Tigers prospect Jackson Jobe’s job at Lakeland: A steady path to Detroit

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Anyone was free to wonder last July just what the Tigers allegedly were thinking.

A big-league team was begging for bats at all levels. The Tigers instead decided a pitcher, a prep pitcher at that, was the third-best choice in the 2021 MLB Draft.

They might have been onto something.

Jackson Jobe stood on the mound Saturday at Marchant Stadium’s Publix Field, sizing up the Jupiter Hammerheads’ first-inning hitters as they took on Jobe’s Lakeland Flying Tigers in a Single-A game.

Jobe got into a 1-2 count against the leadoff batter, helped by a pair of fastballs that cruised 94 and 95 mph. He then unshackled a slider that looked as if it broke from Polk County to Osceola County. Strikeout.

He got the second batter, a prize from that 2021 draft named Kahlil Watson, to hit a first-pitch fastball at 96, which sawed-off Watson and rolled to first base. Two out.

Jobe destroyed the No. 3 batter, Joe Mack, with another 1-2 slider. Three outs. Nine pitches.

“We’re working to make him a better pitcher,” said Andrew Graham, the Flying Tigers manager who has seen his share of kids filter through the Tigers system, and who acknowledges Jobe has extraordinary raw skills.

“A kid like that didn’t know in high school he needed to know how to pitch. He could throw that fastball anywhere in the zone. Here, we want him to use quadrants with his fastball.”

It sets up a 3,000-plus-rmp slider that Graham said, with a nod, “really takes a right angle.”

Graham has a happy task in 2022. He has Jobe among a pitching cast that’s strong, especially in the bullpen. He has a trio of exquisitely talented shortstops/infielders in Cristian Santana, Manuel Sequera, and Izaac Pacheco, none older than 19. He has an outfielder, Roberto Campos, also 19, and a $2.85 million investment by the Tigers, who hammered a home run in Saturday’s game two batters after Sequera had launched one deep onto the left-center-field berm.

Jobe is a different mission for Graham — and for the Tigers. It is such a retreat from when the Tigers in 2007 prepped another youngster just out of high school, Rick Porcello, for the big leagues.

Porcello pitched that same summer at Lakeland. Inside of two years, he was starting for the Tigers.

Nothing close to that timeframe will follow Jobe, who, like Porcello, throws right-handed. The Tigers never allowed Jobe close to a game last summer after he signed for $6.9 million, a couple of months after he had wrapped up his senior season at Heritage Hall High in Oklahoma City.

Jobe, rather, was introduced to a kind of basic-training format at Lakeland after he had thrown a mere 51.2 innings last spring, striking out — no misprint — 122 batters and walking five.

He was tutored and allowed to throw monitored bullpens. But that was it.

So far in 2022, he has made six starts worth 14.1 innings. Obviously, innings and pitch-counts are being restricted in a manner that has altered, if not debunked, the supposedly enlightened era of science that greeted Porcello in 2007.

The Tigers will take a disciplined, gradual, highly incremental approach to Jobe. And not only because his ERA (4.40) and WHIP (1.33) are pedestrian after a mere 14.1 innings.

“Our main goal is to get him into a daily routine,” said Graham, explaining how diet and weight-training have been as basic to Jobe’s first full season of professional baseball as any throwing regimen. “He’s already put on a lot of lean body mass.”

Jobe confirmed as much a few minutes later, sitting outside the Flying Tigers’ clubhouse, cradling a cup filled with a blueberry-colored concoction.

“Protein shake — right here,” said Jobe, explaining that the protein drinks are part of a carefully scripted plan, spanning four to five meals a day, that clearly have shaped a 19-year-old man who is 6-foot-2.

“Now, I weigh 210,” he said. “I pitched at 195-ish in high school.”

Jobe has a 3,000-rmp personality to match his slider. He is a continuous mass of smiles, is as polite as he is engaging, and yet looks authentically like a 19-year-old, with his crown of thick brown hair. He was dressed in a gray, sleeveless Tigers t-shirt, and dark shorts as he sipped at his shake.

