Alex Jackson began the season as the Braves’ backup catcher behind Travis d’Arnaud but ultimately was unable to take advantage of his opportunity. He again showed plenty of power at Gwinnett and was eventually traded to the Marlins in exchange for Adam Duvall.
The Braves acquired Jackson in a trade with the Seattle Mariners in November 2016 in exchange for Max Povse and Rob Whalen. He has always been known largely for his power and slugged 28 home runs for Gwinnett in 2019. However, he made great strides behind the plate and was often lauded as a quality pitch framer while in the minors.
Jackson had pretty low expectations coming in but by landing a spot on the Opening Day roster, had the opportunity to stick in the majors behind Travis d’Arnaud. A little bit of power and some framing can go a long way towards providing a useful part-time player, so the bar wasn’t particularly high.
2021 Season results
Jackson didn’t see a ton of opportunities early as d’Arnaud saw the bulk of playing time, but he simply struggled to produce anything at the plate. Jackson appeared in 10 games and was just 1-for-23 at the plate with two walks and 13 strikeouts. He was placed on the Injured List on May 2 with a strained hamstring and wouldn’t sniff the big league roster again with Atlanta. Once he recovered from the hamstring injury, he appeared in 30 games at Gwinnett and produced an eye-popping line of .287/.366/.694 with 11 home runs in 123 plate appearances, good for a 170 wRC+. The Braves traded him to the Marlins at the Trade Deadline and he finished the season in the majors but again struggled to make contact, hitting .157/.260/.278 with three home runs in the final 42 games.
Alex Jackson 2021 Stats
What went right? What went wrong?
Nothing really went right for Jackson, as he failed to take advantage of his limited opportunities. While he had only a tiny sample in the majors, he rated neutral-to-poor framing-wise, which took away one of the avenues for him to accrue value. He struck out in nearly half of his plate appearances without running a high walk rate, and disappointingly, while he showed the right approach on balls in play (pulling them in the air when he did make contact), he didn’t hit many of them particularly hard, with an average exit velocity on non-grounders of 90.7 mph, which is actually slightly lower than league average.
Jackson’s absurd whiff rates have pretty much forestalled any chance for him to provide major league value. He has literally missed on over half of the swings he’s taken so far, while the league rate about one whiff per four swings. He’s only 25, but he’s gotta rectify that to stick around, or find some way to really channel his power when he does connect... because all those whiffs without sufficient dingers is not a recipe for a wRC+ above 50.
Road to the Title
Alex Jackson had literally one game all season with a positive cWPA. Amusingly, it came as a Brave, against his eventual team, the Marlins. Less amusingly, the Braves lost the game. It was also the game in which Jackson collected his lone hit as a Brave of the 2021 season.
On April 12, Jackson got a start against Miami. In his first plate appearance, Sandy Alcantara hit him with a pitch. In his second plate appearance, he had a chance to score a runner from third with one out, but hit into a fielder’s choice that got the runner thrown out at home. He led off the seventh against Alcantara with that aforementioned hit:
He was then bunted to second, moved to third after back-to-back walks, and scored a run on a sacrifice fly. Unfortunately, Nate Jones came in and gave up the lead, which set up arguably Alex Jackson’s greatest moment as a Brave in 2021: in a tie game in the ninth, Adam Cimber hit Austin Riley with a pitch... which then set up... Cimber also hitting Jackson with a pitch:
Amazingly, both of those plunks came on back-to-back pitches. The Braves had a golden opportunity to walk it off, but Cimber rebounded to get two outs, walked Ronald Acuña Jr., and then got Ozzie Albies to ground out. That meant it was time for 2021’s weird extra inning rules, and the Braves ended up losing 5-3 as Jacob Webb gave up a couple while the Braves were shut down by Yimi Garcia. So there you have it: Alex Jackson tried his best that day with a single and a couple of beanings, but the Braves still lost.
I guess he also helped out by putting up a -22 wRC+ and a combined -0.39 WPA across five games in which he faced the Braves as a Marlin, so thanks!
Outlook for 2022
Jackson will presumably be in camp with Miami during the spring and will be competing for a spot on the major league roster. He didn’t do well in his initial audition, but the power is real and if he can make just a little more contact, then it isn’t hard to see him carving out a career as a backup, especially if he can prove that the bad framing in 2021 was jut a small-sample fluke.