Austin Jackson has big shoes to fill this season.
The 23-year-old was traded to the Detroit Tigers in December as part of the three team deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. Jackson steps into Granderson’s dual role as leadoff hitter and centerfielder for Detroit.
He has a career total of zero at-bats in the Major League, but that doesn’t mean the rookie is worried. Jackson was one of the top prospects in the Yankees organization for the past four years and he is ready to take his game to the next level.
The FrontPage newspaper caught up with Jackson before the Tigers finished up their exhibition schedule and headed to Kansas City for the season opener.
FrontPage: Austin, I wanted to start out by talking about the trade in December. Going into the off-season with the Yankees did you have any sense that you might get moved?
Austin Jackson: No, not really. My name came up in a couple of trade rumors before so I guess I wasn’t that surprised, but the day it happened it did kind of take me by surprise because nothing really led up to it. I just got a phone call saying you might be traded here in a little bit, so I just braced myself.
FP: What was your first reaction when you got the news you were coming to Detroit?
AJ: Well, my agent called me and he was pretty pumped, so that made me excited because he was telling me this is a good opportunity for you to get your career started. Hearing that from him, that put me at ease.
FP: Was he excited because he had a sense you’d be a starter here?
AJ: I think he was more pumped because I would have a legitimate chance at making the ball club.
FP: Coming here meant replacing Curtis Granderson. Did you know you were going to be taking the spot of one of the most popular players on the team?
AJ: Yeah. In the minor leagues, in the past, I was compared to him, which is a great honor. He was one of the guys I watched playing centerfield and off the field you hear what type of guy he is. He came up to me (in spring training) and introduced himself, told me to work hard and the fans will love you.
FP: Working hard won’t be anything new for you. You’ve been one of the top prospects in baseball since the age of 12. Where does that work ethic come from?
AJ: I give a lot of credit to my dad. He built me a cage when I was younger. He built the.cage in the backyard. He put lights up for nighttime and we’d get out there and hit all day long. Without that I probably wouldn’t be here right now.
FP: This week won’t only be your debut as a Detroit Tiger, it will also be your Major League debut period. What emotions are you feeling right now?
AJ: Words really can’t describe how I feel. It’s been a goal I’ve been trying to reach for some years now and I couldn’t be doing it with a greater group of guys. They’ve welcomed me like I’ve been here for three or four years already. They’ve put me at ease a little bit with me being a rookie.
FP: Down in Lakeland did anybody specifically take you under their wing?
AJ: Brandon Inge and Adam Everett, they’ve been two of the guys that will sit me down if I have a question about something. They always tell me (to not) be afraid to ask, because you don’t want to make a mistake and then have to sit down and talk about it.
FP: Are you feeling any added pressure leading off right from the start of your rookie season?
AJ: I don’t really think it’s that much pressure for me because it plays right into my game. Just getting on base, getting hits and getting in scoring position, I think that’s my game.
FP: What if you have a slump and fans start to get on you a little bit. How are you going to handle that?
AJ: I always tell myself every year, you know (a slump) is going to happen. Sometimes you’re going to feel like you can hit any pitch up there and then you’re going to feel like I don’t even know how to play baseball. I have to constantly remind myself of that and tell myself when that happens you’ve just got to play through it. You know you’re going to come out of it.
FP: One thing fans are really excited about this season is your speed. Ballpark guess: How many bases are you going to steal this season?
AJ: Oh man, I would like to say 30. That’s what I would like to shoot for. You never know. There are some good catchers out there who get rid of the ball pretty quick.
FP: Friday was the home opener in Detroit. Give readers one thing you were excited about and one thing that might have gotten you a little nervous.
AJ: I was most excited about the fans and debuting. Like I said, it’s something I was looking forward to. I guess dropping a pop-up would be something I was scared of doing. (laughs)
FP: Thanks for taking the time. Good luck.