SARASOTA, Fla. - A leisurely stroll for minor league infielder Drew Jackson turned into a joy ride. With a couple of crazy turns along the way.
Jackson was left unprotected by the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft, held on the final day of baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, and the Phillies selected him with the 11th overall pick.
“My phone started blowing up,” he said.
Then came the one call that blew up his visions of going to spring training in Clearwater.
“Very weird day,” said Jackson, who was walking the streets in New York while visiting friends. “I saw that I was with the Phillies, and then 20 minutes later Mike Elias called and was like, ‘Oh, you’re actually with the Orioles. We traded for you.’ So, yeah, that was like in the span of an hour or so. Yeah, crazy hour for sure.”
Elias, hired in November as the Orioles executive vice president and general manager, surrendered international signing bonus slot money and included cash considerations in the deal.
Jackson assumed that he’d be leaving the Dodgers organization, but not like this. He figured that someone else would want him, but not like this.
“I was hoping so,” he said. “When I didn’t get protected by the Dodgers, I had a good shot. It wasn’t under my control. Just hoping.”
Jackson, 25, is competing for a job as a starting shortstop or utility player, capable of bouncing to third base, second base and center field. “Diversify my pallet out there,” as he so eloquently put it.
Manager Brandon Hyde has been moving him around on the back fields, with rotating players one of the more common activities in camp.
“I think the more positions you have under your belt, the easier it makes decisions for Hyde and the coaching staff because you can fill in wherever,” Jackson said. “That’s what I’m here for is the versatility, but my ultimate goal is to be an everyday starter somewhere. If it gets my foot in the door, yeah, I’ll play anywhere, but at the end of the day I want to be an everyday starter and I think that’s what everybody wants to be.”
The former fifth-round pick of the Mariners was given a mixed bag before showing up at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, carrying disappointment in his failure to land on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster and excitement that a rebuilding team could offer a shorter path to the majors.
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” he said. “This is the best opportunity I could ask for. Being over there, it’s just a different situation. You get disappointed at first because everyone wants to get added to the roster, but at the same time it opens you up for this opportunity and I’m super stoked for it.”
Going from World Series team to contender to the bottom in the blink of an eye didn’t really sink in with Jackson. He can do the math, of course. He just ignored it.
“It’s funny looking back,” he said. “That’s a good way to look at it. But when it happened I wasn’t really even thinking about depth charts or anything, or team performance.
“I’m here to win and my whole career has been on winning. I’m going to try to be a sparkplug. It doesn’t matter if a team is trying to rebuild. I’m out there trying to win and I think it doesn’t matter who’s on the team. If you can collectively come together you can get wins. People have doubts, but you never know what can happen.”
The competition for starting and utility jobs is fierce, though the field thinned at least temporarily yesterday with the Orioles designating Hanser Alberto for assignment. And Jackson isn’t the only Rule 5 pick. Richie Martin was selected first overall, a plus defender at short whose bat awakened last summer at Double-A Midland.
The Orioles might not keep two Rule 5 players. They might not retain one.
Jackson also won’t obsess over Martin. It must take a lot to rattle him. Could be the Stanford education or his DNA.
“It’s just another guy we’re competing with, but there’s a bunch of infielders here competing for spots, so we’re all in very similar positions trying to make the squad, and whoever performs is going to make it,” Jackson said.
“Wherever I’d be, if I was with any other club in spring training, you’ve got to compete and you’ve got to outplay the other guys but focus on your game and do your thing. It doesn’t come easy anywhere.”
It’s natural for Jackson and Martin, selected from the Athletics organization, to form a bond. For the media to keep pairing them in articles. Sort of like Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman back in the day.
“Yeah, everyone’s putting us together,” Jackson said. “We’re actually rooming together at the hotel. We’ve played against each other the last few years and it’s fun playing with him.”
I asked for a scouting report on Martin as a roommate at the precise moment that he was walking past us to fetch a drink from the tall cooler next to Jackson’s locker. Martin turned to us, smiled and waited for the dig.
“Terrible,” Jackson said, laughing. “He just moved in last night, so so far it’s gone smoothly. We’ll see how it goes after a couple of weeks.”
It should take longer to find out the same about their chances of sticking around.