In 2008, the Blue Jays assigned 19 year old shortstop Justin Jackson to Lansing of the Midwest League. Jackson was a sandwich pick (45th) overall in the previous year's draft. He had been highly touted while he was a High School Senior in North Carolina, recognized as a second team All-American by Baseball America. Jackson was a five-tool athlete, noted for his cannon of an arm.
But Jackson's path to the majors was not a straight one. He hit only .238/.340./.368, striking out 154 times in 454 at bats. He continued to struggle at the plate for the next several seasons. By 2012, his defense began to suffer possibly as a result, and he filled a utility role at High A Dunedin and AA New Hampshire.
So, Jackson had some soul searching to do in the off-season. A career .230 minor league hitter, Jackson had gone from prospect to minor league roster filler. Early in January, he announced on Twitter that he and the Jays had decided to convert him to a pitcher. He wasn't completely unfamiliar with the position - Jackson had pitched in high school, and he enlisted the help of former big league hurler Darrin Holmes to help him with his conversion.
The Jays kept Jackson in Florida for extended spring training. Last week, he was sent to Lansing once again. The Lugnuts brought him in from the bullpen in an exhibition game against Michigan State, pitching a scoreless inning and striking out one. Jackson made his MWL debut as a pitcher last night in an 11-6 loss to Beloit. Jackson gave up one run over 2 2/3 innings, allowing 2 hits and striking out one. He pitched a 1-2-3 sixth inning to finish his performance.
While his fastball hit 95 in extended spring training, Jackson likely will continue to pitch out of the bullpen for the foreseeable future while he builds up arm strength and develops his secondary pitches.