As a 25-year-old first baseman, Mike Jacobs witnessed one of the Marlins’ rebuilding efforts firsthand.
In 2006, the second-year pro helped form the nucleus of the team’s youth movement, along with rookies Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Anibal Sanchez.
Thirteen years later, Jacobs now plays another vital role in a Miami rebuilding process — albeit in a different role and location. After guiding the team’s short-season A affiliate the past two years, Jacobs has been promoted to Low-A as the Clinton LumberKings’ new manager.
Although Iowa doesn’t carry the same flashy appeal as Miami, the Hawkeye State may be the epicenter of the Marlins’ future: the roster projects to have an abundance of the organization’s top young talent. As many as five of the team’s top 11 prospects — including its first three picks from the 2018 draft — could find themselves in Clinton this season.
“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to continue to develop those players,” said Jacobs, who hit 100 home runs in his seven-year MLB career. “There are going to be a lot of prospects and the young future of the organization is going to be there. Being tasked with that responsibility to help develop those guys and lead them is something I don’t take for granted.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity and for them to think highly enough of me to put me in that situation is pretty awesome.”
For Jacobs, Clinton provides a smooth transition, as a number of players he worked with last year with the Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs will likely move up a level with him.
Although rosters haven’t been finalized, the LumberKings may be the most intriguing team in the entire organization. Headlining the group will likely be its Class of 2018 — outfielder Connor Scott, shortstop Osiris Johnson and catcher Will Banfield. Selected within the first 69 picks of the MLB Draft, the Marlins are heavily invested in the trio as they form the nucleus of the new ownership regime’s inaugural draft class.
Braxton Garrett, a 21-year old left-hander and the team’s 2016 first-round pick, is a likely candidate for Clinton. Fellow pitcher Jordan Holloway, who was added to Miami’s 40-man roster this offseason, should be due for a promotion after finishing 2018 in Batavia.
Top-10 pitching prospects Trevor Rogers and Edward Cabrera— both ended the year in Low-A, but could start 2019 in Jupiter— as well as infielder Christopher Torres and outfielder Brayan Hernandez – both among the team’s top 30 – could also find themselves in Clinton. Potentially throw in a pair of intriguing young prospects — slugging first baseman Sean Reynolds and outfielder Davis Bradshaw — and Ashford University Field may be a petri dish of future Marlins.
To become a playoff contender, Miami needs this young crop to blossom into major league contributors, making the development of their Low-A athletes a high priority.
After watching Jacobs guide the Muckdogs for two years, the Marlins were clearly confident he deserved the opportunity to impart his teaching at a higher level.
“He’s shown a lot of good leadership skills that we look for,” Marlins vice president of player development and scoutingGary Denbo said. “His communication with his players was outstanding. A lot of patience is required at that level and we think Mike shows that with the players.
“He’s got a lot of great qualities – he’s got a passion for the game, he does an excellent job with young players and we are very excited to have him in Clinton.”
Jacobs was one of three minor league managers to move up a level this offseason. Todd Pratt was bumped to High-A Jupiter, while Kevin Randel was promoted to Double-A Jacksonville. The Marlins’ Low-A team was previously the Greensboro Grasshoppers, but the organization has swapped affiliates after 16 years.
For Jacobs, it wasn’t until the latter stages of his playing career he considered a future in coaching. After hanging up his cleats, he quickly found work with the organization he called home for three seasons.
While he entered the coaching realm with a wealth of experience around the game, one of the biggest surprises for the 38-year-old was discovering the fatherly bond he formed with his players.
“I connected with them and cared about them,” said Jacobs, who has two kids of his own. “You’re with a group of guys so long throughout the year and go through the ups and downs with them. I really cared for these players and their well-being – [whether] at night or making sure they ate enough.
“You kind of almost feel like a father to all the kids you have, even though I’m not that old. It’s kind of weird — these are all your kids and you develop relationships with them and really start caring about them.”
A new initiative under CEO Derek Jeter led by Emily Glass, the Miami Marlins education program is helping minor-league prospects learn English and develop life skills necessary to succeed in the majors, while also teaching Spanish to English-speaking players.
At 38, Jacobs also shares a big brother dynamic since he’s not too far removed from the game. While he’s not playing “Fortnite” with his pupils— he prefers to spend downtime FaceTiming with his kids or preparing for the next day — Jacobs says his youth can be beneficial in connecting with players.
As for now, he’s ready for the next challenge, as spring training begins in just over a month. While he’ll move up a level, he has one key tenet he’ll carry over as he inherits the Marlins’ group of talented youngsters.
“Patience,” Jacobs said. “They need to have patience with themselves. …. Even though they may be struggling at a certain time here or there, one at bat isn’t going to turn it around. Two at bats isn’t going to turn it around. One of the things you have to keep hammering to these guys, ‘It’s process, process, process.’ Sometimes even as coaches, you want to speed that process up for them, but you can’t do that. You’ve got to do it step by step.”
“[I try to tell players] ‘No matter how good or bad we are that day, we wake up the next day and get to play the net day.’ It’s one of the great things about this game — we get to show up to the ball park and do it all over again.”