Joe Jacques didn’t know what to expect as he prepared for his first professional spring training last February. What he got was his most fervent wish — and more.
Jacques — a former Manhattan College pitcher who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2018 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft — spent the 2018 season splitting time between the Pirates’ minor league affiliates in Bristol, Virginia, of the Rookie League, and West Virginia of the New York-Penn League.
So when spring training came around again, Jacques tried to keep his hopes at realistic levels. A promotion to Class A Greensboro in the South Atlantic League, provided he turned in a solid spring training, was what he hoped for. And when he opened eyes and turned heads in spring training, he received that golden ticket to North Carolina.
“Even before I got to spring training I was hoping for Greensboro, and then when I got to spring training, I pretty much dominated,” said Jacques, a lefty pitcher.
At Greensboro, Jacques dominated once again. He posted an 0-1 record, but boosted that with a sterling 2.96 ERA while striking out 20 batters in 24.1 innings of work. He also held opposing batters to an anemic .176 average.
With that kind of production, Jacques’ days with the Grasshoppers were limited, and he would soon bid adieu to North Carolina for a new gig in the Sunshine State with the High-A Bradenton Marauders. It was a fast track ascension not even Jacques saw coming.
“So I’m even exceeding my own expectations with how well I’m doing and how fast I’m moving,” Jacques said. “I always knew I’d do well, but I never expected this. This is moving pretty fast.”
So how was Jacques informed of his promotion?
“Our manager at Greensboro (Miguel Perez) would announce promotions in front of the team after a game,” Jacques said, “so it was always nice to get swarmed by your teammates like that.”
Jacques hasn’t slowed down in Florida, either. Through games played Sunday afternoon, the southpaw has posted a 3-1 record with a 2.45 ERA. He has allowed just 21 hits in 29.1 innings while posting 30 strikeouts to only 14 walks, limiting opposing hitters to a lackluster .198 average.
And he is doing it all as a jack-of-all-trades for the Marauders.
“My role is to be a bridge guy,” Jacques said. “Kind of a seventh- or eighth-inning guy. But we’ve had a couple of guys go down with injuries, so my role has changed a lot. I’ve closed games, I’ve been the bridge guy, I’ve thrown long relief, and I’ve had two spot starts.
“So I’ve showed them I can do it all. They have confidence in me that I can fill all those roles if they need someone to fill in.”
Jacques doesn’t care which role he’s in, so long as he has a chance to be in a game.
“They all have their perks,” he said. “Closing a game, you get that intense moment and you get fired up. Starting, that’s always a fun time because you pretty much have control of the game for a majority of the game compared to getting a couple of outs late in the game as a reliever. So whatever they need.”
But Jacques does remember what it felt like to close out his first game.
“It was against the Clearwater Threshers, the Phillies team in the league,” Jacques said. “I was almost expecting to get the call. I just felt I could go in there and do the job. A couple of days before I had a feeling I might get a chance to shut the door in a game because our closer had gone down (with an injury). So I was fired up for it, and I had a 1-2-3 ninth inning and got the save.”
Riding the crest of such a brilliant season, Jacques dares to dream some more. For more opportunities, more chances to impress his bosses, and perhaps yet another promotion before the season is over.
“I’m really hoping for a late-season call up, like a last two-week, end-of-the-season type of thing and go to Altoona (Pennsylvania), our Double-A team,” Jacques said of a move, which would put him two steps away from the Majors. “But if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t matter. I’ve showed them I can compete, and I’ve had a high success rate in this league.
“So I’m not worried going forward. I’m having an excellent season so I just want to keep it going.”