Tigers draft stock watch: Rest key in mending injuries such as Jackson Jobe’s

Detroit News

Jaws dropped, heads shook, hearts sank, and more than a few tempers flared last week when the Tigers announced that prized pitcher Jackson Jobe, the team’s top draft pick in 2021, would miss 3-6 months with lumbar spinal inflammation.

Very much implied was that Jobe’s entire 2023 season could be shelved. Unsaid, but clearly feared by fans, was that Jobe’s future with the Tigers, as well as in professional baseball, could be in peril.

A less scary picture — as it might apply to athletes, in general — was offered Monday by Matthew Santa Barbara, a specialist in sports medicine, physical medicine, and rehabilitation for Henry Ford Health, based in Detroit.

“In the majority of cases in our practice, athletes are able to return to play,” Santa Barbara said Monday, explaining that rest and therapy typically allow healing, with no chronic issues anticipated. “It’s not something where you would expect them retiring from their sport.

“Kids and younger athletes bounce back pretty quickly. There’s just a need for that period of rest and recovery.”

Santa Barbara could not comment on specifics relating to Jobe, 20, who was picked third overall in the 2021 MLB Draft. Rather, within the medical profession’s ethical boundaries, he could speak only about more common treatment and prognoses that generally apply to athletes at-large.

Gymnasts more often have lower-lumbar spinal inflammation, known as spondylolysis. Football players and weight-lifters also are among those athletes most afflicted.

But a baseball pitcher, too, would be a candidate.

“One hundred percent,” Santa Barbara said. “When you think about the wind-up, there’s a lot of lumbar extension associated with such motion.”

Again, an expectation among orthopedic doctors is that there should be no long-term ills. That is, if there’s a strict period of rest — three months, at least.

“If you come back any earlier, the risk to that kind of injury can be quite high,” Santa Barbara said. “Three months seems to be the magic number.”

A good many Tigers fans, and critics, might or might not be soothed by medical expertise as they fume about Jobe.

He was, after all, a high-school pitcher when the Tigers grabbed him two years ago out of Heritage Hall High in Oklahoma City. Prep pitchers, particularly right-handers, are notorious for regression and for being socked with any of the breakdowns often seen.

History, industry science — all of it regarded as empirical by those who believe prep pitchers are verboten as early first-round picks — was at the heart of those who two years ago weren’t fans of Jobe’s selection.

Another irritant yet has fans upset: The Tigers took Jobe over California prep shortstop Marcelo Mayer, who one pick later was scooped up by the Red Sox.

Mayer in the view of both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America is now one of MLB’s top 10 farm prospects.

Meanwhile, it isn’t clear Jobe will even pitch in 2023.

Doctors, though, such as Santa Barbara, submit medical facts that don’t at all consign Jobe to a long, sad list of prep pitchers who never made it.

The Tigers also feel better than the bulk of their fans as Jobe rests and allows his inflammation to ease. In his first full year as a professional pitcher, Jobe’s work last summer convinced Tigers developmental bosses that he was on track. His “stuff,” as they say, was top-shelf.

Fans aren’t so sure. Their teeth remain clenched. They wanted Mayer. They want nothing to do with pitchers in the first round. They shudder to think the Tigers, with July’s third-overall pick, are inviting another disaster if they take LSU’s ace and current phenom, Paul Skenes.

And nothing figures to change until reports make clear, however many months from now that Jobe is fine and back on track for a starry future the Tigers always envisioned.

Detroit News ranking of the top 10 amateur baseball talents as they currently sit leading into the 2023 MLB Draft, set for July 9-11.

1. Dylan Crews, Louisiana State University, outfielder, 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, right-handed batter: Even when things turned serious the past weekend against Southeast Conference pitching, Crews was Crews: 5-for-11 against Texas A&M, two doubles, five walks, a single strikeout. In 20 games, he’s batting .508 with a 1.541 OPS. This is one amazing baseball player. Last week’s ranking: 1

2. Wyatt Langford, CF, University of Florida, 6-1, .225, RH batter: He’s still recovering from one of the more gruesome mishaps any celebrity athlete has of late endured — testicular surgery after getting hit in the groin by a pitch on March 10 — but Langford is expected back sometime in April, which will be good news for the Gators, and for MLB scouts, some of whom believe he will be a better choice than even Crews at one-one.Last week’s ranking: 2

