Pitcher’s Game: Jacob Lee brings the heat for ASU baseball
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012
Updated: Thursday, March 1, 2012 17:03
Last weekend, the Arkansas State baseball team claimed three of four games against Evansville, and central to that effort was senior starting pitcher Jacob Lee, whose eight-strikeout performance in the first game led the Red Wolves to a win and set the tone for the rest of the series.
"I got off to a slow start in the first…. I was able to go out there in the second inning and get some rhythm and get a groove going," Lee said. "As far as the strikeouts, [pitching] coach [Tighe] Dickinson had a game plan. We started seeing some holes and weaknesses in the second inning, so we just kept going with that and were able to have some success."
It also put him over 200 strikeouts for his career, just 44 shy of ASU's all-time record – a major milestone for the man who, despite entering college as a dual-position player, has become the program's top pitcher.
Lee says he first became "consumed" with baseball when he entered high school.
Playing at Jonesboro High, he pitched but also played in the outfield and at second base.
"The decision to go completely as a pitcher happened during his freshman year [at ASU], and he happened to see a lot of time as a freshman," said head coach Tommy Raffo. "It's really helped his development and progress toward becoming our best pitcher on the staff."
Raffo says that the key to Lee's development is his he learning to "pitch and not throw."
"Pitching is being able to locate two or three different pitches anywhere you want to at anytime. That's really what makes an elite pitcher," Raffo continued.
Lee characterizes his pitching style as one that relies upon keeping the ball low in the zone and inducing ground balls, putting his defense in good position to make plays.
Dickinson adds that Lee's delivery is more consistent this season, and he has added a slider and refined his changeup to go along with a new two-seam sinker.
Despite this improvement, Lee insists he is focused on helping his team win, not on breaking records, illuminating the selflessness that led him to being voted a team captain.
"I honestly had no idea [about the record] until someone said something about it the other day, but it's nothing that's on my mind right now," he says.
Raffo explains that Lee's experience and maturity have earned him the respect of the team, while Dickinson cites Lee's "leadership by example" as his biggest strength.
"They see how he competes…. They see how hard he works in the weight room, how hard he works in practice," Dickinson says.
Lee admits that he would like the opportunity to play professionally, but it's not his "main focus right now."
Dickinson, however, is confident that Lee will have a professional contract this time next year.
"I was shocked he didn't get an opportunity last year…. I could see him being anywhere from a fifth to a fifteenth-rounder depending on what team has picks. [Because of] the addition of the slider and the improvement in the changeup, someone is going to jump on him. I wouldn't be surprised if he went higher than people expect him to go."
Lee could potentially be the second ASU pitcher drafted in as many years after Andy Ferguson was selected by the Kansas City Royals in last June's MLB draft.
But for now, he says, none of that matters.
"We're really focused right now with it being the beginning of the season, but it is a marathon. We're just trying to get our rhythm going, trying to see who our guys are, trying to prepare week to week," Lee explained.
As Raffo says, if the program does well and the team does well, the rest "will take care of itself."