As a teenager, North Carolina native Justin Jackson dabbled in pitching while starting as a shortstop at Roberson High School.
Jackson always felt more comfortable in the infield than anywhere else, but this offseason has found the first-rounder trying out his third position in as many years.
The son of former Astros utilityman Chuck Jackson, 24-year-old Justin Jackson talked to MiLB.com about playing Little League ball in Asheville, transitioning from the infield to the outfield to the mound and writing his own music.
MiLB.com: As a first-round pick back in the 2007 Draft, do you think you've lived up to your potential?
Jackson: I look at it like this -- people will have expectations, but sometimes things aren't ready until they're ready. God has a plan for everything, and when you're ready to blossom, he'll let you know. I live by that every day. All I can control is me and myself and working hard and putting in that effort. At the end of the day, whatever I get from that, I can live with.
MiLB.com: You're going to switch positions this year. Tell me about the move from shortstop to pitcher.
Jackson: My agent was having a conversation with one of the higher-ups in the Blue Jays organization and they were watching a guy that had converted from being a position player. They were talking and my agent just threw it out there. He said, 'Justin's athletic, he has a good arm -- do you think he would be a guy that could make that kind of change?' They were like, 'Yeah, we'd love to see that, but we can't ask him to do that -- it would have to come from him.' My agent talked to me about it, and I decided that it was something I could do and something that I could be successful at.
The Blue Jays are 100 percent on board, and now I'm pushing forward on the mound. At the end of the day when I'm 30 or 40 years old, I don't want to be looking back saying, 'Man, I should have tried out pitching.' The age I'm at right now, it's perfect timing for me to try to give it a shot and to have a legitimate shot to do it.
MiLB.com Do you think you have a better chance making the Majors as a pitcher rather than a shortstop or center fielder?
Jackson: I honestly think I have a great chance either way. I've pitched my whole life, and I think if it was something I had focused on more in high school, without a doubt I could have been drafted as a pitcher. But it wasn't my first passion of the game, but it is something I am definitely passionate about as well. I felt like it was time to take that opportunity.
MiLB.com I read in old scouting reports that you hit 93 mph as a reliever. Do you think you can still hit the mid-90s?
Jackson: I believe so, especially with maturing. In high school, I really didn't know about mechanics and I didn't try to chance things because I was mainly a shortstop. But now this offseason, I'm working with my mechanics and trying to get a longer arm action and staying balanced -- the things that will help me grow. My arm strength has picked up since I was 18 years old, so we'll see how it goes this spring. I don't want to give away all of my pitches just yet, but I am working on some different things. But when it's time for me to get out and compete, I will definitely have an arsenal and I'll be ready.
MiLB.com What's the hardest part about the transition?
Jackson: I think for me the hardest part was putting the bat down. It's like breaking up with a girl, you just have to move on sometimes. But it's funny, because once I was able to make the decision and I was comfortable with it, everything has been great. I've been able to get into the pitching life and be excited about it. I really can't wait. I'll have to get adjusted to it and maybe find one or two more hobbies -- maybe get better at my card game, get a little Spades going.
MiLB.com On your song "Dedicated," you talk about wanting the ball in the ninth inning. Are you looking forward to that challenge?
Jackson: Definitely. I would imagine I'll start in the bullpen or something, but I want the ball when the game is on the line, point-blank. As I get more experience under my belt and more confidence from my teammates and coaches, hopefully it will be something I can look forward to -- coming out the back of the bullpen and closing games. All pitchers want to be a starter or a closer, and I think I'm best suited to closing, and I look forward to have an opportunity to do that.
MiLB.com: Your father, Chuck, played professional baseball for more than 10 years. What did you learn from him?
Jackson: Everything, I would say. When I was a young kid, he taught me how to work hard. He told me that if I wanted anything in life, I had to work hard to achieve it. From a young age, he instilled that work ethic in me that has carried me this far and will continue to take me on in my career. I grew up in a baseball household. Ever since I've been on this earth, I've been throwing stuff and trying to hit things with sticks. It's been ingrained in me, in my blood, since I was a little kid. I knew it was what I always wanted to do.
MiLB.com: As well as that pedigree, some of your peers were pretty good ballplayers too. What was it like being on the same team as Cameron Maybin in high school?
Jackson: It was awesome because he brought scouts every single day to look at all the other players as well. I learned a whole lot from him, seeing him go through the process and continuing to see him grow. I get to see him in the offseason sometimes, and it's just good to see somebody you grew up with doing really well.
MiLB.com: Before high school, what are some of your earliest baseball memories?
Jackson: South Asheville Little League. I definitely have memories of drinking "suicides" after the game, mixing up all the sodas. I remember I would always wear regular socks, but wear my pants up high so I would have skin showing when I was little. I loved getting dirty -- all the ballplayers remember those days.
MiLB.com What motivates you to succeed at baseball?
Jackson: What motivates me is myself. If I'm not into what I'm doing, how can I be successful? I push myself. That has been something that I have learned through my father and my mother, giving me a good background and teaching me that the sky is the limit, if I really want something I can achieve it. You work hard and bust it to show your family and friends that support you that you can make it and be successful. All of that matters to me, but the biggest thing is doing it for yourself. If you really want it, you have to go out and do it every day.
I'm pitching now, but if we have a 13- or 14-inning game or if somebody goes down, I can still run out there and play a little shortstop if needed. I know that's not my role, but you never you, maybe that makes me even more valuable because I can come off and run bases because I've done that at the Double-A level. I can't wait for the 2013 season, I'm very excited and everything is going to be great. I can't wait to get my spikes on the mound a little bit.