FRISCO, Texas – After a first full professional season in 2022 when he finished the year at Triple-A El Paso, Alek Jacob is back with Double-A San Antonio.
The North Central High School graduate and Gonzaga product isn’t complaining and knows his time will come to return to the Pacific Coast League and eventually make his big league debut with the San Diego Padres, which many expect to come later this season.
“I’m very unique. I throw from a weird arm slot, just try to throw guys off-balance,” Jacob said, a 28-year-old, 16th-round pick in 2021 who signed for $75,000. “Being unique helps me and helps the bullpen a lot by just having different looks.”
Between 2018 and 2021, he did his pitching for the Zags, going 8-1 with a 2.52 ERA in 17 appearances, 11 of those starts, with an 0.911 WHIP. He logged 112 strikeouts and just 18 walks as a senior, earning 2021 West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year honors.
Being a Spokane native, the dream was to always one day play for the Zags, even if he started out as a walk-on.
“Yeah, it kind of was (a no-brainer),” Jacob said. “I always wanted to go to Gonzaga, so when they gave me an offer, it was let’s see if we can make this work. I didn’t have a scholarship at first, so it was kind of hard. But I worked my way into a scholarship that helped me stay there for all four.”
Other than his own internal drive to succeed, like many of his teammates, he was inspired by Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales, a fellow Zag, who returned to Spokane frequently during his offseason to work out with the players and answer any questions they might have about his own rise to the big leagues.
“We’d pick his brain and learn a lot from him,” Jacob said. “It’s a guy I look up to because he’s done it. He went to GU, and he’s made it. He’s been around for a while now and continues to have success, so yeah, he’s definitely someone we all look up to and want to follow in his footsteps.”
The Padres’ No. 26 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, Jacobs’ ranking seems low considering he pitched in the top-prospect-laden Arizona Fall League (AFL) last season. In nine appearances with the Peoria Javelinas, Jacob was 1-0 with a 3.35 ERA and a 1.1184 WHIP, numbers that rival some of baseball’s best prospects .
“Yeah, that was really awesome,” Jacob said. “I got to face some of the best prospects in baseball. Some of those guys are in the league from last year and four of my teammates from last year have already made it, so it’s definitely cool to play against some of the best players around and go up against the best, guys that you know you’ll see 10 years down the line in the future in the bigs, guys that you’re going to have to get out.”
For the time being, he’s content to be in the Texas League, where he gets the opportunity to work with Jeff Andrews, one of the top pitching coaches in the game who has worked with young hurlers for over two decades.
Andrews, who is in his first year with the Padres organization, likes what he sees in Jacob.
“He’s got three or four different deliveries,” Andrews said. “I like the business, professional approach that he has. He’s not a guy that throws 95, so he’s got to maximize. It’s all more about him acquiring skills than talent, and he’s on the path.
“He can throw three pitches, move them around. He’s constantly searching to get better without just throwing the things that he does, which is nice. He’s got his feet on the ground. He knows where he is right now, but he’s also got his eyes where he wants to be. The different deliveries, the different pitches, we do different combos with him. He’s in a good spot and he’s going to maximize his potential.”
Andrews credits Jacob for buying into the Padres’ strategy about pitching while also realizing what goals he wants to accomplish and where he wants to end up, which is of course, in the big leagues.
Jacob said working with Andrews, someone who many pitchers who have worked with him in the past have affectionately dubbed “The Mad Scientist” for some of his rather unique approaches to his chosen trade, has helped him immensely.
“It’s been great,” Jacob said. “Sometimes as a pitcher, you think a lot when things start going and they just tumble. He’s helped me settle down and realize my stuff’s good, just trust it. That’s been a big thing for me, just trying not to overthink and trust that my stuff is good enough, that I can get anybody out and just attack.”
During his four years at GU, Jacob started and relieved , a role he enjoyed. To date, he has only started one game in the minors and is a full-time reliever.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Jacob said about pitching almost every day. “Being able to impact the game at any time and also just the adrenaline rush of hearing your name get called (is great),” he said.
“You never really know (when it might happen). Some days you’re expected to throw and other days you’re not expected to and you hear your name called. It’s a feeling unlike any other really, where your heart rate is fast. That’s what we all live for, I guess.”
Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.