Watch Jackson Jobe spin a slider that sends an opposing hitter flailing, and it’s not hard to squint and see the young right-hander in a Tigers uniform. Once Spring Training opens for pitchers and catchers next week in Lakeland, Fla., he’ll get his chance.
The Tigers’ 18 non-roster invites to their Major League camp include six of their Top 30 prospects. While Jobe -- the Tigers’ No. 3 prospect and No. 25 prospect overall per MLB Pipeline -- tops the list, infield prospect Jace Jung (Detroit’s No. 4 prospect) and outfielder Justyn-Henry Malloy (No. 9) also received invites with a chance to state their case for Detroit sooner rather than later.
Right-hander Ty Madden (No. 6), left-hander Brant Hurter (No. 12) and high-rising outfielder Justice Bigbie (No. 21) round out the list of ranked prospects who received invites. Add in eight ranked prospects who will be part of camp as members of Detroit’s 40-man roster, and nearly half of the Tigers’ Top 30 prospect list will be part of big league camp.
Jobe, the third overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, ranks as MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 right-handed pitching prospect. It’ll be his first Major League Spring Training. The Tigers kept him on the Minor League side of the complex in 2022, when big league camp was shortened, and again in ’23. He suffered a back injury in last year’s Spring Training that delayed his season debut until June.
Jobe put the delay to good use, working on his pitches at the complex while rehabbing his back. Once he returned to pitching, he looked stronger than ever, armed with a newly-developed cutter and strong changeup to complement his high-spin slider. Just as impressive, he showed a command of the strike zone that belied his age, including no walks over his final 29 innings between High-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie.
The 21-year-old posted a 2.81 ERA and 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 16 starts across four levels, capped by six scoreless innings on four hits with six strikeouts in one start for Erie. He carried that momentum into the Arizona Fall League, where he went 3-1 with a 2.87 ERA in four starts for Salt River.
Jobe is expected to open the season at Erie, but a strong spring could give him the momentum to go knocking on Detroit’s door by season’s end. Madden, too, could soon be pushing for a shot, having posted a 3.43 ERA and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings over 26 games with the SeaWolves last year.
The Tigers have been deliberate in their offseason signings to keep opportunities open for prospects to compete for spots on the Opening Day roster as well as later in the year. Malloy falls into the early category, having spent all of last season at Triple-A Toledo while posting an .892 OPS, 25 doubles, 23 homers and 83 RBIs over 135 games. Though Malloy played most of his games at third base, he’s expected to compete for a role in Detroit’s outfield, having spent extensive time in the outfield corners down the stretch with the Mud Hens. His combination of impact bat and plate discipline, having drawn 110 walks last year, mesh well with the Tigers’ desired offensive identity.
Though Jung is expected to open the season in Toledo, the Tigers have made no secret of his potential to make his Major League debut this year at third base, where Matt Vierling, Zach McKinstry and Andy Ibañez are expected to compete this spring. Jung, MLB Pipeline’s No. 83 prospect, batted .265 with 28 homers, 82 RBIs and an .878 OPS between West Michigan and Erie. He helped lead the latter to its first Eastern League title.
Bigbie, a 19th round Draft pick in 2021, cracked the Tigers’ prospect rankings last year with a breakout season reminiscent of fellow 19th-rounder Kerry Carpenter. Bigbie used an all-fields approach and exceptional contact skills to bat .343 with 25 doubles, 19 home runs, 78 RBIs and a .942 OPS in 115 games across three levels, capped by 15 games in Toledo. He finished with nearly twice as many hits (148) as strikeouts (77), then carried it to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .292 (21-for-72) with three doubles, a home run, 12 RBIs, 10 walks and 10 strikeouts in 20 games.
Others receiving invites:
C Eliezer Alfonzo
RHP Drew Anderson
C Anthony Bemboom
LHP Sean Guenther
RHP Brenan Hanifee
RHP Garrett Hill
OF Bligh Madris
C Donny Sands
RHP Devin Sweet
LHP Andrew Vasquez
INF Ryan Vilade
RHP Trey Wingenter