Tigers taking slow, steady pace with prized pitching prospect Jackson Jobe

Detroit News

You are 18 years old, capped and gowned and cradling a diploma from Heritage Hall High in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

A few weeks later, you are the third player selected in the 2021 MLB Draft, scooped up by the Detroit Tigers. You sign days later for $6.9 million. You head for a baseball culture and complex at a place a half-hour from Disney World, at Lakeland, Florida.

There you spend six weeks adjusting to a new, adult life as a professional baseball pitcher.

Not your conventional teenage year, 2021, for Jackson Jobe, a right-handed starter so extraordinarily talented the Tigers did what MLB teams often vow they will not do with a draft pick so early: They banked on a prep pitcher becoming, if not a franchise arm, a rotation ace or equivalent who in short time could evolve into more than an All-Star.

Jobe was sitting at his folks’ Oklahoma City home last week, dressed in a light-gray pullover, his dark-brown locks framing his 19-year-old face. It won’t be long before he has his share of fans once that near-inevitable trip to Comerica Park is completed.

What a summer, what a year, it had been for Jobe as he spoke via Zoom about his transition from high school senior to billboard-prospect status with the Tigers.

More: The Detroit News’ 2021 Tigers final grades

At the heart of five whirlwind months were, of course, those six weeks at the TigerTown complex.

“I thought it went really well,” said Jobe, who during interviews seems as comfortable as he is on a mound, and wholly more cordial.

“The first few things there were all physical. They put me through tests: How my body was moving, trying to figure out areas of deficiencies. They kind of gave me a goal, wanted me to gain some weight. I learned a lot from Dan (Hubbs, director of Tigers pitching strategies and development) and AJ Sager and guys from the analytics side.

“I was pretty excited to get there, and pretty disappointed that I wasn’t able to throw (in games). But with all the changes coming …”

Ah, yes. Changes. They have been in motion.

There is a new Tigers development chief, Ryan Garko. Hubbs remains in his job, but there is a new director of pitching, Gabe Ribas, who comes from the Dodgers, the organization for which Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter worked before he joined the University of Michigan baseball staff, ahead of his move to Detroit.

There is another ex-Dodgers pitching tutor, Stephanos Stroop, working now for the Tigers as a pitching professor at the farm’s entry level. In the meantime, former pitching coaches like Sager, Mark Johnson, Willie Blair, and Santiago Garrido have all been dismissed.

It is a developmental overhaul that extends from Comerica Park where Al Avila, the Tigers general manager, late this summer made Sam Menzin and Jay Sartori assistant general managers and later anointed Garko, who also has Dodgers background, to supervise the grooming of prospects like Jobe.

Why the Tigers decided against using Jobe in a single game during the past summer is intriguing. He threw only 51.2 brilliant innings during his senior year at Heritage Hall. Some numbers are worth repeating: 122 strikeouts, against five walks. He allowed 15 hits and a lone earned run.

Why the Tigers weren’t itching to see Jobe fling those 95-mph fastballs and those sliders spinning at outrageous 3,000-plus RPMs at real batters in real games is puzzling only in that he was hardly overworked during his senior season.

Why, as well, he stayed stuck in TigerTown’s bullpens and back fields when several college pitchers drafted in July — with heavier workloads — pitched competitive innings qualifies as a mild mystery. That’s especially true when games in the Florida Complex League’s rookie hatchery, as well as at low-Single A, were being played right there at TigerTown.

The answer comes, minus drama.

“He had not pitched in a long while,” said Avila, noting that Jobe had not worked in a game since mid-May. “We would have had to ramp him up with little time for (Florida) games.

“It was not worth going through that for a couple of games. He worked out and long-tossed. Got used to Lakeland. Then went home for offseason work.

“He’ll start fresh in 2022.”

Jobe can be candid here. He wanted to pitch. Of course he did. And of course he was disappointed.

“A little bit,” he said last week. “I don’t know if there was anything I could really gain from getting in there (games). I think it was just the competitiveness in me going.

