Born on August 15, 1993, Jacob Webb was a high school outfielder in Southern Cal who didn’t receive much interest coming out of the prep ranks. So, with few options, he spent a year at the community college level before transferring to Tabor College, a Christian school in Kansas that had fewer than 600 students during the 2014 fall semester. Possibly their most famous sports alumni is Rolland Lawrence, a cornerback who appeared in one Pro Bowl for the Falcons during the 70’s and holds the franchise interception record with 39. Only one other Tabor College player before Webb had been selected in the baseball amateur draft – Tyson Kendrick, a catcher who played one year in the Tigers’ system.
Webb moved to third base for his freshman year at Tabor, but struggled to hit the ball with any level of authority. On the mound, however, things began to click for the right-handed tosser. When he wasn’t flailing away at the plate, he was on the mound where he struck out 50 over 55 innings with just 18 walks. He allowed only one homerun during the year. The following year would be as much of a door-opener as it was an eye-opener. A full-time pitcher at this point, Webb became a key contributor for a team that went to the NAIA World Series. In 105.1 innings for Tabor, he finished with an ERA of 1.88 and finished fourth at the NAIA Division I level with 129 strikeouts, which set the new Tabor College record by thirty. Webb completed ten of the 15 starts he made, including a pair of shutouts. The Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Co-Pitcher of the Year also set the school record with 15 K’s in a single game.
The Braves probably would have been interested in Webb heading into the 2014 draft regardless, but there was a little bit of fate in bringing Webb to the Braves. A college pitching coach happened to be the son of an area scout for Atlanta. After selling the Frank Wren-led team that Webb was a diamond in the rough, the Braves selected him with the 553rd overall selection (18th round). In two years, Webb had gone from a can’t-hit position player to a professional pitcher.
Webb headed to Florida to open his professional career. Used both as a starter and reliever, Webb kept the Gulf Coast League hitters at bay with a 3.24 FIP and 2.14 ERA. He struck out nearly a batter an inning and only walked eight over 33.2 innings. For those that saw Webb as a sleeper pick by the Braves that June, his summer only help to solidify that position.
Big things were on the horizon for Webb entering 2015. A new development team was beginning to take shape after the dismissal of Frank Wren and his crew. Webb was destined for a season with Danville and a stint with Rome a definite possibility. However, on the first day of minor league spring training, Webb felt a pop in his elbow while doing some long tossing. He was immediately sent for an MRI and the initial fears were realized. He would need Tommy John and would miss all of 2015. From the very beginning, Webb was sure he would come back. “I didn’t have any doubt, or any ideas that I was going to walk away.”
After a long rehab that tested Webb’s patience, the righty prepared for the 2016 season. It’s never easy coming back from Tommy John, but it’s even harder when you are pressed to quickly perform. Already 22 years-old, Webb was too old to still be at the rookie-league level and with the Braves adding a large collection of talented pitchers to their ranks after Wren’s firing, Webb had to feel the pressure. He began the season in extended spring training as he increased his arm strength. Finally, on June 25, he got into his first game. He allowed a double and walked a batter, but he also struck out the side. Five days later, he struck out another two batters in his one inning of work. With Rome needing a pitcher, he spent the first week of July in Low-A before returning to Danville to finish the season. His next four games were dominant. He faced a dozen batters. He struck them all out. In fact, over his first nine innings with Danville (excluding his short run with Rome), he gave up four hits, walked four, and struck out TWENTY-FIVE batters. Overall, he K’d 28 in 11.1 innings over a dozen games for Danville. His two outings in Rome included a bit of a stinker so his numbers didn’t look so hot, but he still struck out three of the ten batters he faced. His walk totals for 2016 were uncharacteristically high – a common side effect a pitcher experiences working his way back from Tommy John.
Webb doesn’t possess a killer fastball, though it gets on the batter in a hurry in the 92-94 mph range. Webb locates the fastball well and has a level of confidence needed as the perennial underdog. He’ll also sprinkle in a breaking ball that looks slurvy along with a changeup, though his fastball remains his biggest weapon. To this point, Webb profiles as a flyball pitcher.
In the span of eleven draft choices in 2014, the Braves selected Caleb Dirks, Webb, and Kyle Kinman. All three were Frank Wren specials in that they were small-college pitchers with more guts than stuff. There’s a chance, however unlikely, that at some point in the future, all three could be in the bullpen for the Braves. For Webb, it’ll come down to repeating the success of 2016, though it seems impossible to sustain a 58.3% strikeout rate. With that said, Webb will be a name to watch coming out of the Rome bullpen as 2017 opens.