Originally written February 24, 2012 on Fox Sports Detroit:
LAKELAND, Fla. -- With sluggers like Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young in the Detroit Tigers lineup this year, all lead-off hitter Austin Jackson has to do is get on base and be ready to run home. In his rookie season in 2010, Jackson was on base a lot. He batted .293 and led all American Leagues rookies in runs scored (103), hits (181), total bases (247), extra-base hits (48), doubles (34), triples (10) and stolen bases (27). Jackson became just the fourth player in league history since 1901 to reach at least 100 runs scored, 180 hits, 30 doubles, 10 triples and 25 stolen bases as a rookie -- joining Joe Jackson (1911), Juan Samuel (1984) and Hanley Ramirez (2006). Jackson finished second to Texas closer Neftali Feliz in A.L. Rookie of the Year voting. Although Jackson never spoke of a sophomore slump, he did seem to fall into one last season, when his batting average dropped to .249 and most of his other offensive stats dipped as well. Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon said he actually wasn't surprised by Jackson's drop-off. When the offseason came, McClendon had a few ideas he thought would help. "I somewhat suspected (it might happen)," McClendon said. "Skip (Tigers manager Jim Leyland) and I talked about it. "The problem with trying to make changes after the first year, particularly when you have 181 hits and you're almost Rookie of the Year, it's kind of hard to do. And he may not have been as receptive to doing it. "Sometimes you have to wait for the right moment, so to speak. Obviously, his sophomore year was a trying time for him at times, but I still think he did OK. "He realizes that there's so much more there for him. I just felt it was the right time to do it, and he was very receptive to doing it." As it turned out, Jackson was having some similar ideas, and right before the Tigers started the Winter Caravan in January, Jackson flew up to Detroit from his Texas home a few days early so he could work with McClendon. "Really, we just talked about simplifying things, getting to the point where we take away the leg kick, which I think gets him in trouble from time to time, maybe flatten the bat just a little bit so he can repeat the swing from one swing to the next, not worry about where his hands are going," McClendon said. "He's done quite well with it." Jackson took to the change surprisingly quickly, in part because he had thought about it himself when swinging in the offseason. "It's more of being down on time than being quicker to the ball," Jackson explained. "With the high leg kick, I had a tendency to be late a lot and I wasn't recognizing pitches as well. "Kind of shortening up the leg kick, I'll be down on time and, hopefully, I can recognize pitches better and lay off those tough pitches ... I'll be down and not getting down at the same time as the ball coming through the hitting zone." Jackson and McClendon were able to look at video of Jackson's swing and see what the high leg kick was doing to his body and his timing. "We could draw a line and you could just see a lot of movement with my body while I'm about to hit," Jackson said. "It's causing a ball that I might see a strike out of the hand, by the time it gets to the plate, I'm jamming myself. "I might swing at a pitch out of the zone because I thought it was a strike when I was up in the air." Just that brief time together in Janauary had McClendon and Jackson convinced they were onto something. McClendon said he was taken aback at how quickly Jackson was able to make the change. "I'm probably more excited about what he's doing than when I did the same type of things with (Curtis) Granderson," McClendon said. "He (Jackson) looked very comfortable doing it, which is really surprising when you ask a young man to make those kind of changes. "You would think there would be a period of adjustment. He slipped right in and felt good with it." Jackson was so eager to continue with the new, lower leg kick that he arrived in Lakeland last Friday, a week before the team's first official full-squad workout. He said he was also motivated by the Tigers' success last season, winning 95 games and reaching the A.L. Championship Series, and by not advancing to the World Series. "I can't stress enough just how excited (I was) getting back out here in general," Jackson said. "You're at the house just watching other sports, the competing, you kind of miss that. You want to get back out there and start competing, just get back on the field with your teammates and start trying to win some games again. "After last year and how much we accomplished last year, we want to build off that. Definitely looking forward to this time right here." With all the hoopla surrounding Cabrera and Fielder in the same lineup, Leyland is looking forward to seeing how Jackson does batting in front of those guys. "I think if he gets somewhere in between last year and the first year, I think he's one of the big keys to our team," Leyland said. When Jackson does get on base, he'll have perhaps the best vantage point in the house to watch the two sluggers everyone wants to see. "You don't really get to see two hitters like that in the lineup," Jackson said. "I joked around in the offseason that's something you do on the video games when the computer can't make the trade. "You turn their decision-making off and you just trade whoever. You put Cabrera and Prince on the same team. But you just don't get to see that too much. Guys are excited about that."
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