BUILD­ING to­ward the FU­TURE

Ja­cobs may have or­ga­ni­za­tion’s most im­por­tant man­age­rial job

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - AUSTRALIAN OPEN - By Wells Dusen­bury South Flor­ida Sun Sen­tinel wdusen­bury @sun-sen­tinel.com; On Twit­ter @dusere­port

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 sev­enyear 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 scout­ing Gary 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.”

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.”

“I think it’s go­ing to be a great op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue to de­velop those play­ers. 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.”

— Mike Ja­cobs

ROBERT DUYOS/SUN SEN­TINEL

Mike Ja­cobs, once a team­mate of Miguel Cabr­era, will guide a tal­ented young Clin­ton ros­ter after manag­ing in Batavia.

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