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Jackson Jobe’s development hinges on his electric arsenal

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The Tigers threw caution (and historical precedent) to the wind by drafting Jobe third overall in 2021.

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Syndication: The Oklahoman BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The specter of the player drafted one spot behind him will hang over Jackson Jobe until he proves that he was worthy of being taken third overall by the Tigers in the 2021 MLB draft. Detroit’s front office certainly seems to think that he’s something special; they must, in order to have committed such an immense amount of draft capital in him. History has shown that betting big on high school pitchers is a dodgy proposition. Combined with the consensus around prep shortstop prospect Marcelo Mayer pre-draft and there was a fair amount of vitriol spouted when Jobe was made a Tiger.

The fact is that Jobe is one heck of a good prospect. The Tigers’ decision to make him a part of the organization’s pipeline of talent was far from unfounded. We ranked him fourth on the Tigers prospect list recently, but as long as he has no health issues during his first year of pro ball, there’s a high likelihood he’s the Tigers top prospect by year’s end. Let’s take a look at what he brings to the table as he breaks into the professional ranks.

Background

During the bulk of his high school career at Heritage Hall, Jobe was a two-way player and could have had a real future as a D1 shortstop. That outsized level of athleticism is a big reason scouts believed in his ability to hit his best projections as a pitcher. His senior year statistics paint him as a fish clearly overgrown for his pond, throwing two no-hitters during a season that resulted in a 0.13 ERA and a jaw-dropping strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 20.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

The Tigers signed him to a pro contract with a $6.9 million signing bonus, well underslot for his draft position. The savings allowed the Tigers to ink both Ty Madden and Izaac Pacheco, an outcome that would most likely have been outside of their signing pool otherwise. Though he was vocal about wanting to pitch right away, the Tigers took the long view relegating Jobe, like all the other top pitchers the Tigers drafted, to working out and scrimmaging behind closed doors for the remainder of 2021.

Strengths

The strength of Jobe’s game lies in his outstanding repertoire of pitches and overall athletic ability. He has quite the knack for spinning the ball. His exquisite breaking ball and promising changeup are all the more impressive considering he spent his high school career as a two-way prospect. When his stuff and velocity spiked the summer before his senior year, it left no doubt that his future is on the mound.

Jobe’s calling card is his low 80’s slider. He absolutely rips the seams on it, posting elite spin rates that have topped 3300 rpms. There’s pretty good feel and location for it in place already as well. It’s already a double-plus offering at its best, and could eventually prove one of the nastiest breakers in the game.

The fastball also features excellent spin rates and and has touched 97 mph. Jobe was pretty consistently holding 95-96 mph in many outings in his senior season, but in others was more in the 92-94 mph range. He has the physical projection left to be confident he’ll add more gas in the years to come. The mix of ride and tail on it isn’t ideal for missing bats, but the Tigers’ player development staff should be able to help him tune the movement up in pro ball. Right now it looks like an above average fastball at its best, but there’s plenty of time and the ingredients of a future plus fastball are present.

The fact that his changeup also draws consistently positive reviews is also very encouraging. Most young pitchers struggle to harness an effective changeup, but that’s not a hurdle in Jobe’s path. A good cambio is irreplaceable in keeping hitters off a pitcher’s heater, which will be important for Jobe’s journey to the major leagues. His mechanics, quick arm, and overall athleticism lead most to project an above average changeup in time, and possibly more.

Jobe already throws a high ratio of strikes, which bodes well for turning that control into advanced command in time. Again, his athletic ability and smooth mechanics forecast significant improvement in this department.

Selecting Jobe amounts to the Tigers gambling on themselves. “With Jackson we just felt this is a kid who’s too good to pass up,” said Tigers scout Tim Grieve to FanSided. “We’re very comfortable with our development staff, we’re ecstatic with (pitching coach) Chris Fetter and you think we can only imagine what they’re going to do with a kid like this.” The building blocks are there for Jobe to become a very dangerous MLB pitcher. Detroit’s pitching coaching staff have modernized to the point where they believe they can make the best use of him.

Jobe certainly has no lack of drive to achieve his lofty potential. He and fellow draftee Pacheco became friends in the predraft process and they see themselves as the “next Tork and Greene” in the Tigers’ system. That’s one heck of a goal, but it speaks volumes to his mentality.

Weaknesses

The weakest pitch in Jobe’s bag is his fastball, if only for the fact that it doesn’t project as a major weapon just yet. It has good velocity, but it doesn’t have a dominating attribute that gives it a bat-missing potency. However there is plenty of spin to work with and plenty of physical projection remaining, so the Tigers can probably help him draw more whiffs from it in time. In the eyes of FanGraphs’ evaluators, how well it plays against high level hitters will rely on how well he’s able to command the pitch.

Control and command is the other snaggle in Jobe’s game, as it is for any young pitcher. He doesn’t have a dependable feel for the strike zone yet, and it will take time to see how things come together for him in that department. He does throw plenty of strikes already and forecasts are generally positive for him in this regard. Jobe’s overall athleticism and sound mechanics makes him a pretty good bet.

Still, the real weakness here is not a matter of skill. It’s simply the unproven durability. Jobe hasn’t thrown that many innings and his body is still developing. Just building a pitcher up physically to reach a major league workload is a task fraught with peril, and with a prep arm the Tigers will be starting from scratch compared to more seasoned college arms. On the plus side, Jobe arm doesn’t have a lot of mileage on it either. Assuming he builds up his innings without a major injury over the next few seasons, the added concerns about durability for a prep pitcher will dissipate rapidly. If he can build up to a pro workload with just his current stuff over the next two seasons, he’ll quickly soar into the elite cadre of the game’s pitching prospects.

The last time the Tigers set out to develop a top prep pitcher, it was Matt Manning back in 2016. In his case, the club sent him quickly to short season A-ball and then to Low-A after the draft. The next year, Manning had a minor injury and then the Tigers kept him in extended spring training for a while to keep his pitch count under control before turning him loose at the A-ball levels. He ultimately threw just 51 innings in 2017.

Jobe is lot more polished than Manning was at the time, and has had the benefit of working with the Tigers development staff under totally controlled conditions since draft day. Presumably they’ll try to mix some breaks into the season for him, and overall it will be interesting to see how many games he’s allowed to throw. Perhaps we’ll see him throw 10-12 games early in the year, get shutdown for an extended break, and then, if all goes well, test himself against High-A level hitters in August and September. That would be ideal, but we won’t knock the Tigers if they’re more cautious with him than that in his first year of pro ball.

Projected Team: Low-A Lakeland Flying Tigers

After the demise of short season ball, the most common destinations for high schoolers breaking into pro ball will be complex leagues and Low-A. Of course, there’s a chance that Jobe starts the season on the GCL Tigers’ roster, but it’s reasonable to expect that he’s going to spend the majority of the season with Lakeland. There, he’ll face an appropriate level of competition for his stuff, and the Tigers’ development staff can keep him under close observation. Jobe has the stuff to dominate at either A-ball level already, and the Tigers have rarely been shy about challenging their prospects. So if he’s successful early on, we’ll see if they promote him aggressively to High-A or not.

It’s ok to have expectations here, and until he reaches the Double-A level, we predict there will be little to test Jobe other than workload and command. The Tigers probably did accept a little extra risk taking him over Marcelo Mayer, but Jackson Jobe is an excellent pitching prospect and should move quickly once he’s physically built up to the task.