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The Braves have been incredibly fortunate with their catching situation over the last several years. Not only have most if not all of their short-term solutions at the position played well enough to keep the Braves at or near the top of league at the position, but they have also been able to develop multiple legitimate prospects at the position. However, with the ascension of William Contreras and Shea Langeliers as potential catchers of the future, Alex Jackson’s future as a Brave is very much an open question. Lets take a look at what went right and wrong for AJax in 2020 as well as what to expect in 2021.

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What went right? Well, for a guy that went hitless in his first 15 plate appearances as a Brave in 2019, the 2020 season was more successful as he recorded his first two hits in the major leagues. He also continued to look pretty good in very limited looks behind the plate, especially for a guy who had switched back to the position after being an outfielder in the Mariners’ system.

#24. Alex Jackson, C
6’2″, 215 lbs.
1st RD / 2014 MLB Draft (SEA)
As has been the theme throughout the entirety of this series thus far, Jackson is another Braves prospect that missed out on an opportunity to build off a career-year from 2019. With the team’s selection of college catcher Shea Langeliers, to go along with a normal amount of prospect fatigue for a guy that’s now entering his eighth professional season, the San Diego native needs a big 2021 season to have any chance to remain within the organization’s Top 30.

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What has Jackson done so far?
Jackson was originally a Seattle Mariner, selected 6th overall in the 2014 draft as a high school kid with plus-hit and power potential. As a teenager, Jackson was looked at as not only an above-average catcher but also a player with the tools to also handle a corner outfield position. As a matter of fact, Jackson didn’t really start catching until he was acquired by the Braves in a November 2016 trade.

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Despite his minimal versatility on defense, make no mistake, Atlanta wanted Jackson for his offense as the then-20-year-old was coming off a 2016 campaign with Single-A Clinton in which he slugged 11 home runs and 55 RBI to go along with a .243 AVG in 92 games. As a new member of Atlanta’s organization and the starting catcher for both High-A Florida and Double-A Mississippi, Jackson impressed during his first season with the Braves in 2017. Across the two levels that year (96 games combined), Jackson slashed .267/.328/.480 with 19 homers and 65 RBI, while even throwing out 21% (16 for 61) of would-be base stealers (not bad for a first-time catcher still learning the position as a pro). And to add to his breakout year, Atlanta shipped Jackson to Arizona in ’17 to play Fall Ball, where he managed a .263 AVG and 5 home runs in 20 games to go along with an even better 26% caught-stealing rate.

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However, 2018 wasn’t as kind. Jackson was challenged with 64 more games in Mississippi to start the season, and despite some real strides on defense behind the plate (31% CS rate), Jackson struck out nearly 35% of the time with the bat while hitting just .200. A 35-game stint in Triple-A Gwinnett down the stretch didn’t get him going either, for Jackson only managed to bump his AVG up just four points (.204).

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The 2019 season was really when Jackson caught the attention of most Braves fans. Apparently adjusting his approach to a more of an all-or-nothing style at the plate, in 85 games, Jackson belted 28 home runs and tallied 65 RBI for the Stripers, all while hitting .229 and finishing the year with a bloated 38.5% K rate. Due to injuries at the MLB level, he made his major league debut in April (going 0 for 10). Still, his power display in Gwinnett earned him another opportunity in Atlanta in late August that season. However, through 13 at-bats overall in ’19, Jackson remained hitless.

Last season the Braves catching depth chart was made up primarily of Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers, but Atlanta did give Jackson another 7 plate appearances in the big leagues. In 2020, Jackson went 2 for 7 at the plate (.286 AVG) with the major league team, and with Flowers now gone, there’s a chance the journeyman minor leaguer can be the Braves no. 2 guy behind the plate this coming season.

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Expectations for Jackson this season?
At this point, now 25-years-old, Jackson probably is what he is: a solid defensive catcher with power but one who’ll never be patient enough at the plate to start in the majors. Although that’s still a rather valuable player at the catcher position.

However, what’s hurting Jackson is that there are potentially already two other catchers within the organization that could very well become much more valuable than that, in Langeliers and William Contreras. And with Langeliers expected to reach the upper minors at some point in 2021 (he played primarily in Single-Rome in 2019) and Contreras potentially ready to join the major-league club at some point in 2020, Jackson’s time to make a further impression is running out.

What went wrong? I am not going to draw too many conclusions from stats from seven plate appearances as that seems a bit silly. Generally speaking, the issues with Alex all stem from his VERY iffy hit tool and whether or not his significant raw power will play in games enough to offset hi deficiencies elsewhere. The problem for Alex is that the Braves have seemingly moved in the direction that that isn’t going to happen. While some of this is a product of Travis d’Arnaud being so good, that the Braves gave William Contreras early season plate appearances and started his clock was fairly telling.

What to expect in 2021? Travis d’Arnaud is going to get the lion’s share of the starts at catcher in 2021 and with good reason. That is a given. That means the best case scenario for Alex is that he ends up as the Braves’ backup catcher for 2021 if Tyler Flowers’ time with the team is, in fact, over. However, there are a lot of headwinds going against AJax’s chances of even that happening. Flowers could still end up back with the team which would nix that idea and even if that doesn’t happen, it does seem pretty clear that William Contreras has the inside track for that job. Shea Langeliers seems less likely given his lack of game reps, but he has more defensive upside than Alex and a team doesn’t spend a high draft pick on a college catcher unless there is at least a pretty good sense that he should be able to contribute in the relatively near term. With all of the questions surrounding AJax’s swing and miss and hit tool in general, it feels like he may be running out time to secure a spot with the Braves at all. He is just 24 and he is on the 40 man roster, so it seems unwise to completely count him out, but 2021 may be another season where he only gets called up if something happens to the guys ahead of him. Unfortunately for him, it also seems like he is further down the depth chart than he was previously.

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