DETROIT -- Perhaps it was because the Yankees were in town, or because of his 4-for-6 performance in Sunday's extra-innings comeback victory over the Indians, but there were quite a few questions asked about Austin Jackson in manager Jim Leyland's pregame session on Monday.
And the word "star" was being used.
"I don't think that matters; I think you just let time take its course," Leyland said when asked if Jackson needs a few more years before he is considered the team's "fourth star."
"If he turns into a star, great. You know he's going to be a good player. I think he's going to be a star at some point, but what's really the difference?"
Jackson is still only 25 years old. He joined the team in December 2009 as part of the three-team deal that sent former Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. Jackson, a prospect at the time, had no Major League experience at that point.
Two-plus years into Jackson's big league career, it's evident he's rapidly maturing and turning into exactly what the Tigers organization hoped he would be. In a short time, he's gone from a player with alarming strikeout totals to a key component on what Detroit hopes will be a playoff team.
Jackson is not Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder or Justin Verlander. But this year, he might be just as important as those stars -- at least that's what the numbers suggest.
According to FanGraphs, Jackson's Wins Above Replacement total is 4.7, the highest on the Tigers -- including Miguel Cabrera (4.5) -- and the third highest in the American League behind Angels rookie Mike Trout (6.7) and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano (5.1).
And Jackson's fielding stats are even more impressive. He's one of six outfielders without an error in 2012. Of those six, his range factor of 2.47 is the highest. It's also the seventh highest of all AL outfielders.
"I think he's at the point now where he's getting very comfortable as a very good Major League player," said Leyland, not ready to give Jackson the "star" label yet. "I think that takes time. You can't make a senior out of a freshman."