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Mariners take high school standout Jackson

Viewed as best premier hitter available, 18-year-old likely to play in outfield

ST. PETERSBURG -- A Mariners team looking to add offensive punch found a perfect match in Thursday's First-Year Player Draft, landing San Diego prep standout Alex Jackson with the sixth overall pick in the first round.

Jackson is a right-handed power hitting catcher/outfielder from Rancho Bernardo High School who was regarded by many as the premier offensive player available in this year's Draft.

General manager Jack Zduriencik said Jackson would be put initially in the outfield once he signs, and Jackson didn't sound bothered by that idea.

"That's one of those things where I just want to get out and play baseball," the 18-year-old said on a conference call with reporters from his home in San Diego. "Whether it's in the outfield or behind the plate, I just want to play."

Jackson last played outfield on a regular basis in his freshman year of high school and then moved primarily behind the plate when that position opened up at his powerhouse prep program. He played one game in the outfield this season and has played some there on summer league traveling teams, as well as third base on occasion.

But what jumps out at everyone with the youngster is his bat, which is what caught the Mariners' eyes as well.

"We've seen him play multiple positions, but we think down the road that outfield's going to be his best position," said scouting director Tom McNamara. "He's a pretty good catcher, too. He's an athletic kid. He can do a lot of different things. We like the bat."

"He has more power than anybody I've ever had, just raw power," said Rancho Bernardo coach Sam Blalock, who has coached eight first-round Draft picks and is the uncle of Hank Blalock, a third-round pick out of the same school who went on to a nine-year career with the Rangers. "He runs well, too, and has a very strong arm. He's quite a player."

Blalock said Jackson is such a developed hitter that he switched to a wood bat in midseason this year instead of the usual metal used by high school players and wound up hitting one of his most-prodigious pokes.

"Not too many people use wood bats in high school and he did for about five or six games before we made him go back to aluminum when we got toward the playoffs," Blalock said. "He hit a ball at Poway High that went probably 450 feet over the track onto their football field. It was a tape-measure blast with a wood bat."

And that natural power from a youngster whose 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame still figures to develop is why the Mariners are interested in moving him to the outfield, where they think his path will be faster to a Major League career.

"We think the bat's going to play quicker and that's a better way to get him out there," Zduriencik said. "Let him swing the bat and let him get transitioned to the outfield and go from there."

The Mariners already have one of baseball's top young catchers in Mike Zunino, their No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 Draft, but they have a definite need for right-handed power hitters, particularly in the outfield.

"He's a good-looking kid. He's got an outstanding arm," Zduriencik said. "He could catch if we wanted him to catch -- he could do that. I do think that in the scenario here, with a young catcher in the big leagues with us now, this kid's bat potential, the fact that he throws so well, he's got a terrific arm, I think let the bat do the talking for him. He can always go back behind the plate, because he does have the ability to play there."

Blalock had another first-round Draft pick in catcher Scott Heard -- the 25th overall pick by the Rangers in 2000 -- but says Jackson is the best backstop he's had and believes he could stick at that position if given a chance.

"He caught for us the last three years and each year he progressed," Blalock said. "This year he was very impressive. He had two passed balls all year. He really improved his blocking, his throwing, his release times. Travel teams always put him in the outfield at first because his bat was ahead [of his defense], but I don't know if that's still true. I really think he's the best catcher we've ever had."

Jackson is being advised by agent Scott Boras and has the option of going to the University of Oregon, where he has accepted a scholarship offer. But a No. 6 pick currently slots at about $3.5 million in baseball's allotment system and Oregon coach George Horton acknowledged to the Oregonian newspaper that Jackson likely will go pro in this scenario.

Boras is known as a tough negotiator and Jackson said he had "no idea" when asked about his timetable to make a decision, but the Mariners are confident he'll see the value in getting his professional career underway.

"I think he wants to play," said Zduriencik. "Any time you take a high school player, you always have that. But I think when you take a kid this high, how many opportunities does any player, anywhere, ever get to be taken in the Top 10 picks of the Draft? How are you going to better yourself? I do think his desire is to play pro ball."

And Jackson was certainly soaking up his new situation shortly after hearing his name called by Commissioner Bud Selig on MLB Network.

"It's one of those feelings that are hard to explain in words," Jackson said. "The emotion that runs through your body, the time to share with family and friends, it's an honor to be considered with other top players in the Draft. I just feel truly blessed."

His prep coach said Jackson generally is a player who does his talking with his bat.

"He's more of a quiet kid, not real vocal," Blalock said. "He has a real relaxed disposition when he's not competing. He's not the fieriest guy, not a cheerleader, he's a very calm person on the bench and just rests and focuses. And when he plays, he plays hard."

And most importantly, by all accounts, hits the ball hard as well.

The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10, with the Mariners selecting sixth in each of those rounds. The pre-Draft show begins at 9:30 a.m. PT, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 10 a.m. PT. The final 30 rounds of the Draft will be held on Saturday.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.

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