Detroit — You almost feel bad for the first guy who steps into the batter’s box against Jackson Jobe.
You remember Jackson Jobe, right? Tall, lanky right-hander from Oklahoma City the Tigers took with the third overall pick in last summer’s draft? They paid him a $6.9 million signing bonus and sent him to Lakeland for six weeks. Set him up in a dorm room with second-round pick Izaac Pacheco, put him on a strength and conditioning program, put him through a battery of tests to measure his bio-mechanics, pitch shapes, velocities and spin rates, had him toss bullpens on the back fields. …
But they never let him face a single hitter. Not even live BP.
“The last pitch I threw was May 14,” Jobe said during a Zoom interview Wednesday. “It’s been pretty much all I’ve been thinking about since the draft. I was hoping to get a few innings when I was down there in the fall, but I just threw pens.
“So, I am hungry. I’m counting down the days.”
He’s inside three weeks now. The Tigers open mini-camp for minor-league players and prospects in Lakeland on Feb. 16 — a date unaffected by the current lockout and labor negotiations between Major League Baseball and the players’ association.
Finally, the 19-year-old will get to showcase his 95-mph heater and his high-spin slider to professional hitters.
Tigers general manager Al Avila back in November explained why they kept Jobe under wraps, despite his comparatively low 51.2 innings of work his senior season at Heritage Hall High School.
“He had not pitched in a long while,” said Avila, meaning between May 14 and the July 11 draft. “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, as much as the competitor inside him chafed, didn’t fight it.
“I understand their thought process,” Jobe said. “I came out of it healthy so there’s not much to complain about. But I am anxious to face live hitters. I know I will be facing them at mini-camp. It can’t come soon enough.”
Jobe was thrown another curve. The Tigers this winter completed a significant revamping of their player development staff. It started in September when they hired Ryan Garko to replace David Littlefield as vice president of player development.
Subsequently, the pitching instructors that helped introduce Jobe to the system in Lakeland — Dan Hubbs and A.J. Sager — were replaced. Gabe Ribas is the club’s new director of pitching. Stephanos Stroop and Steve Smith are the roving instructors. Ribas and Stroop come from the Dodger organization.
“That was a little different,” Jobe said. “I wasn’t expecting them to make all the changes they made. But I’ve talked to a lot of the new pitching guys and I love their philosophy and where their heads are at. I’m excited to get down (to Lakeland) and learn some things from them.”
In the meantime, Jobe is home, trying to navigate a rare snowstorm that was expected to hit the OKC area Wednesday. He’s working out at the Hurt Locker in Edmond, Okla., staying on the strength and nutrition plan the Tigers’ built for him. He finished his high school career at 195 pounds. He was 210 when left Lakeland and 205 now.
“I feel strong,” he said. “I feel ready to go. I’ve had eight months to train and get ready.”
He maintains his throwing regimen in Edmond, too, working with his long-time pitching coach Alex Maney at Pitch WRX.
He even runs into fellow Oklahoman Michael Fulmer once in a while. The two share the same physical therapist in the area.
“The biggest thing was being consistent and having a routine I feel comfortable with — eating and training,” he said. “I eat at the same time every day and I train at the same time every day. I’ve been doing that for a little while now.”
He’s ready to pitch. To hitters. Any hitter will do. But he’d be real pleased if the first dude who stepped into the box against him was his buddy Pacheco.
“We’ve been trash-talking since the day we both got drafted,” Jobe said, laughing. “That will definitely be a fun one. He thinks he’s going to get me and I think I’m going to get him. I guess we will just find out.”