Jackson Jobe has added a cutter to the power arsenal that helps make him one of the top pitching prospects in the Detroit Tigers system. Every bit as importantly, he’s returned to full health following a back ailment that landed him on the shelf from early April to mid June. The recently-turned 21-year-old right-hander had incurred an L5 (i.e. bottom left vertebra) stress fracture, an injury he attributed to “rotating fast and throwing hard at a young age when I wasn’t really strong enough to support that.”
The pitch now augmenting his fastball/slider/changeup combination was portended in a conversation I had with him last August. As his second full professional season was concluding, Jobe told me that he wanted to develop something new, “probably a cutter,” and he went on to do just that.
“I added it in the offseason, and on paper it’s a really good pitch,” the third-overall pick in the 2021 draft explained prior to his last start, which came on Friday with the High-A West Michigan Whitecaps. “I dive into all the TrackMan stuff — the vertical movement, horizontal movement, the spin efficiency, the tilt — and use the data in pitch-design. The cutter has performed pretty well.”
Asking the analytically-minded hurler about the metrics on his cutter elicited a response that was preceded by a pregnant pause.
“I hate trying compare myself to this guy,” said Jobe. “I don’t think there’s been anybody like him, and I’m nowhere close to being who he is, but my cutter is pretty similar to Jacob deGrom’s slider at times. When it’s good, I throw it at 93 [mph] with negative-two horizontal and four vert. Like I said, on paper. Obviously, he does a fantastic job of locating his. It’s not just metrics that make a pitch good, it’s how you use it. My goal is to one day be anywhere as talented as he is.”
The pitch-design process was relatively straightforward. “One foot in, one foot out,” on adding a cutter when we spoke last summer, Jobe proceeded to broach the idea to his back-home pitching coach in January. He was then shown a grip, and being a natural supinator who finds it easy to get the ball to move glove-side, the pitch was “pretty good right away.” All that was needed was mental cues and the fine-tuning that comes with repetition. Six months later, Jobe has full confidence in his newest offering.
He’s yet to begin featuring it extensively. Jobe estimated that he’s been throwing his cutter roughly 10-15 percent of the time, which is “kind of what the Tigers want right now.” With just over 100 professional innings under his belt, 28 of them this year, continuing to master his fastball, slider, and changeup — “the core of being a starting pitcher” — remains a top priority. Ditto being able to take the mound on a regular basis.
“Probably the biggest things I learned while rehabbing were how to take care of my body and how to dial in a good routine,” explained Jobe. “Staying healthy is one of the hardest things to do in this game. I’ve heard many times that it’s a sport of attrition, meaning that the guys who stay healthy are the ones who have the best careers. You look at a guy like Gerrit Cole, who has hardly had any injuries, versus a guy like deGrom who arguably has the best stuff we’ve ever seen but has struggled to stay healthy. The rehab I did has me on the right track for that. Hopefully I can continue to get better.”
Jobe scattered four hits over five scoreless innings, fanning six and not allowing a free pass, in Saturday’s outing against the Lake County Captains. He picked off two of the four batters who reached base against him.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Garrett Cooper used to defend Giancarlo Stanton on the hardwood. Multi-sport, prep rivals in the Los Angeles area — Cooper at Loyola High School, Stanton at Notre Dame High School — the big-league contemporaries matched up many times. How did the San Diego Padres first baseman fare against the New York Yankees outfielder/DH on the basketball court?
“He was one of the toughest guys to guard,” Cooper told me in June while he was still a member of the Miami Marlins. “As big and strong as he is right now, at around 6-foot-5, 230 or 240 [pounds], he was similar in high school. He was definitely one of the most freakish athletes I’ve played against. We were about the same height and he played small forward/power forward, mostly down low, which is where I played. He was a good post-up guy. There’s not much else to say. The athleticism and strength he had is something not many guys have.”
Did Stanton take Cooper to school back in the day?
