Detroit Tigers: 4 reasons Jackson Jobe is risky

Heritage Hall's Jackson Jobe scores a run during the Class 4A baseball state tournament championship game.
Heritage Hall's Jackson Jobe scores a run during the Class 4A baseball state tournament championship game. /
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The Detroit Tigers took an awfully big chance when they drafted Jackson Jobe.

It has now been more than five months since the Detroit Tigers took Oklahoma high-school pitcher Jackson Jobe with the third overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. Jobe didn’t throw a professional pitch after signing, and he didn’t attend the Instructional League this fall.

That’s not what makes Jackson Jobe risky, though. It’s common for recently drafted pitchers to sit for the rest of the year, and Jobe’s season had been over for more than two months when he signed with Detroit, so it didn’t make sense for him to ramp up again just to throw a handful of innings.

No, what makes Jackson Jobe risky is simply what he is: a high-school pitcher.

The stigma surrounding high-school pitchers goes back decades — a high-school righty has never been drafted first overall — but it has only ramped up in recent years. Just one high-school pitcher was taken among the first 20 picks in both 2019 and 2020, and some teams flatly refuse to take a high-school righty within the first 30 picks.

Why? Because high-school pitchers bust at an alarmingly high rate.

Jackson Jobe and First-Round High-School Pitchers

We went back and looked at every prep pitcher taken in the first round from 1995 to 2016, and added in high-school pitchers who were drafted later but given bonuses like first rounders. We also looked at a subgroup of high-school arms taken in the top ten. This is what we found:

*Career bWAR of less than 5.0

We’ll start with the easy part. If a team drafts a high-school pitcher in the first round, there’s a 60% chance he’ll reach the majors one day. Those aren’t great odds, but it’s hard for anyone to make the bigs. First-round picks as a whole reach the highest level just under 67% of the time, though the rate is much better for top-ten (~83%) and top-five picks (~85%).

Appearing in an MLB game is certainly a noteworthy accomplishment for players, but it’s safe to assume fans and teams want much more than that. Baseball is hard, and plenty of very talented players struggle at the MLB level. Only about 40% of our prep pitchers went on to produce a positive WAR, and fewer than 25% had a career WAR of 5 or better. Again, things look a bit better for top-ten picks, but there’s still about a 50-50 chance they bust.

And let’s talk about that “bust” designation for a moment. Our 5-WAR threshold is admittedly arbitrary, and setting it there leads to some iffy inclusions. Adam Eaton (the pitcher) started 201 games in the bigs. Jordan Walden was an All-Star in 2011. Jerome Williams pitched in parts of 11 seasons. Those are above-average outcomes among their cohort, and it feels wrong to call any of them busts.

But would Detroit Tigers fans be happy if Jackson Jobe has a career like that? Almost certainly not.

Can Jackson Jobe Avoid Being A Bust?

Well, being incredibly talented is a nice place to start…

https://twitter.com/FlaSmitty/status/1378350791010963459?s=20

…but every first-round pick has an awful lot of talent, and a lot of them still manage to bust. It’s not hard to guess why things don’t work out for prep pitchers, but we wanted to know EXACTLY why. So we looked into it.

Thanks to the indispensable draft database at Baseball America (get yourself a subscription) we were able to look at hundreds of detailed scouting reports for high-school pitchers over the last 25 years. We focused on the 202 players we deemed as “busts” to find out what kept them from reaching their ceiling.

Hit the jump to find out the four things Jackson Jobe needs to avoid…

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