Mowing 'Em Down
Kevin Jacob's fastball has hitters on their toes
In the spring of 2008, Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall noticed one of his freshman pitchers had changed his arm slot.
Hall stopped the freshman, and told him to go back to his original delivery—right arm flung behind him, followed by an over-the-top, whipping motion.
"Quite honestly, that was one of the biggest reasons I recruited him is that I felt like he had size and I felt like he had a funky delivery," Hall said. "He's straight over the top, and I kinda felt like he has a lot of deception with that."
Two years later, Kevin Jacob is now primed for his junior season at Georgia Tech as the closer, fresh off an outstanding Summer in the Alaska League.
And while his arm action is neither smooth nor orthodox, the 6-foot-6 righthander lit up radar guns this summer, reaching 98 mph for the Anchorage Bucs.
"I've been able to locate, throw strikes, and it's just been working out all summer," he said.
To say Jacob's stuff has been working would be an understatement. In 25 innings of late-innings relief for Anchorage, Jacob racked up 43 strikeouts and posted a miniscule 0.35 ERA—he gave up just one earned run all summer and issued just four walks.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
His unique delivery, with the over-the-top action that seems downright painful, not only fires a baseball at blistering speeds but also baffles hitters, who can never quite get used to it.
"I've always been kind of an unorthodox kind of pitcher, with a high arm slot," Jacob said. "It's been different through the years, but I've always been over the top. It feels natural, believe it or not, but it's been working so I've tried to stick with it. It feels smooth, even though it probably doesn't look smooth."
Jacob spent much of 2009 bouncing around the Georgia Tech pitching staff. He started seven games and saw action as a middle reliever. But by the end of the season, Jacob had secured himself a job as the Yellow Jackets' closer. He saw action in four games in the postseason, and allowed just one run in seven innings.
With the season on the line in Georgia Tech's last game of the season against Southern Mississippi, Jacob pitched the final 42⁄3 innings and surrendered only one run in the Yellow Jackets' 12-8 loss.
"I think he's found a home being a closer, certainly for us," Hall said. "We're excited—it's probably the first time in a while that we have someone that we can stick into the game late that we feel is a shut-down guy."
For the season, Jacob finished 5-3, 4.69, but his late-season improvement carried over into the summer and Jacob has embraced his role as a closer.
"Whenever you pitch you want to start games, but right now I'd rather be a closer," he said. "It's a lot of fun and you get to throw every day. You could throw every game, whereas if you're a starter you know you you're not going to be in every game."
Making The Jump
Jacob found success as his velocity jumped late in 2009. He worked in the 90-94 mph range most of the spring, then touched 96, then 97, then 98 in three consecutive games.His velocity never came back down—something even he struggles to explain.
"I wish I could tell you because I could make some money probably," Jacob said. "It's really weird because you hit 96 and you're happy with that, but you get another one after that."
To complete his arsenal, Jacob added a slider, which he has shown the ability to throw for strikes.
"He now has two pitches," Hall said. "It's pretty hard for someone to catch up to the velocity with the arm angle he has, and secondly when you add a slider to the mix it's just made him a totally different guy."
And for the moment, Jacob can relish the attention he has garnered with his arm, especially as a player who went undrafted out of high school.
"It motivates you," he said of the lack of professional attention. "You kind of just want to see what could happen."