“I won’t give him too much credit,” his former prep rival said with a laugh. “But I’m sure he scored some points. He was pretty good.”
Which pitcher had the lowest ERA in a season where he won the Cy Young Award?
The answer can be found below.
The Chicago White Sox Nike RBI program won their second consecutive junior baseball division championship in the 2023 RBI World Series. The tournament was held at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida,
Ken Suarez, a catcher who played for the Kansas City Athletics, Cleveland Indians, and Texas Rangers in a career that spanned the 1966-1973 seasons, died on July 29 at age 80 (per Baseball Player Passings). Notable among his 150 hits was a one-out, ninth-inning single that broke up a Jim Palmer perfect game on June 16, 1973.
The answer to the quiz is Rollie Fingers, who had a 1.04 ERA while winning the American League Cy Young Award as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1981.
C.J. Nitkowski faced a lot of great hitters in a career that spanned the 1995-2005 seasons. Pitching primarily as a reliever, the southpaw appeared in 336 games while seeing action for multiple teams in both leagues. He had success against some of the stalwarts, particularly those swinging from the left side. Jim Edmonds, Ken Griffey Jr., and Jim Thome — to name just three — went a combined 7-for-39 versus the now Texas Rangers TV analyst. None of them took him deep.
Other hitters fared well against Nitkowski — his 5.37 ERA attests to that — and one in particular caught my eye when I scanned his matchups log. With that in mind, I asked him whom he most respected, and thus worked most carefully against.
“Carlos Delgado (5-for18 with four home runs) had my number, so he was the toughest one,” responded Nitkowski. “I was fortunate enough to face Tony Gwynn (3-for-4), and that’s certainly a name you’d respect. But the way you phrased it is interesting. It’s not so much the guys who crushed me, but the guys I respected the most. I guess I’d say it was Ichiro (3-for-5).”
“He owned me,” Nitkowski replied upon hearing the name. “Apparently I struck him out once, but I don’t remember it. Manny was such a terrible matchup for me. What he was really good at — I’m sure you’ve heard this — is that he’d foul a fastball straight back and act like, ‘I can’t believe I missed that.’ He’d be setting you up to throw a breaking ball, and was ready for it every time. He was probably as good as anybody at playing the mind games.”
Ramirez went 4-for-6 against Nitkowski with two doubles, seven walks, and a HBP. His slash line over 14 plate appearances was .667/.857/1.000.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto won his tenth game of the season earlier this week and is 43-14 with a 1.57 ERA since the start of the 2021 NPB campaign. The 24-year-old Orix Buffaloes right-hander has won Japan’s equivalent to the Cy Young award in each of the past two years.
Munetaka Murakami is slashing .249/.365/.470 with 19 home runs for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. The 23-year-old third baseman had an 1.168 OPS and 56 home runs in last year’s MVP season.
Yuki Okabayashi is slashing .310/.356/.416 with the Chunichi Dragons. The 21-year-old Chunichi Dragons outfielder has a .296/.336/.386 slash line since making his NPB debut at age 18 with a six-game cup of coffee in 2020.
Shin-Soo Choo went 5-for-6 with a 10th-inning RBI yesterday as the KBO’s SSG Landers beat the Lotte Marines 9-6. The 41-year-old former MLB outfielder went into the game slashing .254/.392/.399 with seven home runs.
High school pitcher Jang Hyun-seok announced this week that he will pursue his dream of pitching in MLB and will skip the upcoming KBO draft, where he likely would have been the top pick (per Jee-ho Yoo.)
Shea Langeliers has caught a number of power arms since being drafted ninth overall by the Atlanta Braves out of Baylor University in 2019. The 25-year-old backstop was behind the dish for the likes of Spencer Strider and Kyle Wright in his initial years of pro ball. Not surprisingly, he cited Strider when I asked him which of the pitchers he’s worked with has the best raw stuff.
Langeliers has since moved on, the Braves having traded him to the Oakland A’s in March 2022 as part of the Matt Olson deal. Which of his current teammates stands out in terms of stuff?
