Tigers say pitching prospect Jackson Jobe ready for jump to West Michigan

Detroit News

According to popular Tigers fan-lore, the Jackson Jobe thing just wasn’t working out. Not ideally.

His stuff allegedly was “backing up.” Competition in professional baseball was unmasking an overhyped pitching prodigy who last year exploited prep kids from Oklahoma.

Admit your mistake, Tigers, a sizable chuck of Detroit’s audience implored. Acknowledge that you blew it by not drafting fan favorite and California prep shortstop, Marcelo Mayer, who has had a slick first season on the Red Sox farm.

Not so surprising news:

Those views are not shared by the Tigers. Especially by the man in charge of minor-league progression, Ryan Garko, who last week decided Jobe, at 19, was ready to exit low-A Lakeland for a taste of high-A work at West Michigan.

Jobe will be starting Wednesday evening against South Bend at LMCU Field. The schedule calls for him to make three Wednesday starts before the Whitecaps call it a summer.

“It’s going to be a challenge for him, but we wanted him to see the competition on that end,” said Garko, who oversees Tigers player development. “If you break down his numbers since July 1, he’s really taken a big jump, and he was ready for that next level.

“Some of this is about getting better teammates around him, which we think will raise his game. He’s ready. He’s gotten better. If you look at his whole season, the numbers are really good, but the last five weeks he has really taken nice steps.”

To make matters more concise in explaining why last year’s third-overall pick in the MLB Draft earned an upgrade, focus on six of Jobe’s last seven July-August starts for the Flying Tigers. They showed 26 innings pitched, a 3.81 ERA, and a 1.15 WHIP. He had 31 strikeouts and seven walks.

But it wasn’t those overall, more superficial, numbers that convinced Garko and his staff Jobe was ready for Comstock Park.

“Everything I’m telling you is data-based,” Garko said Sunday. “I’m not talking here like a scout. This is about data. We know his fastball is a better pitch now. And that’s what the data tells me.

“He now has a four-seamer and a two-seamer that are different pitches and are both playing pretty well in the zone. His slider, still, is a major-league pitch right now. His change-up is good.

“Really, I think what we’re looking for Jackson to understand is what can be gained from fastball usage and maturation — the quadrants and where that pitch needs to go.

“We want all of our young pitchers to use their fastball where it plays and where it needs to go.”

In Jobe’s case, Garko said, Jobe’s velocity (mid-90s and a touch above) is just fine. And it has done anything but diminish.

“But if you want to dive in on it,” Garko said, “it’s about fastball quality. And we’re really pleased where it’s headed.”

Garko says the trick has been to boost Jobe’s vertical-horizontal movement and escape “dead-zone” location.

“There are a lot of ways to be a good pitcher in the major leagues,” Garko said. “There might be vertical-approach angle adjustments. Some of it’s about deception. I do think there are a lot of ways to be really successful.

“Do I think the fastball matters when you’re talking ‘stuff’? Of course, and I do think we have ways to measure ‘stuff’? Yes. But Phase 2 within our pitching department is to build better ‘stuff’ across the board — and we’re going to need to build bigger engines to accomplish this.

“I think we need more ‘stuff,’ he said, repeating his theme word. “We have a bullpen now in Detroit that has a lot of ‘stuff.’ And we want to make sure more is on the way.”

In that spirit, the Tigers will work this offseason on expanding their pitch-design and velocity programs.

“We’re trying to be one of the best,” Garko said, explaining that he and Gabe Ribas, the Tigers’ director of pitching, are in constant conversation on the arms front. “I think that was our goal from the start.

“We want to develop a pitching department that can develop really good production.”

Moving pitchers higher in the farm chain is part of professional baseball evolution, Garko said. It explained obvious earlier moves in sending, for example, Wilmer Flores and Ty Madden to Double A after they started strong at West Michigan. It was about advancing Garrett Hill two levels, from Erie to Detroit.

And now it’s about getting Jobe, at 19, a sense for what he must do at ascending stops — all as an athlete with his skills moves closer to revealing why the Tigers chose him with such immediacy in the 2021 MLB Draft.

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

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