LAKELAND, Fla. -

The expectations are high for Austin Jackson, to say the least.

Surprisingly, it's his feet, not his bat the Tigers would like to see the most improvement this coming season.

"If somebody told me he'd do what he did for us last year, maybe steal a few more bags," manager Jim Leyland said about Jackson, his starting centerfielder. "I'd be thrilled."

Jackson -- who stole 49 bases in his first two season combined, doesn't consider himself a true base stealer.

But Jax does understand how important it is, especially batting in the leadoff spot. "In certain situations, I can be more aggressive and think the game," he said. "And the situation of the game will dictate how aggressive I'll be on the base paths."

Jackson, who admitted he was tentative last season, says he can't do that this year. He only stole 12 bases and was caught nine times. That's a terrible ratio for a guy with wheels. "Taking them when I can is something I need to be more aware of,'' he said. "But I think the game will dictate a lot."

You can understand why Leyland would love to get more use out of Jackson's speed. Plus, the Tigers, despite all the lumber in the lineup, had dry spells scoring runs. No one can forget their four-game sweep by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. The Tigers couldn't buy a run, scoring just twice in four games.

Leyland's thinking is simply to get Jackson in scoring position and there's a good chance Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder can knock him in.

"I can steal bases," said Jackson, 26. "I've stolen 20 plus bags which I don't think is that bad. Last year was one of those tough times where I just wasn't as comfortable with as I have been in the past."

Jackson said it's like pitching and hitting. ``You kind of get out of sync with it a little bit,'' he said. ``I was just between a lot last year rather than being aggressive.

``You can't be like that when you're out there. If you hesitate, you're out.''

Base-running aside, the Tigers believe the centerfielder has turned the corner and is heading for stardom.

And with good reason.

Jackson, who was doing way too much swinging-and-missing his first two years in the majors, not only cut down on his strikeouts, but he also surprised many by batting .300 with 16 homers and 66 RBI.

"He survived the freshman year, the sophomore year and the junior year," Leyland said. "Now he's ready to be consistent, a good major league player that can get a little bit better."

Jackson had a bad second year, batting .249 with 181 punch outs. "I made some good strides last year," said Jackson with three full seasons under his belt.

Jackson credits most of his new success at the plate on changing his leg kick.  "If I can continue to make the necessary adjustments with that, I can go out there and try to do the same thing anyway," he said.

For sure, Jackson hasn't looked like the same hitter so far this spring. Jackson is batting .229 with a homer and two RBI.

But it's only the spring, not a place to worry about numbers for a starting player with his job solidly in his back pocket.

Last season was important because batting .300 was a milestone, a measure of where you are as a major league hitter. Many guys play in the big leagues for years and never reach that plateau in a single season.

"It was big especially because I got a few hits the last game of the season to get there,'" he said.

Jackson was more pleased that he hit .300 than lowering his strikeouts. He went from 181 Ks to just 134 last season. "

Strikeouts are going to come,'' he said. "It's something I'll be able to cut down over the years hopefully with getting more at-bats. Hitting .300 after kind of struggling my second year was a big thing to me.''

The next step for Jackson is a stellar year on the bases.The expectations are high for Austin Jackson, to say the least.

Surprisingly, it's his feet, not his bat the Tigers would like to see the most improvement this coming season.

"If somebody told me he'd do what he did for us last year, maybe steal a few more bags,'" manager Jim Leyland said about Jackson, his starting centerfielder. "I'd be thrilled."

Jackson -- who stole 49 bases in his first two season combined, doesn't consider himself a true base stealer.

But Jax does understand how important it is, especially batting in the leadoff spot. "In certain situations, I can be more aggressive and think the game,'' he said. "And the situation of the game will dictate how aggressive I'll be on the base paths."

Jackson, who admitted he was tentative last season, says he can't do that this year. He only stole 12 bases and was caught nine times. That's a terrible ratio for a guy with wheels. "Taking them when I can is something I need to be more aware of,'' he said. "But I think the game will dictate a lot.''

You can understand why Leyland would love to get more use out of Jackson's speed. Plus, the Tigers, despite all the lumber in the lineup, had dry spells scoring runs. No one can forget their four-game sweep by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. The Tigers couldn't buy a run, scoring just twice in four games.

Leyland's thinking is simply to get Jackson in scoring position and there's a good chance Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder can knock him in.

"I can steal bases,'' said Jackson, 26. "I've stolen 20 plus bags which I don't think is that bad.

"Last year was one of those tough times where I just wasn't as comfortable with as I have been in the past.''

Jackson said it's like pitching and hitting.

"You kind of get out of sync with it a little bit,'' he said. "I was just between a lot last year rather than being aggressive. You can't be like that when you're out there. If you hesitate, you're out.''

Base-running aside, the Tigers believe the centerfielder has turned the corner and is heading for stardom.

And with good reason.

Jackson, who was doing way too much swinging-and-missing his first two years in the majors, not only cut down on his strikeouts, but he also surprised many by batting .300 with 16 homers and 66 RBI.

"He survived the freshman year, the sophomore year and the junior year,'' Leyland said. "Now he's ready to be consistent, a good major league player that can get a little bit better.''

Jackson had a bad second year, batting .249 with 181 punch outs. "I made some good strides last year,"' said Jackson with three full seasons under his belt.

Jackson credits most of his new success at the plate on changing his leg kick. "If I can continue to make the necessary adjustments with that, I can go out there and try to do the same thing anyway,'' he said.

For sure, Jackson hasn't looked like the same hitter so far this spring. Jackson is batting .229 with a homer and two RBI.

But it's only the spring, not a place to worry about numbers for a starting player with his job solidly in his back pocket.

Last season was important because batting .300 was a milestone, a measure of where you are as a major league hitter. Many guys play in the big leagues for years and never reach that plateau in a single season.

"It was big especially because I got a few hits the last game of the season to get there,'' he said.

Jackson was more pleased that he hit .300 than lowering his strikeouts. He went from 181 Ks to just 134 last season. "Strikeouts are going to come,'' he said. "It's something I'll be able to cut down over the years hopefully with getting more at-bats. Hitting .300 after kind of struggling my second year was a big thing to me.''

The next step for Jackson is a stellar year on the bases.