The recent rash of injuries to Detroit Tigers position players led the club on Wednesday to formally select the contract of Jacob Robson. So who is Detroit’s newest outfielder, and what can he do on the baseball field?
Who is Jacob Robson?
The Detroit Tigers drafted Jacob Robson out of Mississippi State in the 8th round back in 2016. He’s not in the starting lineup on Thursday, but if/when he makes his MLB debut he will be the fifth member of Detroit’s draft class to reach the majors, joining Matt Manning, Kyle Funkhouser, Bryan Garcia, and John Schreiber. Robson will also be just the third 8th-round-pick from 2016 to see the bigs.
Long before he was in a big-league dugout, Jacob Robson was in Windsor, Ontario dreaming of playing for the Detroit Red Wings. But Robson was simply much better at baseball than hockey, excelling with the famed Ontario Blue Jays, joining the Canadian national team, and getting drafted by the San Diego Padres, before ultimately heading off to Starkville to join the Bulldogs.
Robson batted .290/.399/.346 over parts of four seasons with Mississippi State, playing center field and earning the nickname “The Maple Hammer” despite hitting just two home runs in 169 games.
He then hit the ground running in pro ball, batting .294 in 2016, and .303 in 118 games between then Low-A West Michigan and High-A Lakeland in 2017.
The 2018 season appeared to be a true breakout for Jacob Robson, as he continued to hit well (.295 average) between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, stole 18 bases, and blasted a career-best 11 home runs.
Then things seemed to stall. Robson returned to Toledo in 2019, posted a career worst 94 wRC+, and went unprotected and unselected in the Rule 5 Draft. The 2020 minor-league season was canceled, and when Robson was sent back to Double-A to begin 2021, it seemed as though the writing was on the wall.
But to Jacob Robson’s credit, he absolutely mashed for Erie, batting .424/.531/.712 over 18 games for the SeaWolves. Then he took a break from pro ball to help the Canadian national team:
Robson has been back in Toledo for the past two months, where he has continued to perform.
It has been a truly fascinating season for him overall, with .316/.434/.508 cumulative batting line and Joey Gallo-esque strikeout (33%) and walk (16%) rates. Robson is also the owner of a .504 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this season.
That’s an outrageously high BABIP, but not necessarily out of character for Robson. His .401 career minor-league BABIP is the 3rd highest for any minor-league hitter (minimum 1,000 plate appearances) since 2006, behind only Lazaro Armenteros (.413) and Mike Trout (.401).
So what exactly is going on here? And can Jacob Robson make it work in the majors?
Jacob Robson Scouting Report
There are a few things that stand out when watching Jacob Robson play: his swing, his speed, and his hustle.
Robson has a short, quick, flat swing that produces a lot of ground balls and line drives. Combine minor-league defense with 70-grade run times and extreme hustle, and you have a formula for a high BABIP every year. Add in the high walk rate and you almost have an ideal slap-and-dash leadoff hitter.
But then there’s than 33% strikeout rate. The fact is there has always been too much swing-and-miss in Robson’s profile. He has posted a strikeout rate of 25% or higher in every season above A ball, and that’s just too high for someone who isn’t a slugger.
The strange thing is Jacob Robson does have surprising raw power. He is capable of hitting some deep home runs, and he can go out to all fields…
…but his swing plane just isn’t conducive to regular power production.
And then there’s the issue with Robson’s speed. He is very fast, but for whatever reason he has never been a terribly good base stealer (just a 64% success rate in his pro career), nor a particularly instinctual outfielder. He does have a strong enough arm to handle right field, though.
The end result is something of a classic “tweener” profile. Jacob Robson does a lot of things well, but he doesn’t offer enough power production to carve out a role as a corner outfielder, and his defense isn’t strong enough to stick in center field.
The Future of Jacob Robson
Every big-league debut is awesome, and you never really know about a player until he gets an extended shot at the big leagues (look no further than Eric Haase).
That said, we don’t expect Jacob Robson’s run with the Detroit Tigers to be especially long or fruitful. We are excited to see him play, and hope we’re wrong, but with Akil Baddoo, Derek Hill, and Daz Cameron all likely to come off the Injured List in the next two weeks, it doesn’t feel like Robson will get the chance to make much of an impact.