There are a lot of things to say about Jackson Jobe, but it’s hard to find the right way to say them. Feelings about the young pitcher have been messy around these parts since the day he was drafted, and he hasn’t had much of an on-field opportunity to put his stamp on the situation.
When the team announced that Jobe was suffering from lumbar spine inflammation in mid-March, it was unclear whether he’d pitch more than a handful of innings in 2023 year due to the timing of the injury. The suggested recovery timeline was announced as 3-6 months in March, which could have delayed his return to the game until September, the final month of the minor league calendar. Any back injury is a major concern, but losing an entire season to one would cast some real doubt on his future as a starting pitcher. Instead, Jobe and the Tigers got the best case scenario and he was back on the mound in mid-June hungry to make up for lost time.
The Tigers haven’t thrown Jobe straight back into the fire yet. He’s only been used for short outings so far. (That’s pretty normal for a pitching prospect who was hurt, although Jobe is resolute that he is completely healthy and chalked the short outings up to “rain weirdness.”) However, in six starts with the Lakeland Flying Tigers, he’s been a terror, striking out 20 hitters in 16.0 innings pitched.
Additionally, beat reporter Cody Stavenhagen reported on his podcast, Turning the Corner, that the team is very pleased with the developmental strides they’re seeing from Jobe after some early struggles in his pro career. His final wipeout performance for the Lakeland Flying Tigers on July 22, where he allowed a run on three hits while striking out seven, providing final evidence that it was time to level up.
Jobe was made available to the media on Thursday afternoon, and he told us he believes he’s come back better than ever.
“I think overall, in my maturity as a pitcher, I just understand the game better,” he said. “Mechanically, I’m in a better place which affects my command a ton. It’s funny, going back to watch videos from last year, after how much I’ve learned, I’m watching back so mad at myself and the things I’ve done. Like, ‘what are you doing!’”
“I’m surprised, too. I didn’t have the year that I wanted to, it could have been a lot worse with what I had going on,” he said with a chuckle.
“I think having so much free time, I really got the chance to dive into everything and learn how to make adjustments on my own,” he elaborated. “You go though, it’s such a long season, you’re gonna run into bad habits here and there. Being able to make those adjustments on the fly is a huge part of it.”
It’s expected that a player would say that sort of thing after coming back from a long time away from competitive play. The joke about every player coming to spring training in the best shape of his life gets passed around annually for a reason. Jobe got specific with us, though, revealing some details about exactly how he intends to get better results this year.
“[The adjustments] are more in the upper half, just trying to get all my energy towards home plate, rather than falling back or falling toward third base.”
Here’s what he had to say when I asked him what he’s looking for in his self evaluation process:
“I think the root of it all is mechanics. I think when my mechanics are in a good spot, lower half and upper half, then all the pitch shapes, the command of the pitches, that’s all gonna be there. That’s the root of it all for me, so after every bullpen, every game, I’m always diving in and making sure I’m a good spot.”
Now healthy and back on the field, Jobe isn’t content with the adjustments he made while rehabbing from his back injury. His slider is the pitch that made him famous and its elite spin is a big part of what got him drafted third overall, but he saw room for improvement there as well. He told us about some tweaks he’s made to his money pitch in recent days.
“I worked on it a little bit in my last outing. I think I’d been throwing it at 80-83 [miles per hour] with a lot of movement, which I felt like was pretty tough to command consistently,” he explained. “It was actually my bullpen before last outing, I started shortening up a bit and throwing it harder and it definitely works. I’m gonna keep rolling with that, it felt really comfortable.”
The lines delineating one kind of breaking ball from another can get a bit blurry, particularly for a young pitcher still developing his command. He was also asked if he’d done any work with a curveball in that process, but he told us plainly that his breaking ball is still just one pitch.
“It’s a slider, but I think it was a really big sweeper. I like to think I throw pretty hard, and my slider was at 80 [mph] and I was like ‘I think we can throw this a little harder and still have it be effective.’ So I tried that out and I really liked it.”
The new version seemed to throw off Statcast’s pitch tracking a bit, registering as a cutter at anywhere from 85 to 93 mph with over 3000 rpms of spin. Odds are, it just needs refinement, but we’ll take an average of 88 mph and see if that’s where the harder slider eventually settles as he gets more comfortable with it. That is a lot of spin on a breaking ball with that velocity. Jobe’s fastball is a 96 mph fourseamer that topped out at 98.6 mph in his last start, with an average spin rate of 2541 rpms. Jobe has an awful lot to work with, but that’s never been in question.
With his injury in the rearview, Jobe is chomping at the bit to prove what he can do on the mound. When he spoke to the media last year after being called up to High-A, he towed the company line, but this time around he was more open about his frustration at not immediately being good in pro ball. He’s determined not to let that happen again.
“Honestly, I want to dominate. That’s kinda where I’m at. I’ve spent enough time ironing everything out. I’m just trying to get rolling.”
Jobe is scheduled as the starter for the Whitecaps’ game against Fort Wayne at home on Saturday. The opportunity is for him to reinforce a ‘Caps team that has come weakly out of the gate in the second half, and he’s ready to grab it with both hands. It’s expected to be a packed house, which will make for an excellent environment for the Tigers’ top pitching prospect to make his (hopefully) triumphant return to West Michigan.
On Sunday, Jackson Jobe will celebrate his 21st birthday. His pro career didn’t get off to the start he wanted, but the outlines of the top shelf pitcher the Tigers hoped they were drafting are suddenly a lot clearer.