Jobe touches 102, dazzles in tantalizing spring debut

Detroit Tigers

LAKELAND, Fla. — Jackson Jobe knew for a while that he’d be pitching for the Tigers on Tuesday. Detroit’s No. 3 prospect — and MLB Pipeline’s No. 25 prospect — had been counting down the days in anticipation like a kid around the holidays.

As he jogged in from the bullpen for the ninth inning in Detroit’s 1-0 win over Minnesota, he could’ve been bounding down the stairs to see what was under the tree.

“It felt like Christmas today,” Jobe said. “It was awesome.”

The Tigers know the feeling, having waited for this chance to put Jobe on the mound ever since drafting him third overall in 2021, and especially since watching him work this spring in his first Major League camp.

“He earned that inning by making sure that he did his work and paid attention to detail during the first part of spring,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He could’ve done this a while ago, but it sure was good to see.”

Turns out the gifts were as much for fans as for the 21-year-old right-hander. It wasn’t just the clean inning with two strikeouts in his Grapefruit League debut, but the pitches that went into it.

Tigers supporters have been through this prospect anticipation in recent years, from Spencer Torkelson’s homers to Riley Greene’s Spring Training a few years ago to Casey Mize’s Minor League no-hitter in 2019. But with each nasty offering from Jobe, from a 102 mph fastball to a high-spin slider, the reaction from fans reflected the realization that the Tigers have another special talent on the way.

“Yeah, it’s a little eye-opening,” said catcher Anthony Bemboom, who knew what to expect Tuesday having caught Jobe earlier in camp.

Jobe said he felt like he was floating in from the bullpen, and it showed in his first two pitches, fastballs at 99.6 and 98 mph for balls.

“After those first two fastballs, it was like, ‘Shoot, I’m a little amped up. I need to relax, get in the zone,’” Jobe said.

A 95 mph cutter got him not only a called strike, but a chance to catch his breath and set up a sweeper that spun at 2,981 rpm. Twins prospect Jake Rucker hit it harmlessly into the ground for an out.

Jobe’s ensuing sweeper off the plate coaxed Dylan Neuse to flail for a first-pitch strike. Another high fastball at 100.6 mph left Neuse swinging late.

Jobe’s 0-2 fastball, just off the plate, drew oohs and aahs from the fans who stuck around for the end, as well as from new Tigers television broadcaster Jason Benetti. That pitch reached 101.8 mph on Statcast and 102 on the scoreboard.

Jobe used back-to-back changeups to slow down Neuse and set up another 100.6 mph heater, this one at the bottom of the zone for a called third strike.

“For a young pitcher, that’s a really big step of maturity, I think,” Bemboom said. “Especially after the first couple pitches, it can go one way or the other, and he did a really good job refocusing himself and getting back in there and attacking. If he throws strikes with his stuff, you saw what happens.”

That was the last heater from Jobe, who used a 96 mph cutter and back-to-back changeups to fan Willie Joe Garry Jr. It’s the same changeup that drew high marks from Tigers slugger Kerry Carpenter when he faced Jobe in live batting practice earlier in camp, something Jobe kept in mind.

“Very impressive,” Hinch said. “I’m glad he got to come in and face live hitters in a game. Ton of adrenaline, some of the best stuff you’ll see, and I’m glad that he settled down.”

This is what the Tigers envisioned when they drafted Jobe over a crop of talented high school shortstops. Jobe spent 2022 learning about pitching professionally, from preparation to injury prevention to peak performance. A back injury delayed his 2023 season until June, but he dominated from then on, including a 54-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 40 innings at High-A West Michigan. He tossed six scoreless innings with six strikeouts in a spot start last September for Double-A Erie, where he’s expected to open this season.

From there, Jobe will have to fight the anticipation of another holiday. After Tuesday’s display, the anticipation for his MLB debut — hopefully later this year — is on.

“I’m really happy with where my stuff’s at,” Jobe said. “Now I’ve gotta stay healthy. That’s my biggest concern over anything.”

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