Luke Jackson is the ace of the Rangers' Double-A affiliate. You've probably heard of him, because (a) the Rangers used a supplemental 1st round pick on him in the June draft a few years ago, and (b) he throws really hard. Heading into 2014, he was Texas's #4 prospect per FanGraphs, #8 per Baseball America, #7 per MLB.com, and #12 according to Keith Law (insider needed), who notes that Jackson "has a big arm and shows three pitches but has a reliever's delivery and command."
Last night, Luke had the type of start he has proven to be capable of -- from a peripherals standpoint -- in Double-A, with nine punch outs and two walks in 5.1 innings on the bump. He also allowed four earned runs (on three hits and a costly HR), but that's hardly indicative of how sharp he's been since April 15th, his third start of the season:
In 10 outings, Jackson is 7-2 with a 2.25 ERA (2.54 FIP) and a 70:16 K-to-BB ratio in 64.0 innings. Behind a power fastball that touches the upper-90's, his 25.5% strikeout rate ranks 2nd in the Texas League (behind a guy nearly two years older than him), and his 6.6% walk rate ranks 6th in the league (minimum 60 IP). Since the start of 2013 -- where he began the season at Advanced-A Myrtle Beach -- Luke Jackson has a 2.34 ERA with 208 strikeouts in exactly 200.1 innings (101 came in Single-A; 100.1 in Double-A).
He's far from a finished product, and it's still to be determined whether his future destination will be as a late-inning relief arm or as a starting pitcher, but Luke is nearing the point where he doesn't have anything left to show in the minor leagues.
The Rangers' big league club is currently 31-34, 8.0 games away from the division-leading Athletics and 3.5 games behind the Mariners for third place. Aside Yu Darvish, the rotation features an ineffective Colby Lewis, youngsters Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez, and the still-employed Joe Saunders. It's a sad, motley crew that's been forced together through injuries, the common thread of the 2014 Texas Rangers baseball season.
For that reason, I really don't see the downside in calling up Luke Jackson. Internally, he's the best starting pitching option the Rangers have, and he would immediately provide the club a better chance of winning than Joe Saunders does. Being that we're in June, calling him up wouldn't effect his arbitration clock, as the Rangers would still have him under team control through 2021, six seasons after this one.
Another, albeit jaded, reason I think it would be smart for the Rangers to call him up has to do with the fact that he's a pitcher, and pitchers almost always break. This passage, from a FiveThirtyEight article I read last month, gives interesting insight into what often happens with young arms:
"[It] plays into another old hypothesis that might be worthy of new life: the “injury nexus,” formulated by [Will] Carroll and FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver way back in 2003. The idea of the injury nexus is that pitchers are especially vulnerable to catastrophic damage during a very specific, formative time in their careers, before they hit the age of 24. One big medical theory as to why: Pitchers’ bodies aren’t completely mature until roughly that age, putting them at greater physical risk of injury."
Luke Jackson is 22 right now, and his season-high for innings pitched is 129.2 in 2012; though, in 2013 he tossed 128.0, so it's basically the same thing. In 2014, he's on pace for 150-plus for the first time in his young career.
So, if he's going to start every fifth day for Frisco through August, get a September call-up and likely do the same for an out-of-the-race Rangers team, then why not just see what he's got right now? I hate that baseball has gotten to the point where I fully expect most young, hard-throwing pitchers to go down with Tommy John surgery... I don't want to say it's inevitable for Jackson, too, but with it looming in the foreground as a realistic possibility, the Rangers would see more value from Luke if his innings were spent in Joe Saunders's place, rather than against Double-A competition.
Jon Daniels didn't ascend to the upper-tier of MLB General Managers by playing it safe. His style is generally cautious on the business end, but when it comes to developing prospects he has never been afraid to push his young stars on the farm. I know Luke Jackson only has about 100 innings above Single-A under his belt, but it would be clever of the front office to get as much value out of his arm as they can by calling him up sooner rather than later.
During a lost season, what else do the Rangers have to lose?