“Seeing those other pitchers get into games,” he said, made him all the hungrier to throw either a FCL or Single A inning as pitchers like RJ Petit, Aaron Haase, and Jack Anderson — all college talent drafted in July — worked at least a handful of innings.

But the regimen instead was different. Conditioning six days a week. Some carefully supervised throwing. Sundays off. Time, on that seventh day, to hit the beach near Clearwater, or hang loose with his newest best baseball buddy: Izaac Pacheco, a Texas prep third baseman the Tigers drafted in July’s second round.

It was boot camp, Jobe’s initiation at Lakeland, all minus the military’s rough stuff.

“They just wanted a baseline, some measurements, all the analytics,” Jobe said. “They just wanted to get all my information in front of them to look at this offseason.”

There was a bit of general maintenance on a delivery the Tigers deemed to be stunningly polished for a prep pitcher. They also worked on his change-up, which arrived as a kind of split-finger change and which most definitely has the farthest to go to be big-league-grade. A fourth pitch, a curve Jobe has played with, is for now back-burner.

The Tigers are in no hurry with talent this rare. What those crazy-good numbers from his senior year confirm is that Jobe’s command and control are equal to the stunning metrics on his slash-and-burn pitch: the slider, which spins at those 3,000-plus rpms — a level not a lot of big-leaguers can match.

They will let him tune during the offseason. They will let Jobe play catch-up after COVID wiped out his 2020 season and affected his timeline in the manner it has influenced all prospects during the past two years.

They will wait and see next spring if he merits a walk across the TigerTown’s fields to Single A Lakeland’s 2022 games, or, if he might be ready for high-Single A West Michigan, which is less likely for sure than an early stint with the Flying Tigers.

Jobe is busy with his autumn routine: working out five-to-six days a week, all on conditioning that 6-foot-2 (“6-3 with cleats on,” he says) frame that has gone from 195 pounds when he checked into Lakeland to the 210 he carried when he headed home in September. The Tigers rave that his body-fat count was good coming in and even better when he left.

“It was a pretty good set-up down there,” said Jobe, who stayed at a Lakeland hotel during his TigerTown time, as did Ty Madden, the University of Texas right-hander Detroit grabbed with the draft’s 32nd overall pick.

Jobe will begin throwing “around Thanksgiving” as the Tigers forge a plan that includes work with coaches Jobe knows: Alex Marney, who runs Pitching WRX, a data-driven pitching performance clinic in nearby Edmond; and Rob Watson, who owns Hurt Locker, another pitching-development lab, also in Edmond.

There is time, as well, to be a 19-year-old.

Jobe turned down a full ride to the University of Mississippi but gets a taste of college life when he visits buddies at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Passing on the Ole Miss offer was tough, he says, especially when his parents (Brandt and Jennifer) are rather fervid about education.

But, that upside …

“I just love baseball,” said Jobe, who still found room to work as a quarterback for Heritage Hall’s football team. “So, it’s a dream come true to throw away the textbooks and be able to play baseball and make a living off it.”

You can live fairly well at 19 when there’s $6.9 million in the bank. And that’s essentially where the cash is. While it’s customary for new pro-sports millionaires five minutes after signing their contract to visit a car dealership, Jobe is still driving a Ford F-150 pick-up he was wheeling (“I’ve beat it up a little”) during his senior year at Heritage Hall.

“My dad’s pretty strict with the whole money thing,” Jobe said. “No big purchases yet.”

Dad, incidentally, is Brandt Jobe, a long-time Tour golfer who has won a couple of times the past four years on the PGA Champions circuit.

They were about to head to a venue of deep repute, Oak Tree Country Club, in Edmond, for an afternoon 18 holes after last week’s Zoom chat.

Jackson admits he has a way to go to match dad’s game.

Then again, dad would concede he has something of a task ahead in throwing a baseball quite like a son who, in the Tigers’ and other scouts’ eyes, has a chance to be way beyond remarkable.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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