Zach Jackson was a phenomenal high school pitcher and student. A baseball All-American and a 4.0-student and valedictorian of his graduating class, Jackson had numerous options following high school.
In the end, he decided to attend college at the University of Arkansas.
“After looking at the colleges I narrowed it down to, it was hard to pass up an SEC school,” Jackson said. “It’s two hours from my house and the facilities they have are second to none.”
Jackson transitioned smoothly into the college game and contributed immediately for Arkansas as a reliever, posting a 2.53 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings of work.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander returned his sophomore season and was the team’s closer. He was successful once again, recording a 5-1 record with nine saves, 89 strikeouts and a 2.10 ERA in 60 innings.
He was even a key member in Arkansas’ postseason run. He retired 11 straight Missouri State batters in Game 3 of the NCAA Super Regional to pick up the save to send the Razorbacks to the College World Series.
“It was a great feeling,” Jackson said. “Especially with the regional the year before I was the guy who put my team behind. To come through and to get an opportunity in the Super Regional to help us go to Omaha was special.
“Obviously, it is every college baseball player’s dream to have a part in getting your team there. Luckily, I was able to do that for us. It was awesome.”
It was the program’s eighth trip to the College World Series, but the Razorbacks failed to win a game in Omaha, Neb. and were sent home empty-handed.
Despite a tough end to the season, Jackson’s season wasn’t over, as he pitched for the USA Collegiate National Team last summer.
“It was awesome,” Jackson said of his experience with Team USA. “It was something I had been looking forward to. I always wanted to for the honor, and it was nice being able to see guys from all around the country, especially guys that you don’t get to see.”
Jackson spent the offseason in the weight room adding strength, while also working on his fastball command in order to cut back on the amount of walks he allows.
“The main thing for me is trying not to over throw my fastball,” Jackson said. “Being a closer and coming in and wanting to give everything you can, sometimes you can tend to over throw a little bit. I think that definitely happened to me a couple of times.
“As the year went on, I got more comfortable and my walks went down. Hopefully, this year I’ve matured a little bit and learned that getting a strike is more important than trying to blow it passed somebody.”
Jackson was a terrific starting pitcher in high school, finishing his high school career with a 39-3 record, a 1.08 ERA and 437 strikeouts. However, at Arkansas he has only started a combined five games between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Entering his junior season, Jackson said he is unsure what his role will be this year.
“We are still trying to figure it out right now,” Jackson said on what his role will be this season. “Basically the coaches told me to not worry about it because it’s out of my hands.
“If we have another guy who can really step up in the bullpen then it will probably help my case to start. Right now it is up in the air. I’d say it’s a 50-50 shot if I’m going to be starting or closing day one.”
Jackson knows that he is still capable of starting and wants to prove that he can be an effective starter, he said.
Regardless of what role Jackson has this season for the Razorbacks, he will likely be selected in the early rounds of June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Currently ranked by MLB.com as the 36th prospect on their preseason top 50-list, Jackson’s best pitch is his power curveball that produces many swings and misses. He also has a mid-90s fastball and a solid changeup.
Command is the biggest question mark for Jackson as he enters this season. If he can improve in that area, there’s a good chance he could be a first-round pick.
It is Jackson’s dream to play professionally and hopefully make it to the majors one day. However, he isn’t going to let the draft talk effect his performance this season, he said.
“I feel like the preseason stuff it is nice to have those accolades, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot unless I do something this year,” Jackson said, who was voted a preseason All-American. “It’s not really any pressure on me. The only pressure I put on myself is to come through my team.
“I feel like if you have that mind set you’ll be better off. I know plenty of guys who thought too much about the draft or thought too much about accolades that they put too much pressure on themselves and had a bad season. I don’t see the point of doing that. I’m just trying to keep the same mindset I’ve had the last two years.”
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