of my pitches, I don’t know what I can do. I’ll just throw it by everyone. Last night, I was able to bear down and say, “I’ve got to throw strikes.” You’re going to give up hits, but, inside, outside, mix in your curve ball, get it over for a strike.

I felt I was able to get the ball in play and was starting to get some outs and starting rolling finally in the fifth. Those five runs early really just got tacked on.  What I’ll do different for this next start is that I’ll study in these off days and get back at them next week.

How would you handle it at a maturity level?

Jackson: This year, I just kind of shake it off. You’ve got to write off that inning. Right when I walked off that mound and got in that dugout, Storm said, “It’s just one of those days. The ball is finding holes and it’s got eyes tonight. Just keep pitching and get that first out next inning,” And I said, “That’s what I’m going for.”

Last year, I would’ve come off the mound all flustered and going, “What just happened?” and let it roll on into the next inning.

What’s it like working with Storm?

Jackson: He is my first pitching coach. I didn’t have a pitching coach in high school. I get out here and he’s a guy that you’re with every day. He’s teaching you every day; you’re really learning. He becomes pretty much a mentor of pitching. You call him up and talk to about pitching. I’ll probably give him a call a home this week after stuff and talk about what I need to do and how to get my mind right. He’s a mentor to me on the pitching side of things.

I know that Storm has his sayings and different things he gives to you guys. What does that sort of thing do for you?

Jackson: He’s a quiet guy, but he pushes you. He encourages you. He’s always on your side, always has your back, always helping you out. He’s never bringing you down, which is pretty cool. There’s always someone there. You may have had a bad outing, but he’ll look at the positives of it and bring you out of it. That helps a lot.

He post motivational stuff to keep us focused and keep us on track and keep our goals going and keep pushing us.

What are your goals for this year?

Jackson: To be honest: Short term, it’s going with the same game plan I went with the last game and going with it the next game. Keep the same routine. Stop thinking about striking everyone out. Stop thinking about walking anyone. Just throw that first pitch strike. Keep throwing that first pitch to the first batter.

Last year I’d come out and think, maybe I’d get five innings here and then struggle in the first and start thinking I’m not going to get to five and get all flustered early. Whereas, now it’s go out and get that first batter out. If he didn’t get out, then get that second batter out.  Just kind of break it down and simplify it. I think that’s helped a lot. That’s probably a big thing for me that I’ve matured about.

Did you always feel you had to go seven in high school?

Jackson: I knew I had to go seven, but seven in high school is a walk in the park. I’d wake up in the morning and play kickball for five hours at school and then throw the football for an hour and then get on the mound and throw fastballs and maybe throw an off-speed pitch. It was competitive, but I could throw in high school. God blessed me with a good enough arm to just throw the baseball and that’s what I did. I didn’t care about offspeed or walking anyone. I’d maybe walk a batter or hit a batter, but that’s pretty much how high school was. Learning in pro ball has been a huge adjustment.

Where you disappointed to come back here?

Jackson: I felt like I kind of needed it, to be honest. I would’ve loved to have been at Myrtle Beach. I had a good spring training and everything went well. On the field was great, but last year I didn’t put up the numbers probably they wanted to see. My walks were way up there. It was probably a lesson that I needed to throw strikes. I’m working on getting out of here, but I can’t control anything but each outing going out there and pitch. The higher-ups control that stuff.