This has been quite the seminar, he conceded, this shift to professional baseball.

“You get drafted and you think you’ve made it,” he said, saying that his experience seemed to resonate with all of his young teammates at Lakeland. “Then you find that it’s just the beginning of your career. The other guys are going through the same things. We’re all kind of going through it.”

It begins with something as basic as his fastball that Heritage Hall’s old foes rarely touched.

“You make a great pitch here,” he said. “You put it right where you want it — and they’ll hit it.”

Another quick lesson, Graham said, was adjusting to a game where Jobe now faced something that during his Oklahoma days had been a rare event.

“He’s learning how to control the running game,” Graham said. “He’s working on varying his holds and being quick to the plate.”

There was a hint Saturday at challenges there.

A one-out single (sharply, on a Jobe fastball) in the second sent Jobe into his stretch. And probably prompted a next-batter walk. Then, he threw a wild pitch. He escaped thanks to a follow-up strikeout (slider) and a groundout.

His stuff, as they say, is where it stood a year ago, with some refinements. But this, again, is professional baseball. Jobe is dealing with radically different physical and psychological realities.

‘I feel like I give hitters too much credit sometimes,” he said, using as Exhibit A his May 7 start against the Minnesota Twins’ affiliate, Fort Myers, in which he lasted but 1.1 innings, allowing four hits, three earned runs, and three walks.

“I was giving up some singles. I was trying to do too much, nibbling at the corners. And I gave up some walks.

“The next outing, I was better,” he said, and indeed he was, throwing three one-hit innings against St. Lucie.

He understands what Graham and his tutors are pounding into him about pitching to those quadrants — spotting his fastball, in lay terms.

“One hundred percent,” he said. “In high school you can throw it down the middle. Here, I have to trust my catchers, and game plans with the pitching coaches: the set-ups. The game reports.”

There is, of course, development with those secondary pitchers.

He has a credible change-up that is only credible when he throws it. The bosses are working with him on frequency.

He also is showing an occasional curveball, something, he says, that he especially likes to unsheathe during a second look at a game’s lineup.

That curveball focus has, he said, helped him with his second pitch, if his slider can for a moment be considered a second-chair option.

“Funny you ask,” he said, when talked turned to his slider. “I felt during spring training like I didn’t have a good feel for it.

“So, we made some adjustments. It’s in a better place today than it was a year ago.

“I was kind of getting around it — it was moving too laterally. Now, it has decent depth.”

The key, he said, was going to more of an overhand, 12-to-6, curveball grip on his slider, even though the slider still sweeps majestically.

Otherwise, it’s more a matter, this conversion to pro ball, learning how to live with daily peace and competitive progress as goals.

He has the lifestyle part down. He and Pacheco share a home in the swank Grasslands development in southwest Lakeland where Justin Verlander once resided.

Their landlord is Michael Fulmer, the Tigers reliever. Fulmer, like Jobe, is an Oklahoma City denizen. They got acquainted (“awesome dude,” says Jobe) and right down to using the same offseason workout facilities and coaching consultants there has been a bond between Tigers pitchers.

As for the Fulmer/Jobe/Pacheco abode, life has been particularly pleasing, and even delectable, thanks to Pacheco. He whips up all kinds of steaks at night, or maybe a pork and rice dish, with sausage and eggs each morning on their protein-packed menu.

Jobe understands he could have been living a dramatically different life in 2022. Specifically, he could have been wrapping up his freshman year at the University of Mississippi.

But the Tigers called last July.

“It definitely would have been a great time at college, at Ole Miss,” he said. “But I’m a believer in God telling me there was a different route here.

“I wasn’t planning on signing,” he said, speaking at least of his early months as a prep senior.

“But this is a dream come true.”

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

Articles You May Like

‘Caps and Dragons Postponed
Tigers Select Garrett Hill
Royals 3, Tigers 1: Pineda returns but the offense squanders
Lester drives in 42 and 43 in loss vs Louisville 
Detroit Tigers rookie Riley Greene is leadoff hitter of present and future

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.