There was no player at the highest level of high school baseball who had a better season than Jackson Jobe. He was hilariously dominant against his peers, striking out 122 batters and walking only five over 51.2 innings pitched. For his efforts, he was awarded the PBR Player of the Year Award and rose from the periphery as a late-round consideration to a likely top 10 pick.
Of course, good amateur statistics don’t mean much to professional organizations. Pro prospects at the top of the draft are expected to be the kings of their respective hills. What fueled his ascent was the opportunity to showcase how much his stuff has progressed in the last two years. He’s a nasty and athletic pitcher who thrives on his ability to make batters’ heads spin. There are others in the consensus top five draft prospects who offer less risk than Jobe, but his upside is impossible to ignore.
The Tigers apparently agree with that last sentiment. They’ve been linked to Jobe by just about every reputable draft publication out there and have had a heavy scouting presence at his starts. Recent mock drafts from Prospects Live and MLB Pipeline confirm the impression. Let’s take a look at what he can do on the mound.
The attraction to Jobe is rooted in the fact that nothing he throws is straight. His four pitch mix includes a fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. He can induce swings and misses on all three of his softer pitches. There are reports of his slider cresting 3100 rpms, which makes it the most potent weapon in his bag. FanGraphs claims it already flashes plus and MLB Pipeline asserts it could grow into a double-plus pitch. For the uninitiated, that means it has the potential to be two standard deviations above average (within the top 4.55% in the game) at Jobe’s peak.
Unlike many of the Tigers pitching prospects of the past, Jobe is far from a one-trick pony. The slider may be the flashiest of his pitches, but there are reasons for optimism in both his the curveball and changeup as well. The changepiece is the more projectable of the two – it has the tumbling action that is common among quality offspeed pitches. Many evaluators believe he can craft it into a consistently above average pitch as a pro. The depth of his pitch mix gives him more margin as a prospect than many high school pitchers who come through the draft.
Jobe’s physical traits give him another advantage. In addition to pitching, he’s a decent shortstop prospect, and that athleticism translates to the mound. Athletic pitchers tend to be easier to project for consistent velocity and improved command down the road. An added bonus is the extra extension sometimes granted by athleticism, increasing the perceived velocity as well.
Everyone knows the risks when drafting a player in Jobe’s demographic. High school righties have a higher washout rate in the pros than anyone except high school catchers. As with any top draft prospect who hasn’t yet progressed past high school, the only thing evaluators can do is approximate their successes against higher-level players.
In my view, the biggest possible limiting factor in Jobe’s portfolio is his fastball. He provides better velocity than most starting pitchers, but the movement on the pitch is uninspiring. It has tailing action rather than rising action, which isn’t ideal for drawing swings and misses. Even with increased velocity as he adds muscle, there’s no assurance it will play up. The league has adapted to high velocities as power arms have become more common.
This is a similar issue Casey Mize faced as a prospect. Despite being able to dial up 97 miles per hour on occasion, his fastball was a source of concern for some evaluators. What assuaged that concern on draft day and made him the top pick was his ability to spot the pitch as he pleased. Jobe has no such track record of command, and although it’s projectable due to his athleticism he’ll need to prove that he can make his fastball a major asset.
If the Tigers wind up drafting Jobe, there will be endless comparisons drawn between him and Matt Manning as evidence supporting the pick. As general manager Al Avila’s first draftee, Manning was also a high school pitcher with an athletic build who was taken with a top ten pick. However, it’s a pretty unfair comparison and the similarities end there.
Manning was much less polished than Jobe, particularly when it came to the development of breaking pitches, which obviously reflects well on the latter’s draft stock. On the other hand, Manning was a considerably better athlete with big time extension and a much more projectable frame. There’s also been a huge overhaul in the minor league coaching staff and the role of technology in scouting and development within the organization since 2016.
Don’t be suckered into this comparison — Manning’s growth under the Tigers watch doesn’t mean much when it comes to projecting Jobe as a Tigers prospect.
Expected draft range: 3rd-10th
The Tigers are clearly the top end of the realistic draft range for Jobe, but it’s tough to project where he might land if Detroit goes in another direction. There are complications which muddy the waters enough to make any narrow evaluation of his draft stock feel unsteady.
The league’s sudden and absolute ban on any kind of sticky substances being used by pitchers has cast a long shadow of doubt over any pitcher who thrives on a high spin rate. That’s a factor for Jobe as well; his spin rates are elite and valued as the basis for an outstanding pro pitch mix with some adjustments.
In an interview with Prospects Live, Jobe discussed his introduction to his own spin rate.
“The first time I saw my spin rate was, like, right before my junior year in Atlanta that summer, and I had no idea what it was or what it meant,” he mused. “After that, I kinda figured out that I had something that most people don’t. It was pretty cool.”
That quote paints Jobe as more similar to a grandfather bragging about his new iPad than a Tyler Galsnow-esque character, taking full advantage of baseball’s old tradition of ball doctoring. Nevertheless, from the outside looking in, there’s no way to tell whether he alters the ball in any way or to what degree. Presumably, teams have this under consideration and know what they’re really getting, but it’s a factor to make one wonder if a few pitchers will fall farther than expected on draft day.
Right now, the Tigers seem to be on Jobe, assuming that Marcelo Mayer is gone as expected. So if we’re presumably taking a pitcher either way, the real remaining debate is whether you think Mayer has so much upside to outweigh Leiter’s much greater proximity to major league readiness, and how much bonus demands will play into the final decision.