It’s been a minute, but Jackson Jobe can remember the last time he pitched to an actual hitter.
“Last pitch I threw was May 14,” the 19-year-old right-hander said from his home in Oklahoma in a Wednesday afternoon call with reporters.
Jobe’s professional career so far has been limited to bullpen sessions, mound work and workouts, from the Tigers’ Spring Training facility in Lakeland, Fla., to a training facility close to home. That will change in a few weeks, when he returns to Tigertown to be part of the team’s Minor League minicamp for prospects in mid-February.
Even if it’s just a session or two of live batting practice with teammates before Minor League Spring Training games begin in March, Jobe can’t wait to pitch again with a hitter in the box.
“I mean, it’s been pretty much all I’ve been thinking about since the Draft,” he said. “I was hoping to get a few innings when I was [in Lakeland] in the fall, but ended up just throwing a few ‘pens and getting out of there.
“So I’m hungry. I’m counting down the days.”
The Tigers have to be eager as well. With Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson expected to reach Detroit at some point this year, Jobe has an opportunity to become the top prospect in the system by season’s end.
He’s already the prime example for what the Tigers want to do with their player development going forward. More than a big wave of prospects every so often, Detroit wants a more regular stream of prospects to fortify its club and fuel the sustainable success that general manager Al Avila and chairman Christopher Ilitch have targeted since restocking the system five years ago.
Drafting Jobe was an example of that philosophy at work. With the Tigers on the rise, Detroit could’ve been justified in using its top pick on a college player who could climb the organizational ladder quickly and reach the Majors sooner rather than later. But team officials and evaluators were convinced Jobe was the top talent available, regardless of timetable, and a potential difference-maker.
The Tigers left open the possibility that Jobe might not have to crawl slowly through their system if he performs. But team officials also made it clear that Jobe wouldn’t be pitching in games until 2022. With the Draft moved to July, Jobe had gone nearly two months without pitching when the Tigers selected him. With lower-level Minor League seasons ending in early September, any rush to get him back on a mound for his pro debut would’ve yielded just a couple starts.
Instead, Jobe has worked on everything from strength to mechanics to nutrition.
“I definitely have learned a lot about the importance of what I’m putting in my body and how that’s going to affect my recovery and my performance,” Jobe said. “That has been a big deal for me this offseason. I think I’m doing a lot better job than last year. I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve been in. …
“I think the biggest thing for me was being consistent and having a routine that I feel comfortable with. That’s my eating and my training as well. I pretty much eat at the same time every day and train at the same time every day. I’ve been doing that for a little while.”
While Jobe has evolved his routine since Draft day, the Tigers have done the same with their player development behind new vice president Ryan Garko. That change has already impacted Jobe, who was introduced to new director of pitching Gabe Ribas shortly after his hire in October.
“We haven’t gotten super in-depth,” Jobe said. “I think when I get down there we’ll talk a lot more, and I’m sure he has a pretty good plan for me. But I’m really excited for what he’s going to do. I know he did great things with the Dodgers, so I think he’s going to help us out a lot.”
That’s another thing for Jobe to look forward. But mainly, he’s ready to face hitters. With a fair number of young power hitters in the lower levels of the Tigers’ system, he’ll have no shortage of challengers. Asked who he’s looking forward to facing the most, however, he need only look over to his good friend and Tigertown roommate Izaac Pacheco.
“Oh yeah, 100 percent,” Jobe said. “We’ve been trash-talking since the day we both got drafted. … Me and him have never faced each other, so he thinks he’s going to get me and I think I’m going to get him. So I guess we’ll just find out.”
Pacheco sounds ready for the challenge.