Austin Jackson is on fire since being signed by the Mets in late July.
In 11 games since joining the team, he has two home runs, eight RBI and is batting .414.
Jackson, 31, signed a two-year, $6 million deal this past winter with the Giants, with whom he hit just .242 with 8 extra-base hits in 59 games. In early July, the Giants traded him to the Rangers, who released Jackson the next week. The Mets then signed him for the pro-rated league minimum after it was announced that Yoenis Cespedes would miss the rest of the season due to double heel surgery.
"Honestly, I didn't know what to expect coming over," he said after Wednesday's win. "It's one of those things where when your name is in the lineup you do your best to contribute to wins."
Mets manager Mickey Callaway said he's been impressed with Jackson's approach at the plate, which is why Jackson has continued to get at-bats and start in center field.
"He is covering the fastball away and pulling the mistakes," Callaway added. "It seems like he's got that comfort level back where he is really just comfortable in the box and swinging the bat with a really good approach and he is doing great for us."
Jackson was drafted by the Yankees in 2005. He quickly became a top prospect and was considered a potential future starting center fielder.
To get Curtis Granderson during their World Series run in 2009, the Yankees dealt Jackson to the Tigers, where he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting the next season. He produced 18.8 WAR across his first four seasons. He then slowed in production the next four seasons due to a variety of injuries that forced him to miss close to 40 percent of games played.
He is currently a fill-in, late-season replacement for the Mets. In the same way it's difficult to judge him based on the 165 plate appearances he got with the Giants this season, which were astonishingly bad, it's also foolish to judge Jackson based on the Mike Trout-like at-bats he's having for the Mets.
The thing is, he was a top prospect with a bright future just a few years ago. He's 31 years old, but his down years were also during a time of repeated injuries. So, given his athleticism, experience and talent, it is possible Jackson is finally healthy, comfortable with his environment and ready to pick up where he left off in 2016, when he hit .272 with 30 doubles and 3.1 WAR.
His two-year deal inked this past winter is void, with the Giants and Rangers on the hook for the balance of the money, meaning he can again be a free agent this winter.
In other words, Jackson is essentially auditioning for 2019, be it for the Mets or another team that might have interest in signing him. He's motivated and showing the potential for production.
For the Mets, though, while his hitting looks improved, his fielding does not. The fact is, like most 31-year-old players with a track record of injury, he is no longer a passable defender in center field. Instead, he's more likely a corner guy, which the Mets already have in Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Cespedes and Jay Bruce.
To be retained by the Mets, Jackson needs to demonstrate he can shine in center and that has yet not happened for at least a few seasons. It's hard to imagine that changes for the better with another year added to his age.
In either case, Callaway is seemingly thankful that Jackson is on the roster -- for now.
"I think his leadership, his defensive ability in the outfield, and his ability to hit lefties, fill in when we need him to and to lead these younger players is going to be very valuable to us," Callaway said the day Jackson was acquired. "He does a great job of staying up the middle of the field, driving the ball to right-center. And those are the type of things that we want our young players to hone in on."
Frankly, if Jackson can provide the same level guidance to the team's current youngsters, similar to the way Granderson did during his time in Queens, the signing will have been worth it.
In the end, though, like Nori Aoki and countless other late-season, scrap-heap signings, Jackson's time in New York will likely be short lived, regardless of how he's currently hitting.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!