Red Sox's Brandon Jacobs Finds A Home On The Diamond
Baseball had always been there for Brandon Jacobs.
These days, the 20-year-old outfielder is one of the leading hitters in the low Class A South Atlantic League, batting .325/.403/.530 with 14 home runs through 345 at-bats for the Greenville Drive. Yet there was a time not so long ago when baseball wasn't Jacobs' main sport. Or his second sport.
Growing up in the Atlanta area, Jacobs played baseball, basketball and football. Until he got to high school, though, basketball and football drew most of his attention. He says he enjoyed baseball, but he played it to stay in shape more than anything else. It wasn't unusual for him to not even pick up a bat from the last game of one season until the first practice for the next.
However, once Jacobs started playing for Parkview High in Lilburn, Ga., his priorities started changing. Jacobs gave up basketball after his sophomore year at Parkview, and as his high school career went on, he became more aware of the potential he had on the diamond.
"Coming into high school, (my mindset) changed," Jacobs said. "I played a little bit of summer ball and things like that. Once I got rid of basketball, it became easier to focus a little bit more on football and baseball. Going into my senior year, that summer (of 2008), I focused a lot on baseball. Teams had scouts at practices and games, and I picked up some notoriety."
Jacobs had some notoriety as a football player, too. A bruising running back, Jacobs was recruited by Auburn, Clemson and Florida, among others. He committed to Auburn. Had he wound up in college, Jacobs would've put his bat and glove away for good, as he was going strictly to play football for the Tigers.
But the Red Sox gave him a decision to make when they took him in the 10th round of the 2009 draft. Jacobs remained unsigned until a week before the Aug. 17 deadline, but a $750,000 bonus offer from Boston, never afraid to spend what it takes to sign premium talent, proved too much to turn down.
He put the helmet and shoulder pads away instead.
Do The Opposite
Jacobs certainly looks the part of a home run hitter, with a powerfully built 6-foot-1 frame. Brawn is just part of the equation, though, and Jacobs has shown he can turn it into results.
"He's got a very quick bat," Greenville manager Billy McMillon said. "He gets from his load position to and through contact as fast as anyone in the league."
Jacobs started his first full season in 2010 by staying in extended spring training before joining short-season Lowell. One of the New York-Penn League's youngest regulars, Jacobs held his own with a .242/.308/.411 line for the Spinners, adding 18 doubles and six homers. But Jacobs felt he was trying to do too much at times, letting his swing get too long.
"This year, I've been focusing on driving the ball up the middle, driving it the other way," Jacobs said. "Just keeping my hands inside, staying within myself."
Those efforts have been paying off. McMillon has been particulary impressed with the righthanded-hitting Jacobs' ability to drive balls balls to the opposite field—seven of his 14 home runs were hit to center or right field. Jacobs' willingness to go the other way has also had the benefit of making him a better two-strike hitter, enhancing his ability to hit for average to go with the power.
"Typical example last night," McMillon said, "he had two strikes, got behind early. He fouled off a couple pitches and then was able to go to right field. He wasn't particulary greedy there, he took what he was given.
"I've seen a lot of guys, when they get two strikes, then they start pressing and expanding the zone too much, but I think he's really confident."
Jacobs has worked to make himself more of a threat on the bases as well, getting better jumps and walking leads. He had just four stolen bases with Lowell in 2010, but he had already swiped 22 bags in 29 attempts through 80 games for the Drive.
No Looking Back
McMillon keeps his players grounded, and he emphasizes that Jacobs still has a long way to go. Hitting well in the Sally League doesn't mean anyone's ready for Fenway. Former multi-sport athletes like Jacobs often face longer learning curves once they get to pro ball as they make up for missed time, but that background does have its pluses.
"Any time you play multiple sports, I think you have a different skill set," McMillon said. "You learn how to deal with adversity on multiple levels. I think being a football player helps them with the team concept and understanding that you've got to do things sometimes to help the team win. And then from baseball, understanding that a lot times that your individual work ethic and your work approach can help you get through a long season."
If Jacobs had gone to Auburn, he would have bee a sophomore last year. His would-be teammates went undefeated and won the BCS national championship in 2010. Jacobs watched most of the Auburn's games and stayed in touch with Tigers tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, a friend of his from the Atlanta area who was part of the same recruiting class.
Auburn's success didn't make him wistful for his gridiron days, though.
"I'm happy with my decision," Jacobs said. "I'm just fine watching it from the other side of the TV."
"If he continues to work hard and he's free from injury, he has a very high upside," McMillon said. "He's aggressive. He runs the bases well, plays a very good left field and he's demonstrated that he can hit for both power and average. I see big upside in him, and I think he's got a chance to play this game for a long time."