3. Paul Skenes, RH starter, LSU, 6-6, 240: This is a gent on his way to having a potentially historic college season. His 100-mph-caliber fastball, his scythe-like slider — everything was on stage Friday at Texas A&M when Skenes was Skenes: 6.1 innings, four hits, no runs, no walks, 11 strikeouts. He is of such stature he could wend his way into one of those top-two draft slots. Last week’s ranking: 3

4. Walker Jenkins, CF, 6-3, 205, South Brunswick High, Oak Island, South Carolina High, LH batter: Surprise, surprise — well, not really. Heading into 2023 there were some quiet concerns about Jenkins’ physical dossier, but they’ve since been wiped away. Here is the one prep player who can best Max Clark as Top 10 inventory, and perhaps even Top 5 treasure. He has the bat, power, size, and arm to make, at the very least, a tremendous right-fielder for some lucky MLB club. It’s conceivable he could stick in center. The Tigers have been paying attention.Last week’s ranking: Unranked

5. Jacob Wilson, shortstop, Grand Canyon University, 6-3, 190, RH batter: Despite his glittering skills, Wilson will be viewed with a certain degree of caution because of the competition he doesn’t face. There are no Friday night-caliber SEC aces going against Wilson. No regular looks against even Pac-12 or Big 12 pitching, which makes an obvious difference. His bat-to-ball skills are nonetheless impeccable. But scouts will want to see immutable evidence this spring that Wilson has the stuff to be a Top 10 pick. Last week’s ranking: 5

6. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, University of Mississippi, 6-2, 200, LH batter: Gonzalez needs more than was shown last weekend against Vanderbilt, and that, likely, will arrive. But against Vandy-brand pitching, Gonzalez was 2-for-12, with no walks and five strikeouts. The plain truth, a month into 2023, is that Gonzalez has been good but decidedly undistinguished. Last week’s ranking: 6

7. Hurston Waldrep, RH starter, University of Florida, 6-1, 205: He wasn’t exactly incandescent Saturday against Alabama: Six innings, seven hits, three runs, four walks, seven whiffs, and 102 pitches. Not a serious matter when Waldrep’s heat and, particularly, his slider figure to be at full-throttle this weekend against Ole Miss. Last week’s ranking: 7

8. Rhett Lowder, RH starter, Wake Forest, 6-2, 200: Very steady pitcher here, Master Lowder, who was into his routine Saturday against Notre Dame. He worked seven innings, threw 94 pitches, rationed three hits, walked one, struck out seven. Nice rotation add coming for an interested MLB team. Last week’s ranking: 8

9. Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Indiana) Community High School, 6-1, 190, LH batter: In the same manner MLB teams will spend the spring debating Crews and Langford on the college tier, expect Clark and Jenkins to spur vigorous talk about which prep player is the best. It’s going to be fun stuff, watching this duo duke it out for higher Draft Day status. Last week’s ranking: 9

10. Kyle Teel, C, University of Virginia, 6-1, 190, LH batter: No big, booming weekend antics from Teel during a three-gamer at N.C. State. Then again, he did hit a pair of home runs. It probably depends on whether scouts believe Teel can stick at catcher. If he’s an outfielder, say goodbye to Top 10 heights. Last week’s ranking: 10

Dropped from Top 10 status

11. Chase Dollander, RH starter, University of Tennessee, 6-2, 210: Something’s up here, probably temporary. But notice that outing Friday at Missouri. Dollander lasted 5.2 innings. The Tigers got him for nine hits and a walk in 77 pitches. Supposedly, it’s the slider that’s been AWOL. Whatever, Dollander needs to reunite with his old, overwhelming self. Last week’s ranking: 4

Knocking at the door

Brayden Taylor, 3B, Texas Christian, 6-1, 175, LH batter: Power has been fine, as that three-game weekend series at Oklahoma confirmed: Taylor had a single hit each game – and each was a home run.

Colin Houck, SS, Parkview High, Lilburn, Georgia, 6-2, 193, RH batter: It’s possible Houck will be pushing the Jenkins-Clark duo to make it a troika of super-talented prepsters who are regarded as Top 10, or near-Top 10 material in July. Stay tuned as this big-boy, left-side infielder with a booming bat warms up.

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

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