Alex J. Jackson’s friends and family call him A.J. It may only be a few years before A.J. is a household name.
Jackson is Perfect Game’s No.1-ranked high school prospect for the next graduating class. He heads the roster of the nation’s top seniors who will be on display at the 11th annual PG All-American Classic presented by Rawlings at Petco Park on Aug. 11.
En route to Jackson’s rise, the decorated catcher/outfielder from Escondido, Calif., took some of his cues from recent New York Yankees second-round draft pick Gosuke Katoh, whom he met as a freshman at Rancho Bernardo High School.
“We’ve been very good friends since the beginning,” the second baseman said from the Yankees’ Gulf Coast League rookie ball affiliate in Tampa, Fla.
Katoh, who like Jackson made the varsity as a freshman, remembers well the newbie from that first summer. “He was just amazing,” said Katoh, who played in last year's Classic. “I gave him some tips, but I’m not sure he needed those tips because he was such a good athlete.”
Katoh alleviated any concerns Jackson may have had, including the pressure of feeling like he needed to prove himself. “He helped me a lot,” said Jackson. “He basically told me ‘Just do what you do best, have fun and play the game. We know what you can do.’ It definitely took a lot of weight off my shoulders.”
Jackson heeded the advice, and consequently started gathering hardware. He hit seven home runs to help guide the Broncos to a CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) championship his first year. He was rewarded with the Cal-Hi Sports Freshman of the Year title.
In his sophomore year, Jackson notched 17 home runs for Rancho Bernardo and was named Cal-Hi Sports Sophomore of the Year. In his junior season, Jackson led the Broncos to a 30-5 record and its first-ever CIF San Diego Section Open Division title. Jackson hit 14 homers, batted .343, scored 50 runs and knocked in 33 runs. He was named MaxPreps Junior of the Year.
Jackson’s 38 career home runs leave him just 10 shy of eclipsing the San Diego Section record of 47 set by yet another PG All-American, Rancho Bernardo’s John Drennen from 2002-2005. Given his history, next season could be a record-breaking one for Jackson. “If everything goes right, there’s a good possibility,” he said.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Jackson has committed to Oregon. Whether he attends the Pac-12 powerhouse will be contingent on how high Jackson goes in next June’s MLB draft. Gosuke committed to UCLA, but ultimately chose the Yankees when he was selected No. 66 in the draft with an $845,000 signing bonus. Jackson said he hasn’t really thought about that too much.
“I’m just trying to enjoy the rest of the summer and everything that’s going on, and then get back into the high school season,” he said. “That last high school year, I just have to lay it on the line and see what happens. I haven’t really thought about the draft or where I’m going to go.”
Jackson’s summer included playing in The Perfect Game National Showcase at Minnesota’s Metrodome in June until a play at the plate resulted in a sidelining thumb injury. Jackson, however, was able to participate in the World Wood Bat Association 17u National Championship (WWBA) in Marietta, Ga., in July. And he will be attending this week’s Area Code Games in Long Beach (Aug. 5-10) and then the Classic at Petco.
In conjunction with the Classic, Jackson and fellow San Diegans Brady Aiken (ranked No. 18) and Sean Bouchard (No. 36), both of Cathedral Catholic, are joining forces to raise funds for the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s Hospital. Bouchard, who had been trailing in the Miracle Makers pilot program that pits the players against each other in a friendly competition, is now leading with $3,380 raised. Aiken, the No. 1-ranked lefty in California, is in second with $3,355. Jackson is close behind with $3,250. (Figures as of 8/5/13.) The game itself will offer another opportunity to collect money for Rady Children’s Hospital. During the middle of the fifth inning, red Rawlings helmets will be passed through the stands.
Jackson has attended the PG All-American Classic the past several years as a spectator. Last year, he was at Petco Park rooting on Katoh. This year, he’s expecting his own cheering section of friends and family.
“There’s definitely going to be a lot of support from Southern California and it’s going to be fun to be able to play in front of everyone,” he said.
The game will be shown live nationwide for the first time on MLB Network. Katoh, who plans to watch his former teammate, recalled how rewarding the experience was.
“The All-American game was really a life-changing moment for me,” said Katoh, who like the Miracle Makers visited Rady Children’s Hospital. “That really affected me a lot because I saw all these kids who really wanted to play baseball but couldn’t because they were in the hospital.”
Katoh advised Jackson to appreciate the whole experience. “I would just tell him to have fun. It’s an All-American game and it’s baseball, but to take in everything he can from that experience,” he said.
Meanwhile, Katoh is getting accustomed to the daily baseball grind in the minors. Making the transition easier is doing it with fellow San Diegan, former PG All-American Classic participant and Yankees first-round pick Ian Clarkin. The two are roommates. “We’ve been really good friends for a really long time, so to be able to have him with me wherever I go is really fun,” said Katoh.
The second baseman is adjusting on the field, too. He’s batting .306 and is third in the Gulf Coast League in slugging at .528 and OPS at .943.He’s also among the league leaders in OBP at .415. (Figures as of 8/5/13.)
Aside from being on the same high school team, Katoh and Jackson were on the same travel team, the San Diego Show. Aiken and Bouchard, both UCLA commits, are also Show teammates. Show President Brian Cain, who has coached the trio for years, described Jackson as an unassuming kid who goes about his business in a workman-like way.
“He’s outstanding in every facet of the game,” said Cain. “He’s a very special talent.” But the best part about Jackson, according to Cain, is that he doesn’t know how good he is. “Or if he does, he sure doesn’t act like it. He’s very humble for a player of his ability.”
Primarily, Jackson plays catcher for his high school team and outfield with the Show. “I love playing both positions,” he said.
Cain said Jackson’s athletic skills allow him to play virtually anywhere. “Obviously, he’s gotten to where he’s at because of his hitting, but he really knows how to play the field,” he said.
Cain predicts Jackson and his family will have a decision to make come next June.
“The first time I saw him I said ‘can’t miss first-rounder,’ said Cain. “He jumped off the page just like that. I think he’ll go extremely high in the draft.”