Jacob Esch pitched five innings for Georgia Tech this season.
That was enough to convince the Florida Marlins.
In this week’s major league baseball draft, the Marlins selected the Tech shortstop in the 11th round — as a pitcher. They did that despite the fact that Esch played infield almost exclusively for the past two seasons.
“Let’s put it this way,” Esch said. “Throwing five innings and going in the 11th round — [hoping to get taken earlier] would be greedy.”
What Esch made such a tempting commodity were the 95 mph fastballs he flashed in front of scouts in practice last fall. On top of that, Tech coach Danny Hall said, “his arm works real easy.”
Marlins scouts were unavailable to comment. Baseball America magazine draft expert Conor Glassey said it’s rare that a team would spend a pick on a pitcher with as little experience as Esch. In his 18 seasons at Tech, Hall has had only one draft case similar to Esch’s. The rate of infrequency might compare with the scarcity of shortstops who can unleash 95-mph fastballs with location.
“When scouts see something once, they know it’s in there, even though it might not show up all time,” Glassey said. “They can dream a little bit, and think it’s pretty likely it’s going to show up again, especially with a player like Esch that is very athletic.”
Hall recruited Esch from Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn., as a pitcher and an infielder. He pitched as a freshman, making 14 appearances, and then won the second baseman job as a sophomore and didn’t pitch at all. This season, after his showing last fall, scouts routinely asked both Hall and Esch when he would pitch next. They didn’t get their wish often.
Esch started every game, mostly at shortstop, and hit .319 with a .385 on-base percentage. Hall said he wanted to pitch Esch more, but felt that the wear and tear on his arm from playing shortstop made it difficult. Esch made six appearances, totaling five innings, six strikeouts, four hits and two walks.
Entering this week’s draft, Esch knew teams liked him as a pitcher. Given his minimal body of work, though, he had no idea if he would be drafted.
Said Esch, the last of four Tech players drafted, “I hoped someone would pull the trigger on me as a position player.”
Esch, who is in line to receive a high five-figure signing bonus, has reasons to stay at Tech. A civil-engineering major with a 3.65 GPA, Esch is one semester shy of graduation. He has done research work for a professor developing a device that tests poured concrete to “make sure that the proper amount of air is in the concrete,” he said. Hall said Esch would “definitely” pitch more as a senior, which, if he produced, would raise his draft stock.
While acknowledging the decision is Esch’s, Hall said, “I think there’s definite benefits to coming back.” If the Marlins make an acceptable offer, though, the would-be pitcher sounds like he’s ready to jump.
“I’ve told everyone that I want to get into their system as quick as possible,” he said. “You can’t win a World Series until you make it to the big leagues.”
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