If you ask Jackson Merrill who his favorite baseball player is, the player that he molded his game after most, the answer is a no-brainer.
“Dustin Pedroia,” Jackson said. “He was really the guy who I watched the most growing up. He’s a guy who always wanted it. He was always in the game, not thinking about anything else.”
Despite growing up in Maryland, Jackson has been a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, following in the footsteps of his father, Josh Merrill.
With the Orioles around a half-hour’s drive away, that meant he could see Pedroia and the Red Sox plenty as the two teams played in the same division: the American League East.
Now, the shortstop/third baseman is hoping to become the next Dustin Pedroia or Xander Bogaerts as aspirations of playing college and professional baseball are now becoming a reality.
“It was really the first sport that I picked up on the most,” Jackson said. “Once I kept improving in it, I knew it was the sport that I wanted to solely focus on.”
Josh played a big part in his son’s early development as a player, coaching him from ages 7 to 14 and frequently taking him to local fields to practice.
College baseball ran in the family as Josh played Division III ball, so he not only had a good feel for the game, but he also enjoyed being around it. Jackson gave him the opportunity to stay around the game that much more.
“We would go up to the fields once or twice a week and in between games, throwing him batting practice and hitting him ground balls,” Josh said. “He enjoyed going to play, so it was easy on me to take him up there.”
Baseball ramped up for Jackson once he began playing 14U travel baseball, which lined up perfectly with the start of his Severna Park High School career.
However, that career started on the junior varsity team for the Falcons in his freshman year. As Jackson’s body matured, he developed more arm strength, more power and became a faster player.
There was one more thing that Severna Park High School head coach and former 11-year Major League Baseball veteran Eric Milton saw that differentiated Jackson from the rest.
“I always stay longer after practice ends to work on hitting and fielding,” Milton said. “I encourage all my players to stay later, but it’s organic in the player. Those players that do, you know they’re going to be special.”
In his sophomore year, Jackson broke out, hitting .450 and receiving First Team All-County honors. That put his name on the map and eyes on him when he stepped onto the diamond.
Early in that season, facing a tough St. Mary’s team with players featured at the national circuit, Jackson had a day at the plate, and that passion for baseball fermented into something more for him.
“That St. Mary’s team had some of the best pitching I had faced,” Jackson said. “I think I ended up going 2-for-4 or 3-for-3 and we won 2-0. After hitting like that, I thought, ‘Well, if I can continue to do this, I can keep playing after high school instead of stopping after I graduate.’”
He kept going and kept rising up the rankings, entering the national circuit where he faced the best talent in the country and built his player resume up more and more.
That summer laid out the blueprints for his first collegiate offers and his eventual commitment to play for the Army Black Knights in West Point, New York.
Coming into the 2020 season, Jackson received MSABC Pre-Season All-State honors and was going to be leading the charge on offense for the Falcons, but the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season before it could start in March.
It altered Jackson’s plans dramatically, but he didn’t stop improving, working with longtime baseball coach Juan Palacios over the summer as he went to national showcases and pro scout showcases with 5 Star Carolina and the 5 Star National team.
“We really worked with [Jackson] on his hitting, getting more power, using his lower body more,” Palacios said. “He became this really good hitter. His power increased immensely, but his work ethic stood out the most. He was working seven days a week, training three to four hours every day. That’s what really made the change on him.”
Palacios brought out the best in Jackson, breaking him out of his shell from someone who let his bat and glove do the talking, to someone who was asking questions and being a much more vocal player.
He took off last summer, becoming one of the top infielders in Maryland with even more schools and now professional teams reaching out to him. It was also during last summer that Jackson decided to de-commit from Army West Point and take his talents to Lexington, Kentucky, and the University of Kentucky.
“It was definitely the competition of the SEC and the skill level that set Kentucky apart,” Jackson said. “And the coaching staff, they really had the mindset I wanted, a family mindset where we’re all together. We’re not just here for ourselves.”
Now, as his senior season creeps closer, Jackson has his sights set not only on college but possibly getting his name selected in the 2021 MLB Draft.
The buildup of his high school career has led him to this point, so don’t be surprised if Jackson Merrill’s name is called this summer.
“Baseball is what I want to do,” Jackson said. “I want to become a better player and succeed at the highest level.”
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