'A special talent': Tigers take right-hander Jackson Jobe with No. 3 pick in MLB Draft

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

They were expected to bag a blue-chip infielder with Sunday’s third pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, ideally California prep shortstop Marcelo Mayer.

But even as Mayer sat there, unclaimed, in a somewhat stunning surprise after the Pirates shopped elsewhere with the draft’s first pick, the Tigers went for an old standby Sunday — pitching — in opting for powerhouse Oklahoma prep right-hander Jackson Jobe with the MLB Draft’s third-overall turn, and then again when they took University of Texas ace Ty Madden with their next pick.

Jackson Jobe

It was Jobe’s selection over Mayer that stunned virtually all of Tigers nation — with the exception of Tigers scouts and the front office.

“At the end of the day, a special talent,” said Al Avila, the Tigers general manager, speaking of Jobe, specifically.

The Tigers doubled up on starting pitching with their second turn Sunday, No. 32, when they nabbed Madden in the draft’s Competitive Balance Round.

Madden had been expected to go much earlier but fell, at least in part, because of some negotiating tensions between clubs and Madden’s agent that likely kept him from being a first-round choice.

Although it had been anticipated that Jobe would go third-overall to Detroit, the pre-draft script was ignored, in somewhat stunning fashion.

The Pirates picked first Sunday and were expected by most draft analysts to gobble up Mayer, a left-handed hitter from Eastlake High in Chula Vista, California. But the Pirates opted for University of Louisville catcher Henry Davis, while the Rangers, selecting second, stuck with their pre-draft favorite, Vanderbilt ace Jack Leiter.

That seemed to set up the Tigers to swipe Mayer, the player they considered the top hitter and position player in the draft.

Jobe, though, had so enchanted Tigers scouts, cross-checkers, and front-office execs that he overrode Mayer and any other prospect the Tigers scouted in 2021.

“It was a pretty easy pick,” said Scott Pleis, who directs amateur scouting for the Tigers. “With his ability and upside, it was an easy ‘get’ for us.

“Jackson’s a special talent, a great makeup kid, with plus tools across the board: control, command, four plus pitches, life to his fastball —  really the total package, which we rarely see in high school baseball.”

Jobe, 18, is 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, and pitched for the elite Heritage Hall Academy in Oklahoma City. His 2021 numbers were astounding: 10 games, 51-2/3 innings, 15 hits, one earned run, 122 strikeouts, five walks.

While drafting prep pitchers is considered by MLB front offices to be a risk just this side of Russian roulette, Pleis said the Tigers had to weigh Jobe’s exceptionalism against gambles that are part of any round in any baseball draft.

“I think we’ve had success with young arms in the past,” Pleis said. “There’s really risk with everybody. Probably the question is, do we have an idea how to handle them, and we do our best to make sure we develop (pitchers) in the correct way.

“I think it would be a shame to run away from the best talent because maybe we were afraid they might get hurt. In all sports, there’s always a risk. But his talent outweighed that risk, for sure, and that’s why we took him.”

Jobe’s all-around skills were on display as a football quarterback at Heritage Hall, while his multi-dimensional talents on the baseball field added to the Tigers’ intrigue. Jobe is a sterling shortstop, and a powerful hitter who blasted two home runs on the day Avila saw him pitch.

The Tigers’ awe was shared by Jobe’s prep coach, Jordan Semore.

“I’ve been around baseball a long time, coaching high school baseball for the past 10 years, and coaching college baseball before that, and he by far is the best high school pitcher I’ve ever seen,” Semore said.

“His fastball is upper 90s, but his slider is one of the better pitches I’ve seen — and not just at the high-school level, but college,” Semore said. “His spin-rate is 3,100, 3,200 rpms — that’s top-percentage even among major-league pitchers.

“And the best part is he can throw a strike with any pitch.”

Jobe committed early to a University of Mississippi scholarship but will be signing with the Tigers.

More: Tigers draft watch: Why Jackson Jobe could be an option for Detroit at No. 3

More: Here are 5 players the Tigers could consider in Round 2 of the MLB Draft

He said Sunday that the Tigers’ decision to grab him with the No. 3 pick was a “surprise,” despite the fact Tigers scouts had all but occupied their own section of seats at Jobe’s games.

Aware that he could, inside of two or three years, be joining a young Tigers staff, Jobe said he was on board with Detroit —  and that his football years would be an ally during his transition to pro baseball.

“Football’s a very aggressive sport,” he said. “I kind of take that mindset with me on the mound in attacking hitters.”

A scouting report from MLB.com offers insight into exceptional skill and athleticism owned by a nephew of former PGA Tour golfer Brandt Jobe:

“He has one of the quickest arms and the best slider in the draft, and his other pitches have improved this spring,” MLB.com wrote. “Jobe showcases a wipeout slider that sits in the low 80s, with elite spin-rates above 3,000 rpm, depth, and the ability to locate it where he wants.

“He has upgraded his low-80s change-up with tumble and will use it against lefties and righties — some evaluators say it’s almost as good as his slider — and he can give hitters another look with an upper-70s curveball with nice shape.

“Jobe repeats his easy delivery and provides plenty of strikes, and his athleticism and efficiency should allow him to remain in the rotation for the long term.”

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

MLB Draft

When: 1 p.m. Monday (Rounds 2-10), noon Tuesday (Rounds 11-20)

How to watch: Stream at MLB.com

Tigers picks: The Tigers own one pick in each round, with their first pick Monday at No. 39 overall.