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What the Red Sox gave up in outfielder Brandon Jacobs

07.12.13 at 11:04 pm ET
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Outfielder Brandon Jacobs (Salem Red Sox)

Outfielder Brandon Jacobs (Salem Red Sox)

So what did the Red Sox give up in acquiring left-hander Matt Thornton (along with $750,000 in cash to subsidize the remaining, prorated portion of his salary) for outfielder Brandon Jacobs from the White Sox?

Chicago had long been interested in Jacobs, introducing his name into talks with the Red Sox about potential deals involving starting pitchers (Gavin Floyd, John Danks) during the 2011-12 offseason — and for obvious reasons.

Jacobs possesses a tremendous combination of speed and power that is rarely seen. He was recruited to Auburn as a running back, but passed on that scholarship offer when the Sox drafted him in the 10th round of the 2009 draft and signed him to a $750,000 bonus. In 2011, he emerged as one of the top prospects in the Sox’ system, hitting .303/.376/.505 with 17 homers and 30 steals in 115 games for Single-A Greenville.

However, he struggled throughout a 2012 season in High-A Salem in which he suffered a broken hamate early in the year. Though he was able to return to the field after missing a couple of weeks in late-May, the season ended up being something of an exercise in survival, with his power and ability to impact the ball regularly diminished. He performed at a solid level, roughly in line with league average, hitting .252/.322/.410 with 13 homers (a solid total in the Carolina League, especially in the home run graveyard of Salem) and 17 steals. Still, the performance was such that, after Jacobs performed poorly this spring (sometimes appearing uninterested), the team elected to return him to Salem, hoping he would dominate at the level to force an early-season promotion to Double-A.

He didn’t. Far from.

In his first 43 games, through May 27, Jacobs was hitting .195/.270/.371 with five homers, 14 walks and 49 strikeouts in 178 plate appearances. The performance was sufficiently dismal that Jacobs — for whom a bump in numbers was expected given that a) he was repeating at Salem; b) was older and more mature; and c) was healthy — was named the Biggest Disappointment in the Red Sox system in Baseball America’s midyear survey.

However, he did heat up starting in late-May, hitting .311/.413/.541 with six homers over his next 39 games, and finally, after more than a year and a half in Salem (where he hit .249/.327/.422), getting promoted to Double-A Portland on Thursday. He went 2-for-3 with a double in his Portland debut, and on the year, owns a combined .246/.334/.444 line with 11 homers and 10 steals in 83 games.

There was progress in his season (both in terms of the frequency of his extra-base hits and his walk rate), but it was of an incremental sort compared to 2012 rather than a breakthrough. As such, it was unlikely that, unless he dominated in Double-A, he was going to get added to the 40-man roster for the purpose of protection from the Rule 5 draft this winter. Given their past (and evidently current) interest, there’s a good chance the White Sox would have snapped up Jacobs based on his tools, if another team didn’t do so first.

Jacobs, in short, has all the talent in the world — one Sox official noted this spring that, were one to line up Jacobs next to Jackie Bradley Jr., the tools comparison would tilt drastically towards Jacobs — but given the fact that his gifts haven’t translated to performance except in one spectacular year (2011 in Single-A Greenville), he represents a lottery ticket. There is jackpot potential, but the likelihood of hitting that number is in considerable question based on his career trajectory to date.

Read More: brandon jacobs, Matt Thornton,
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