ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Mariners hope they’ve acquired a hard-hitting, middle-of-the-order bat of the future.
Thursday they selected Alex Jackson, a high-school catcher and outfielder from Rancho Bernardo High School in Escondido, Calif., with the sixth overall choice of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.
“It’s one of those feelings that is hard to explain in words — the emotions that run through your body,” Jackson said via conference call. “It’s an honor to be considered with the other top players who have been chosen in the draft. I’m truly blessed.”
Jackson, 6 feet 2, 215 pounds, was considered the top high-school hitting prospect in the country.
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“We like his (hitting) ability mixed with his power,” said Tom McNamara, Mariners director of amateur scouting. “He’s not just a one-dimensional hitter. He’s a combination of both, and we’ve been scouting him for the last three years — all summer, fall and spring … We were very happy that he was there when we made our selection.”
Jackson, who has played mostly catcher the past few seasons, will start his pro career in the outfield. With Mike Zunino entrenched as the catcher of the future, the Mariners envision Jackson as a corner outfielder.
“We’ve seen him play multiple positions but we think down the road that outfield is going to be his best position,” McNamara said. “He’s a pretty good catcher, too. He’s an athletic kid. He can do a lot of different things.”
Jackson has no problem with moving to the outfield.
“I just want to get out there and play baseball, whether it’s in the outfield, or behind the plate,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going out there, having a good time and playing hard.”
Jackson played outfield as a freshman, then moved to catcher. He also played third base.
“I’ve played multiple positions my whole life,” he said. “It’s nothing extraordinary being thrown at me.”
General manager Jack Zduriencik watched Jackson play once and came away impressed.
“Good-looking kid,” Zduriencik said. “He’s got an outstanding arm. He could catch, if you wanted him to catch. But I do think in the scenario here, with a young catcher in the big leagues with us now, and this kid’s bat potential … (we’ll play) him in the outfield to start with … We can always put him back behind the plate.”
Jackson hit .400 (40 for 100) with seven doubles, four triples, 11 home runs and 31 runs batted in in 35 games during his senior season despite teams pitching around him. He finished with a 1.459 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
“We look at him as an advanced high-school player because the high-school baseball program that he’s at is one of the top ones in California,” McNamara said. “He already has a feel of what it’s like to be on the road.”
Jackson put up monster numbers over his four-year career at Rancho Bernardo hitting .375 (150 for 400) with 156 runs scored, 35 doubles, six triples, 47 home runs and 127 RBI in 135 games. The 47 home runs tied him with former Indians prospect Johnny Drennen (2002-05) for the San Diego section record. Jackson hit five homers as a freshman, 17 as a sophomore — the most in California — 14 as a junior and 11 as a senior. He helped lead his team to California’s San Diego section championship all four seasons, winning the title as a freshman and junior.
“It’s more of going up there with an approach, going up there with a plan in mind and wanting to hit the ball every time and produce runs for your team,” Jackson said.
Jackson had verbally committed to play for Oregon. Asked when he would decide whether to sign with the Mariners or the Ducks, he replied: “Right now, I have no idea about that.”
But the Mariners don’t think there will be issues signing Jackson, who is represented by Scott Boras.
“I think he wants to play,” Zduriencik said. “How many opportunities does any player, anywhere, ever get to be taken in the top 10 picks in the draft? How are you going to better yourself? By the time he gets through Oregon, he may very well be a big-leaguer. I think that’s important and I think his desire is to play pro ball.”
The Mariners also had the final choice of the first day of the draft, selecting at No. 74. They continued to go with right-handed hitting power, taking Canadian slugger Gareth Morgan of the Blyth Academy in Toronto, Ontario.
At 6-4, and a chiseled 220 pounds, Morgan is a physical specimen, who drew comparisons to Marlins’ power hitter Giancarlo Stanton. But he’s considered to be a very raw product at age 18.
Morgan played for the Canadian Junior National team that recently returned from playing eight games against professional teams in the Dominican Republic. He also played some games with Langley Blaze select team that played against minor league teams in spring training in Arizona and Florida. Morgan has signed a letter of intent with North Carolina State.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @RyanDivish