LANGLEY, British Columbia (BVM) — To secure the youngest talent available at the 2022 MLB Draft, the Cleveland Guardians paid the biggest bonus for a 10th-round pick ever: $1.2 million. Jacob Zibin’s mid-90s two-seam fastball and effective changeup, as well as his athleticism and shape (6-foot-4 and 218 pounds), convinced the scouts to invest an amount well above the slot value (152,000). This rewarded the former Canadian Junior National Team player’s bet to enter the draft a year earlier than expected.
“I had the opportunity to graduate earlier and I felt that was also an opportunity to put my name in this year’s draft to see what could happen,” the 17-year-old pitcher said. “There was not a set-in-stone plan, I just played it by ear with a general direction where I wanted to go. The plan now is to trust the coaches. They have the best record dealing with pitchers. I’m just trying to improve a lot. This is just a pat on the back.”
“He’s got life to his fastball,” Guardians director of amateur scouting Scott Barnsby told MLB.com. “Excellent feel for his changeup. We’re confident that the breaking ball is going to come, as well. Throws strikes, and another guy we couldn’t be more excited about the player development group getting their hands on.”
Zibin’s talent also caught the attention of Kentucky and South Carolina this spring. Both universities offered him to play college baseball in 2023. He committed first to Kentucky and then to South Carolina, but ended up declining both invitations to pursue a pro career.
More muscle, more power
Last December Zibin enrolled at the TNXL Academy in Florida, an institution that shortens the school day and lengthens the baseball workload. There he had the chance to play more often at a high level and gained both weight (25 pounds of muscle) and velocity. When he joined the program his fastball was sitting around 91-92 mph and he left hitting up to 96 mph. He even grew a pair of inches this spring.
“TNXL coaches gave me the right development opportunities and helped me gain confidence,” added Zibin, the 131st-ranked prospect in the 2022 MLB Draft. “I don’t think that if I had gone to another place I’ve had the same results.”
TNXL’s founder and head coach Brian Martinez said that the prospect did a lot of lifting and arm care work during his six months in Florida and highlighted the maturity the youngster gained.
“Being away from his family that long, understanding how to take care of himself and prepare for each start was a big deal for him,” Martinez said.
The former Orlando Scorpions hitting coach explained that for prospects like Jacob, the standard plan is to make sure he has a weekly routine: keep track of when he does his long toss, throws his bullpen and does his lifts.
“All this to make sure he is healthy and ready to perform when those teams are here to watch him,” he said.
Plenty of room for improvement
Martinez believes that Zibin still has to get used to the longevity of professional baseball.
“I think a lot of Canadian kids don’t play a lot because of the weather and they shut down more than the regular players,” Martinez said. “He has to go through the process of playing 130 games.”
Zibin’s agent and managing partner at True Gravity Baseball, Blake Corosky confirmed that Zibin will be joining the Cleveland Guardians Development Complex in Arizona this September. He will start his path as a professional player in the Fall Instructional League.
In Arizona, Zibin will work on his whole repertoire, especially on the consistency and command of his third pitch: the slurve.
“I’m confident I could work with the Cleveland staff on this,” Zibin said. “There is a lot of room for growth before I land in the majors.”
The 2021 National League Cy Young winner, Corbin Burnes, is one of Zibin’s favourite pitchers. The Milwaukee Brewers starter impresses him because of Burnes’ elite command and velocity.
“I love watching different pitchers and taking pieces from their mechanics,” Zibin said. “Another of my favourite pitchers is (White Sox reliever) Liam Hendricks because of the way he can fire up from the hill. There is a lot of different stuff you can take from different pitchers and add your twist.”
The Langley’s showcase
Zibin had shown his talents on several occasions in recent years. In June, he was one of the 255 high schoolers who attended the MLB Draft Combine 2022 at Petco Park in San Diego. In March, as in the previous four years, he joined the B.C. Langley Blaze, a BCPBL league team famous for developing the Canadian big leaguers Tyler O’Neill, Brett Lawrie and Scott Matthieson, in a tour in Arizona.
“It was a great experience as it was the one from last fall in Jupiter,” Zibin said. “Both were big opportunities to perform in front of MLB scouts. “Jamie Bodaly and Doug Mathieson (coaches from the Langley Blaze) helped me a lot. They were all supportive when I went down to Florida. Helped me to get reach out (by universities) and get committed.”
The righthander gives the rest of the credit for his success to his family (especially his parents, brother, sister, and grandmother).
“They are the most supportive people, no matter what happens,” Zibin said. “If I had decided to go to college instead, they will have supported that too. Whatever works in my best interest. Whatever I want to do.”