Entering this season, there may not have been a Minor Leaguer with more questions to answer than Alex Jackson. Six weeks in, his responses have been loud, clear and overwhelmingly positive.
"Coming into Spring Training, we just heard, 'OK, we got this kid from Seattle. He came out of high school, and he was the best hitter.' Obviously, the numbers last year were [down], and I cannot say what the situation was with Seattle, but sometimes a change of the scenario is just good for everybody," Class A Advanced Florida hitting coach Carlos Mendez said.
The No. 23 prospect of the Braves, who acquired him in a November trade that sent Max Povse and Rob Whalen to the Mariners, Jackson continued his scorching start Monday, belting his Florida State League-leading 10th home run and four RBIs in the Fire Frogs' 9-2 win over the Tortugas.
"There's one thing about him: He's a really smart hitter and he's so, so strong. He's probably the strongest player I've ever seen," Mendez said. "He reminds me of [Evan] Gattis, back in his first year, but Jackson is a better hitter.
"If he gets a pitch to hit, he just barely misses it. He can miss a pitch and he's so strong, he hits it to the deepest part of the ballpark -- to the warning track or off the wall. He can hit the ball 400 feet to right field. Or you see him in one at-bat hit a line-drive single to right field, and the next he hits a bullet deep to left field."
Along with the change of scenery has come a change of position, as the 21-year-old moved from the outfield to behind the plate, where he spent his high school career before being taken by the Mariners sixth overall in the 2014 Draft. Over 92 games last season with Class A Clinton, he hit just one more homer than his current total through 30 contests.
His 10 dingers are also one shy of matching Minor League leader Chris DeVito of Class A Lexington. Jamie Romak, formerly of Triple-A El Paso, also had 10, but his contract was sold by San Diego to a Korean Baseball Organization team Saturday.
Jackson is hitting .295 with a .344 on-base percentage and his 27 RBIs also lead the league.
"I think it has surprised us all a little bit," Mendez said of the California native's power. "We just try to make sure he's at home -- everything we do in player development is about turning him into the best player he can be. He's very happy to be here, and you can see he loves playing baseball. He's very mature, and we saw right away he has a great work ethic.
"He's working on the catching, and that's going very good. He's very good back there, but the thing that impresses me is just how he separates the offense from the defense and the defense from the offense. Whatever he's doing on one side, he doesn't let that affect what he does on the other side."
On Monday, he served as Florida's designated hitter, as he has been in 17 games this year. With one out and runners on first and second in the first inning, he stroked a 3-1 offering from Jose Lopez for a two-run double.
"He was ready to hit fastball. [Lopez has] good stuff -- he's one of the best pitchers in the league, I think," the Fire Frogs hitting coach said. "He has a sharp slider he can throw for strikes and keep down, but he tried to sneak a fastball by him, 93 or 94 miles an hour, and [Jackson] smoked it down the left-field line."
Facing Jake Paulson with two outs in the sixth, Jackson deposited a 2-1 sinker for a two-run homer -- his third long ball in four games.
"That was a line drive that went out of the ballpark in two or three seconds. That just went. It was gone," Mendez said. "He has very quick hands, so it's really nice to see that. He's been very impressive to me."
Ronald Acuna, Atlanta's No. 7 prospect and MLB.com's No. 92 overall prospect, notched his fifth triple, a single, two RBIs and two runs scored. The 19-year-old outfielder was promoted to Double-A Mississippi following the game.