He’s 5’11, a solid 205 pounds, the right-handed Jester, 25, has the easy repeatable athletic delivery that scouts search for in a closer; the ability to come in at tight spots and throw strikes right now.
“The big thing with him is he pounds the zone with all of his pitches and he has no fear,” said his manager Phillip Wellman on the reasons for the success of his closer.
Jester was taken in the twenty-third round of the 2014 draft by the Padres out of Texas A&M University, after first attending Tyler Junior College, in Texas for two years.
His first season as a professional saw him make it all the way to Low-A Fort Wayne after starting out in the Arizona league. However, last season with the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm gave a better indicator of what he may be capable off as he posted a 3.57 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 45.1 innings pitched against only 18 walks in the hitter-friendly California League.
This year he is off to another strong start as the Missions’ closer with a 1.86 ERA and a 25/1 strikeout-to-base-on-balls ratio in the Texas League.
“Ive really enjoyed having him,” said Wellman, “but sooner or later the big club is going to need someone to pitch in the back of the bullpen and it’s hard for me to see them not taking him.”
Judging by your build are you a converted middle infielder?
Jason Jester: I played some middle infield in high school but once I got to junior college I just pitched.
When did you go to the bullpen?
Jason Jester: I started once in my sophomore year and had a spot start at A&M, but I’ve always been a bullpen guy. I enjoy coming out of there much more than starting.
As a reliever if I have a bad outing, I can get that bad taste out of my mouth the next day. As a starter you have to sit around for four days, which is tough. Also, I like the fact that you get to play more and it’s easier to stay locked in.
The approach is also different correct? You don’t have to worry about setting guys up and showing different pitches.
Jason Jester: Very true; when you come out of the pen you are going right at them. You don’t have time and can’t mess around.
What do you throw?
Jason Jester: Mainly a four-seam fastball along with a curve, change-up and slider.
Have you gotten a chance to work with Trevor Hoffman?
Jason Jester: I have not. He was in Frisco and we talked some after one of my outings, but yes, I really look forward to getting a chance to work with him more.
What are you trying to do when you face the first batter? Because he probably has a good idea you are going to try and throw a strike low and away. How do you stop them from sitting on it?
Jason Jester: I read the scouting reports so I have an idea to mix it up some; but getting strike one is very important. As with anything, you have to change things up.
What is your velocity?
Jason Jester: I’m usually around 92 to 94 but I have been up to 96.
It seems like the batter doesn’t get a real good look at it either.
Jason Jester: It seems that way. I think a little of it has to do with I am usually smaller than the starting pitcher. My fastball also has some good life and I’ve always thought the ball looks a little faster from smaller guys.
As a closer do you try to turn the energy of the batter against him when you come in at pressure situations? Are you hoping he will attempt to take a type of “her swing” and give you that easy first strike?
Jason Jester: I get a little ramped up too, but yes that does happen sometimes. I try to not get too amped up, more like a controlled amped up. A lot of it is just competition, its me against that guy and usually if I am in the game is kind of close - it’s a big part of why I really enjoy the role I have. Just getting the chance to compete.
A big key for me is also to not be up there just throwing; I need to pitch and think. Just because I’m in the back of the bullpen doesn’t mean I can throw a 100 and blow past guys – although I would like too and have tried [laughs].
But if I stay down and get ahead, I’m going to be ok. I like to go right at guys and not waste pitches.
What has been your biggest improvement since you turned pro?
Jason Jester: Just the mental aspect of being a pitcher, is the biggest. In school I could get away with just throwing it by guys. I played in the SEC, which is a good conference for baseball, and could do that there most of the time too. But once you start climbing the ladder in the minors – guys get better and can turn around a straight fastball no matter how hard you throw it.
The biggest thing that I have learned is to try to make smart pitches and learn from my mistakes.
It seems that most of the physical development takes place at A-ball or lower and most of the mental development at Double-A or higher. Do you agree with that?
Jason Jester: Absolutely; even at Fort Wayne I felt that I didn’t need to pitch a whole lot with my mechanics, but as I said earlier you have to start becoming a pitcher and not a thrower. Also pitching in the Cal League last year, with some of those hitter’s parks, it was really important to be mentally strong.
Here you start looking at lineups – and also we play the same guys so much, and they also see you a lot – you start getting a better idea of what you can and can’t do. Also learning how to process information - what works for you and what doesn’t - is a big part of development.
What was the biggest thing you wanted to improve upon coming into the year?
Jason Jester: For me it was staying healthy and consistent. My first year with Fort Wayne I had some back problems and missed a few weeks and last year I had a slight rotator cuff strain coming out of Spring Training last year.
This off-season I really dedicated myself to getting as healthy as I could for the season and trying to keep the same mentality every time I pitch. If I can do that, it will lead to consistent performances.
When I think about baseball what is most important to me is to give it my best shot. I wish it could last forever, but we all know it won’t.
I don’t want to have any regrets and I want to enjoy every step.