Former Ute Andre Jackson Comes Full Circle In Baseball Career

Aug 8, 2022, 1:03 PM
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 16: Andre Jackson #94 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium on August 16, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Jackson made his MLB debut after coming in the second inning to pitch.

SALT LAKE CITY – On the doorstep of the major leagues, Andre Jackson views the Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2017 season as ‘a blessing in disguise’.

But this story begins in 2014, when Jackson was drafted in the 32nd round of the MLB draft by the Texas Rangers out of Cienega High School in his home town of Vail, AZ. As an 18-year old, he had a decision to make: 1. Immediately pursue pro baseball, or 2. Attend college and put off pro baseball for three years.

It was an easy choice for the right-hander.

“In the back of my mind, I knew I was gonna regret not going to school. I met Coach K (former Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg) was the first person I met from Utah and we had a good relationship. I really wanted to come to school. So that was kind of simple for me.”

Because he couldn’t stand to be on the bench, Jackson became a two-way player with the Utes, spending time in the outfield and on the mound.

“I hated the idea of not playing every day. That was the big thing. I always tried to do everything I could in baseball to make an impact on the game. I just wanted to be a ballplayer always growing up.”

In his first two seasons at Utah, Jackson got far more playing time as a position player than as a pitcher.

As a freshman he threw only one inning, allowing two hits and an earned run. He started 30 games in the outfield, hitting a paltry .179 with five runs batted in and limited power.

In his junior season, Jackson started 25 games in the outfield while throwing 11 times out of the bullpen. He ended up hitting .299 that season with just six extra-base hits in 87 at-bats. On the mound he threw 19.2 innings, allowing 19 hits, 14 earned runs while striking out 22 and walking 13.

If there was a question left as to what position he had the most upside at, an injury threw that question out of the window.

Jackson underwent reconstructive Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm prior to the 2017 season, wiping out the entire year for him as a player.

Throughout his rehab, Jackson focused on increasing arm strength to become a pitcher full-time.

“It was honestly a blessing in disguise and made the decision for me that I was going to be a pitcher. I flashed some on the mound my sophomore year. The Tommy John surgery really made me funnel all my energy into getting my arm strong again, which kind of just naturally led me to be like a pitcher.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers saw enough from Jackson as a sophomore to take a chance on him as he recovered from Tommy John, selecting him in the 12th round (370th overall) in the 2017 MLB amateur draft.

For the Dodgers and Jackson, his lack of experience turned into a positive.

“I just threw hard and could spin it a little bit,” Jackson said of his pitch repertoire.

By just throwing him out there, Jackson and his coaches were able to see what he was capable of

“I was kind of a Build-A-Bear. I just learned and adapted learn a lot. Picked up some new things from a lot of coaches. I had so much help from the Dodgers.”

After rebuilding his arm strength and simply learning how to pitch in 2018, Jackson found his way onto Dodgers prospect watch lists when he exploded in 2019 with 25 starts and a 7-2 record in A-ball. In 114.2 innings, by far the most he had thrown in his career, Jackson had a 3.06 earned run average while striking out 141 and walking 57 batters.

“That was the year where I got a lot of help from a lot of people and kind of learned who I was for the first time. I realized I could pitch. I’d never really saw myself as a pitcher.”

His development was thrown a curveball in 2020 when all minor league seasons were cancelled but Jackson had shown enough potential for the Dodgers to invite him to their alternate site during the 2020 MLB regular season.

This gave Jackson a chance to keep working face to face with Dodgers personnel throughout the pandemic.

Jackson says he struggled initially at the alternate site.

“I was lucky enough to get invited to the alternate site and honestly struggled a lot. I got to work on myself in a semi-uncompetitive environment where it seems to be a little bit more development based. That allowed me to go into 2021 with some refined stuff.”

Off the field, the unconventional 2020 season afforded Jackson the chance to reconnect with family and friends. “I got to spend a lot of time with my then fiance, and we ended up getting married that same year. I got to spend a lot of time with family and friends.”

In 2021, his fourth season of pro baseball, Jackson started the year with the Dodgers Double-A Tulsa affiliate where he made 13 starts in 15 appearances. He went 3-2 with Tulsa, finishing with a 3.41 earned run average in 63.1 innings.

Promoted to Oklahoma City to begin August, Jackson made two appearances with OKC before realizing a life-long dream when the big league Dodgers needed another arm.

“They called me in the locker room before practice one day. ‘Hey, man, you’re going up’. From then on, it was a blur,” Jackson said of being called up to the majors.

Making his major league debut on August 16, 2021, he tossed four innings of scoreless baseball against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Dodger Stadium.

Asked how he handed the nerves of standing on a big league mound for the first time, he didn’t mince words. “You don’t. You just go pitch. Just try to get lost in it. Embrace it. Try to fight the feelings and it’s never gonna work. Try to be organic and and as relaxed as possible, but it’s pretty hard up there.”

He went on to make three appearances out of the Dodger bullpen down the stretch. In 11.2 innings, Jackson was 0-1 with a 2.31 earned run average and one save.

Fast forward to this season and Andre Jackson finds himself ranked by MLB.com as the Dodgers 11th highest rated prospect.

After throwing five scoreless innings against the Salt Lake Bees on August 2, Jackson was recalled by the Dodgers to take Yency Almonte’s spot on the roster after he was placed on the 15-day injured list.

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