Lee's striking pro debut makes him an All Star
Jacob Lee has been a guy that has, for the most part, flown under the radar this season.
He boasts a stellar 2.10 ERA, second only to Luis Dejesus on the team, and leads the team in strikeouts with 40. He leads the team in WHIP (0.90), and would rank second in the league if eligible. He sits all the way down at #20 on the league strikeout list, but has pitched fewer innings than anybody in the top twenty. He would easily slide into the top five or ten in strikeouts/9 innings if he qualified.
All of that was enough to secure him a spot in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game.
So why don’t we more know about him? Maybe it’s just that people haven’t had much of a chance to see him pitch. He started out the year in the bullpen, a somewhat foreign place to him after being a starter for four years at Arkansas State.
But if his career at Arkansas State is any indicator, he won’t be unknown for very much longer.
Lee, 22, entered Arkansas State after a high school career where he was a productive hitter and pitcher, but soon emerged as a full time pitcher in college. His ASU days were nothing short of brilliant, as he went on to become the all-time leader in strikeouts and innings pitched for the Red Wolves.
Maybe bigger than his numbers, though, was his commitment as a team leader. His senior year he was voted a team captain, due in large part to his dedication to working hard in practice and the weight room.
“We had a good group of four or five seniors, but I was the only one who had been there for four years at that point," Lee said. "So it was something I took pride in. It was a lot of fun.”
He wasn’t drafted after his junior year, but jumped all the way into the top ten his senior year when the Indians snagged him with their ninth overall selection.
“It was kind of disappointing my junior year,” he said. “But it worked out this year, so it’s was exciting.”
Lee signed shortly after being drafted, giving him a chance to put in a full season of work in Mahoning Valley. He started off working out of the ‘pen, something to help keep his innings in check after tossing so many earlier in the year at ASU. Despite having never pitched out of the bullpen he was good, allowing only four earned runs in 16 innings with 22 strikeouts.
“It was okay coming out of the bullpen, it’s just a different mindset of just being ready everyday," Lee said. "But it’s just as fun as starting, if not more fun.”
Midway threw the season, Lee got a chance to enter the rotation on a low pitch count and has carried that success over. He has started five games, allowing only three runs in 18 innings.
Lee throws a four-pitch combination of fastball, slider, changeup, and occasional curveball. His fastball is probably his best pitch, showing good “late pop”, but his off-speed stuff has also been pretty effective. He has thus far shown excellent command, routinely working ahead in the count while only walking seven batters all year.
“I’m just trying to do the best every time out," Lee said. "Everybody’s done a good job, I feel fresh a lot right now, which is nice because I threw almost 100 innings before this season.”
Just like with any rookie ballplayer, one of the biggest obstacles is adjusting to life in the minor leagues. That hasn’t been too much of a problem for him, he says.
“It’s been fun, it’s kind of been what I expected," Lee noted. "It’s a grind having games everyday, but you get to the field early, do your work before the game, and then the game is kind of the easy part. I like it better than playing in school because I don’t have school (laughs)."
Maybe one of the biggest things that has helped him stay fresh has been his dedication to the weight room. He’s not a big, towering pitcher like a Justin Masterson or Ubaldo Jimenez, but he does have a strong, muscular frame.
“We had a pretty tough weight program at school," Lee said. "I put on about ten pounds in the last year just from that alone. I’ve been able to maintain, so that helps a lot with wear and tear and the daily grind.”
It will be interesting to see what the Indians do with him going forward. He has the ability to start, but has shown flashes of dominance at times out of the bullpen. Either way, if he continues to pile up strikeouts in bunches, it won’t take him long to find a place somewhere.