“Over here, I’d say Mason Miller,” opined Langeliers, who made his MLB debut last August and now serves as the club’s primary catcher. “His fastball has been up to 103 [mph]; it’s really electric. Luis Medina, as well. His fastball is really good, and his curveball is absolutely disgusting. A lot of our young arms have really good stuff. They’re kind of learning to pitch right now — we’re kind of growing together — but you can feel how it plays when you’re back there.”
Medina, who came into the season No. 12 on our Oakland A’s Top Prospects list, debuted in April and has made 15 appearances, 11 of them as a starter. Miller, who came in at No. 3 and also debuted in April, made four appearances before being shut down in May with an elbow issue. He’s currently rehabbing with an uncertain return date.
Langeliers caught another notable power arm before entering the professional ranks. In 2017, he played for the Cape Cod League’s Chatham Anglers.
“Josiah Gray was on the team,” Langeliers said of the Washington Nationals all-star. “He was actually our closer, because he was still playing a little bit of shortstop at that time. Jojo played short some days of the week — we had Jeremy Peña, too — and then sometimes he’d come in to close. I think scouts had him up to 102 [mph]. He was throwing gas. I’ve been lucky to catch some really good arms.”
Dylan O’Rae is slashing .356/.521/.407 with a 155 wRC+ in 163 plate appearances for Milwaukee’s Arizona Complex League affiliate. The 19-year-old infielder was drafted by the Brewers in the third round last year out of Sarnia, Ontario’s Northern Collegiate High School. He has 25 steals in 27 attempts.
Sebastian Walcott is slashing .297/.347/.577 with seven home runs and a 115 wRC+ in 121 plate appearances for Texas’s Arizona Complex League affiliate. Signed out of Nassau, Bahamas in January, the 17 year-old infielder is No. 3 on our Rangers Top Prospects list.
Connor Phillips leads all minor league pitchers with 143 strikeouts. No. 8 on the Cincinnati Reds Top Prospects list coming into the season, the 22-year-old right-hander has a 2.92 ERA and a 3.47 FIP in 92-and-a-third innings between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville.
Christian Scott has a 2.93 ERA and a 2.46 FIP in 76-and-two-thirds innings across Low-A St. Lucie, High-A Brooklyn, and Double-A Birmingham. No. 34 on our New York Mets Top Prospects list, the 24-year-old right-hander has walked 12 and fanned 94.
Zebby Matthews has a 3.81 ERA and a 3.51 FIP in 87-and-a-third innings between Low-A Fort Myers and High-A Cedar Rapids. Drafted in the eighth round by the Minnesota Twins in 2022, the 23-year-old right-hander has walked seven and fanned 95.
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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA when he won the NL Cy Young Award in 1968. He had a 3.12 ERA when he won the NL Cy Young Award in 1970.
On today’s date in 1930, Gene Rye homered three times in an 18-run eighth innings as the Texas League’s Waco Cubs beat the Beaumont Explorers 20-7. Rye, whose nickname was “Half Pint,” went on to play 17 games for the Boston Red Sox in 1931. All seven of his big-league hits were singles.
The first big-league game I attended was a 5-2 Red Sox win over over the Brewers at Milwaukee’s County Stadium on today’s date in 1975. Hall of Famers in the respective lineups were Henry Aaron, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, and Robin Yount. George “Boomer” Scott hit the game’s only home run.
Players born on today’s date include Buck Thrasher, an outfielder who got cups of coffee with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1916 and 1917. A .255 hitters over 30 big-league games, Thrasher went on to manage the Georgia-Alabama League’s Cedartown Sea Cows in 1929.
Also born on today’s date was Warren Peace, who pitched for the Negro National League’s Newark Eagles from 1945-1947. Peace’s teammates on the 1946 World Series Championship squad — the Eagles bested Satchel Paige’s Kansas City Monarchs in seven games — included Larry Doby and Monte Irvin.