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Published: Saturday, 2/27/2010

Newcomer Jackson set to bat leadoff for Tigers

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LAKELAND, Fla. - Austin Jackson knows the Detroit Tigers expect a lot from him.

Jackson is set to become the Tigers' new center fielder, and will start the exhibition season as their leadoff hitter.

High hopes for someone who has never played in a major league game.

The Tigers got the 23-year-old Jackson last December from the Yankees in a three-team trade that sent all-star center fielder Curtis Granderson to New York.

"I know there's going to be some pressure, but to put pressure on myself is going to make it hard to perform so I'm not thinking about it like that," Jackson said. "I'm just thinking about getting on the team and helping the team out."

Jackson spent five years in the Yankee system after choosing baseball over a basketball scholarship offer from Georgia Tech. He was ranked perennially as one of the top prospects in the organization, but didn't necessarily envision himself in center field at

Yankee Stadium.

"I played with a couple guys that were No. 1 and No. 2 prospects and they got traded away, so I knew the business side of it and I knew there really is no untouchable, as they claim," he said.

"It's a business, and you have to know that going into it, and I wasn't surprised. Once I saw some of the other guys get traded off, then it's like: 'Hey, you're playing [to audition] for other teams as well.'"

With the trade to the Tigers, "I knew I would get a chance," he said. "I knew it was definitely a good opportunity for me."

Jackson and left fielder Johnny Damon will bat in the top two spots in the Tigers lineup. Jackson's leadoff status isn't guaranteed yet, but manager Jim Leyland will try it in the exhibition games.

"I'm confident I will be able to do that, and if that's what they want me to do, that's the role I'll play," said Jackson, who batted first, second, and third in the minors and hit .300 last year for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

"He's hit everywhere he's been," Leyland said. "What's going to happen up here, I don't know, but his consistency in the minor leagues was pretty good.

"I've always believed that if he's hit for four or five years in the minor leagues, he's probably got a good chance to hit in the big leagues."

Jackson, Damon, and rookie second baseman Scott Sizemore are expected to add speed into a team that now emphasizes pitching and defense.

"Definitely speed has to be part of my game, getting on base and stealing bases," Jackson said. "I take a lot of pride in my defense."

NOTES: In the early stages of the exhibition season, Leyland plans to stretch out eight pitchers as starters. Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, and Jeremy Bonderman are in the rotation, with Armando Galarraga, Eddie Bonine, Dontrelle Willis, and Nate Robertson competing for the fifth spot until further notice. "Later in the spring, when starting pitchers go longer, that eliminates innings for somebody," Leyland said ... Jacob Turner and Andy Oliver, Detroit's first two draft picks last spring, will pitch in Grapefruit League games, but not as starters ... Damon brought a left-handed catcher's mitt to camp as a conversation piece and says he's available at that position in an emergency. "Let's hope that doesn't happen," he said.



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