Commentary

Was trading Austin Jackson a mistake?

Ex-Yankees prospect mashes in Motown as slumping Granderson heads to DL

Updated: May 2, 2010, 10:20 AM ET
By Rob Parker | ESPNNewYork.com

DETROIT -- For sure, it's early. There's just one month in the books this baseball season. And no one is ready to send Austin Jackson to the Hall of Fame just yet.

But maybe, just maybe, the Yankees made a mistake in trading Jackson, one of their top prospects, for Curtis Granderson this past winter.

Jackson is flourishing in Motown, while Granderson is floundering in Da Bronx.

[+] EnlargeAustin Jackson
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesDon't look now, Yankees fans, but Austin Jackson leads the AL in hits.

On Friday night, Jackson, the Tigers' center fielder, went 5-for-5 against the Los Angeles Angels. Jackson added another hit on Saturday. He's batting .356 and leading the American League in hits with 37.

Meanwhile, Granderson, who started his Yankees career off in grand fashion with a home run in the opener against the Red Sox, has had a rough time with the bat lately. Granderson, who is hitting .225 this season, has just three hits in his last 37 at-bats (.081). Granderson left Saturday's game with a strained groin and now finds himself headed to the 15-day disabled list.

Meanwhile, Jackson -- who is riding an eight-game hit streak and has reached base in 19 straight games -- had the most April hits by an AL rookie since Rocco Baldelli had 39 with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2003.

"It's hard to argue with what he's done,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He leads the league in hits, he's hitting [.356] and got a couple of stolen bases and is playing the outfield great.

"It's pretty hard to do better than he's done the first month.''

As you can imagine, Jackson, a 23-year-old rookie, is having a ball.

"Baseball is always fun when you're hitting,'' Jackson said. "I think as long as I'm staying consistent with my approach each and every game, not try to get out of what my approach is, I'll be fine.''

The veteran players have helped the process as well. Coming in, it was a tall order to replace Granderson in center field. Granderson was a fan favorite in Detroit, both on and off the field.

"They told me that I didn't have to be the next Curtis Granderson,'' Jackson said. "You can go out there and make a name for yourself.

"And at the end of the day, I just want to put the team in the best position to win the ballgame.''

Even with his stellar start, Jackson does have some flaws. He might have the most hits in the league, but also leads the league in strikeouts with 33 in just 25 games. That's an odd combination for a guy with such a high batting average. That combo usually comes from a free-swinging power hitter.

"If I can just figure out a way to put the ball in play, I'll have a good chance to get a hit,'' Jackson said. "I think it's a mindset thing where you have to step your concentration level up.''

Jackson, who has one home run and seven RBIs in the leadoff spot, doesn't have the power the Yankees got when they acquired Granderson, who hit 30 homers for the Tigers in 2009.

While the Tigers might miss Granderson's power, they didn't lose much defensively. Jackson has also played stellar defense. He has run down some balls and impressed his manager.

"I definitely take pride in it,'' he said. "When I'm not hitting, I don't want to let a ball drop out there.

"That's my mentality when I go out there -- be ready to dive. It puts me in a better position to catch the ball when they hit it.''

The real test for Jackson will be the second time around. Right now, he's being challenged with a lot of fastballs. But once pitchers around the league have enough videotape on him, they will attack the weaknesses in his swing.

That's when Jackson will have to make some adjustments.

"It's no secret that pitchers are trying to figure out your weaknesses and pitches they can go with against you to get you out, set you up the next time they see you,'' Jackson said.

Added Leyland: "You never really know what's going to happen with a young player until they struggle. So far, he's struck out some, but he's not struggling. He's one of the better defenders in the league. I can see that already and he's gotten a lot of hits.''

You can bet the Yankees have taken notice of both.

Rob Parker is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.

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