Drew Jackson’s monster season with AquaSox resonating with M’s brass

EVERETT — Drew Jackson’s first season of professional baseball has yielded results that are impossible to ignore.

Impossible for his Everett AquaSox teammates and coaches, who rave about his ability to take in stride the attention that comes from flirting with .400 and appearing atop or near the top of the Northwest League in seven offensive categories.

Impossible for the rest of the teams in the Northwest League, who are undoubtedly weary of seeing Jackson tearing up the basepaths and wondering why he’s still a thorn in their sides.

Jackson’s success since joining the AquaSox after being selected by the Seattle Mariners in the fifth round of the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Stanford has made him impossible even for top club executives to ignore, and he’s left them wondering whether they should consider themselves fortunate that Jackson lasted until the 155th overall selection given what he’s done in Everett.

“You have to give kudos to Tom McNamara and our scouting department. With the way the guy’s playing, he probably should have been picked sooner,” M’s director of player development Chris Gwynn said. “The year he has put together has been really impressive. We’ve been watching just like you, seeing how he had three more hits and stole two more bases. He comes with a tool set that’s pretty interesting for a middle infielder. I can’t say that we knew that he’d do as well as he’s doing, but he’s a smart kid that really understands his strengths. We’ve been really happy to see what he’s been doing.”

It would be hard not to be happy with a guy that’s hitting .374 — second in all of minor league baseball — atop an athletic, aggressive lineup that is pushing for a playoff spot after narrowly missing out on the Northwest League’s first-half title.

Jackson leads the Northwest League in batting average, stolen bases (37), runs scored (55), on-base percentage (.447) and OPS, or on-base plus slugging percentage (.920).

He is second in hits (68) and fifth in slugging percentage (.473). He has also had a 20-game hitting streak this season.

Jackson has also impressed Gwynn with his throwing arm from shortstop where he has made eight errors in 47 games for a .959 fielding percentage.

“Just based on this season, it looks like he does everything well,” Gwynn said.

No less an authority than Mariners chairman and CEO Howard Lincoln — in town Tuesday with team president and COO Kevin Mather for their annual check-in with the AquaSox organization — confirmed that the big club’s front office has taken notice of Jackson’s exploits, as well as those of his teammates.

“There are players here that we have a lot of money invested in, and everybody in the Mariners’ front office gets reports every day of all our minor league teams,” Lincoln said. “Every one of these players is evaluated on a daily basis.”

Jackson, whose older brother Brett starred at Cal and played 51 games in the major leagues, is quick to credit his AquaSox teammates and coaches for fostering an environment in which he could flourish, but he has particularly benefited from having a two-time stolen base leader on staff in Brian Hunter.

Hunter swiped 260 bags in a 10-year MLB career, leading all of baseball with 74 in 1997 and topping the American League with 44 in 1999.

Jackson, already blessed with tremendous speed and athleticism, has learned the finer points of reading pitchers and getting jumps from Hunter. It has worked beyond expectations, as Jackson has stolen 37 bases in 40 attempts entering Saturday.

“I watch the pitcher a lot from the bench and during the game, and any little things he might give away that would allow me to get a little better jump to steal. I’ve never stolen this many bags before, but I hope to continue doing it.”

Indeed, Jackson stole 13 bases in three seasons at Stanford after 52 successful thefts in a three-year varsity career at Miramonte (Calif.) High School.

Everett manager Rob Mummau allows all of his players to run on their own, so Jackson is free to be as aggressive as he dares.

“I’m not really worried about getting thrown out,” he said.

“Brian’s really helped (Drew) as far as little things to pick up on and what counts to run on, but Drew has a lot of natural ability. He can really run,” Mummau said. “He’s been a real catalyst for us offensively. It just seems like he’s on base all the time and creating havoc out there. His approach has been perfect all year long, and he’s doing a good job of not getting too caught up in things, but it will be cool to watch him in these last 20 games or so.”

Mark Marquess, Jackson’s coach at Stanford and winner of over 1,500 games and two national championships in 39 years with the Cardinal, said that a few factors combined to produce a low stolen base total for Jackson in his time on The Farm.

“He had a few injuries that took some time away from him, and we would have run him more last year but we were always behind,” Marquess said. “The numbers he’s put up are unbelievable, just unbelievable. I think the stolen bases are just him being comfortable with the other parts of his game.”

Jackson’s draft stock rose mightily this past season at Stanford after he led the Cardinal with a .320 batting average and was named an All-Pac-12 honorable mention after combining to hit .187 in his first two seasons, but he’s self-aware enough to admit that his dominance of the Northwest League this season was not predicted by many.

“Of course this is more than what people probably expected from me, but I always knew I had this in me, and I always wanted to keep getting better,” he said.

Marquess suggested — fully aware of how counterintuitive it seems — that Jackson may actually find professional baseball easier than the college game.

“You never know if when a guy starts playing every day, if that’s going to be better for him to let his talent take over,” he said. “Drew is a fantastic athlete — as good of an athlete as I’ve had — but what I saw when he left here was a player who was really confident with himself at the plate, and that can affect everything else.”

It hasn’t always been this way for Jackson, and no one knows that better than Braden Bishop, his partner in crime atop the Everett lineup.

Jackson and Bishop are both Northern California kids who grew up 45 minutes apart, Jackson in Orinda and Bishop in San Carlos. They played summer ball together as kids and their moms were in the same sorority at UCLA.

Bishop went on to star at the University of Washington after a standout career at national powerhouse St. Francis, but kept in touch with Jackson when they were both trying to make their way in the Pac-12.

“I’ve seen him struggle and pick himself up and out of it,” Bishop said of Jackson. “His freshman and sophomore years at Stanford he got out of the gates slow and he’s been knocked down a few times. He’s the epitome of picking yourself back up. He’s one of the hardest workers and one of the best athletes I’ve ever been around, and his older brother Brett really ingrained in him that every day at the ballpark is a new day. He’s just been letting his athleticism take over and doing what comes naturally. To see his growth and development has been awesome, and nobody deserves success more.”

With all that has been thrown at Jackson in his first season of professional baseball, he has endeavored to keep his eyes pointed toward tomorrow.

“I’m trying to stay consistent and build off the past day’s at-bats,” he said. “I’m trying to keep a consistent approach, see the ball well, make good contact, put the ball in play and put pressure on the defense. If I do that, hopefully the results will happen. I try not to let the numbers affect me and just produce.”

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