Learning In Lincoln

When righthander Jason Jarvis arrived in Lincoln, he brought with him a couple of suitcases, a glove and a whole lot of baggage.

There have been questions about his maturity and his decision-making that have followed him since his high school career. It’s not possible to say that all of the makeup questions that surrounded him are behind him after just a couple of weeks with the American Association’s Saltdogs, but there are signs that the professional life suits Jarvis pretty well.

To help get Jarvis ready for his future, Lincoln pitching coach Jim Haller decided that he’d put his new pitcher under plenty of pressure and see how he responded.

“I exploded on him,” Haller said. “And he always came back and looked me in the eye and shook my hand. I was trying to see if the kid would break. He didn’t. I’m becoming a fan of the young man.”

As a senior at Chapparral (Ariz.) High, questions about his maturity and his price tag caused him to slip to the 25th round in the 2006 draft, despite the fact that he featured a 92-93 mph fastball as he went 12-0, 1.40 to lead his team to a state 4-A title.

After failing to reach an agreement with the Angels, Jarvis enrolled at Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) JC, but transferred to Arizona State midway through the season. With the Sun Devils, Jarvis saved an Arizona State freshman record 11 games, but then was declared ineligible early in his sophomore season.

That’s where the Saltdogs came in. Jarvis’ agent, Oscar Suarez, is also the agent for Lincoln manager Tim Johnson. Suarez was able to get Jarvis declared eligible for the 2008 draft, but he needed to find an independent league team that could help Jarvis get innings in the months leading up to the draft.

While Johnson and Jarvis may share an agent, the Saltdogs weren’t exactly going to turn over the team to the 20-year-old. When Max Scherzer pitched for the American Association’s Fort Worth Cats in 2007, the team set up his starts to ensure that scouts would get plenty of looks. Jarvis joined the Saltdogs bullpen as just another guy trying to help the team win—scouts can’t be sure he’ll pitch on any given day.

And Haller went out of his way to ensure that Jarvis would be treated just like any other young pitcher—because he figured that would help Jarvis prepare for his upcoming career in affiliated ball.

There were some clashes of opinion during Jarvis’ first couple of weeks in Lincoln. But pretty quickly Jarvis buckled down, picked up a new changeup grip that Haller taught him and went out and became an integral part of the Saltdogs bullpen.

The changeup has given Jarvis a different look. When he was at Arizona State, he was a fastball/slider pitcher who used his lively 92-93 mph fastball to simply blow away batters. Every now and then he would show the slider to keep hitters honest.

With Lincoln, Jarvis has moved his release point up a little, which freed up his arm to command a changeup. Haller has also worked with Jarvis at turning a head jerk into a smooth head turn and at rotating his shoulders better to avoid pushing the ball. After just a couple of bullpen sessions with the Saltdogs, the changeup, which sits at around 78 mph, quickly became an asset.

“His third bullpen session he shows a changeup that was just filthy. It’s his second-best pitch,” Haller said. “The kid has gotten swings on the changeup so far where veteran hitters have had pitiful swings. The arm action is spectacular with the changeup . . . I would consider his fastball his bread and butter, but he can throw the changeup in any count.”

The slider is still there, but it’s now a third pitch that is more of a chase pitch than something he throws with regularity. There are times when Jarvis’ fastball velocity has suffered as he adjusts to the new delivery—in one recent outing he was sitting 89-90 mph instead of the 92-95 mph he showed at Arizona State, but his command has improved and the fastball still has life. In other outings, it has sat at 92-93 mph. Jarvis was 0-1, 3.38 in his first 22â"3 innings with Lincoln.

He’s also shown his competitiveness and a newfound composure. In a mid-May outing, the first batter Jarvis faced hit a grounder that took a bad hop off a rock for a hit. The next batter laid down a bunt that should have been an easy out, but the first baseman failed to catch the throw, resulting in an error that put runners at second and third with no outs. On the first pitch of the next at-bat, Jarvis was squeezed by the umpire on a pitch that could have been called a strike. Jarvis wasn’t affected by the bad luck. He just grabbed the ball and threw a strike on his next pitch.

“Everything that could have gone wrong did and he never showed anything.” Haller said.

Jarvis also recently went to Haller and apologized for his pitch selection in a recent game—he threw a slider in a count where Haller had told him to stick with his fastball and changeup. While it was a minor moment, it said a lot about Jarvis’ developing maturity.

“I’m not in awe of the kid, but I like what I’m seeing in his composure.”

It’s hard to get a read on where Jarvis will go in June’s draft, but scouts who see him with the Saltdogs will have a reason to update their scouting reports.