Jacobson Runs Out of Chances With Phillies

It's a story that can be repeated in many major league organizations. A guy is drafted – with a high pick no less – gets off to a good start and then falls flat on his face. For Russ Jacobson and the Phillies, that scenario played out and ran its natural course when Jacobson was officially released from the Phillies organization.

It was the spring of 1999. The Phillies were on their way to their second straight third-place finish in the National League East. As summer neared, the Phillies readied for the draft, which they hoped would furnish them with strong, young talent. The '98 draft brought a wealth of talent, including Pat Burrell and the Phils hoped for a repeat in '99.

With their first pick came another young pitcher. Brett Myers, a high school right-hander was selected by the Phillies. The comparisons to Mark Prior were all around. In round two, the Phillies went for power, taking slugging outfielder Jason Cooper, another high school product. When round three came around, the Phillies looked for their catcher of the future and thought they found him in Russ Jacobson, who followed '98 picks Burrell and Jason Michaels out of the University of Miami.

We all know about Brett Myers progress. Sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good. Cooper hit a combined 17-76-.233 between AA and AAA for the Cleveland Indians this summer. Jacobson hit .178 in 54 games at Reading, the lowest batting average of his career. Now, instead of the Phillies still hoping that two of their first three picks in the '99 draft would make it to the majors and help their club, Jacobson is officially unemployed after being released with the Phillies.

So, what went wrong with Jacobson and his career?

While Jacobson's numbers in the South Atlantic League and Florida State League his first two seasons weren't eye-popping, the Phillies still thought he showed some promise. Defensively, he was awesome. Offensively, he was coming around slower than the Phillies had hoped, but even after hitting .208 in the FSL in 2001, the Phillies decided to move him up the ladder. Jacobson started 2002 at AA Reading and instantly stalled. He finished his first shot at AA with a .195 average. Suddenly, after three minor league seasons, the Phillies catcher of the future had hit 26 homeruns – including 19 in his first season in the South Atlantic League – but had managed just a .218 average.

There were some in the organization that thought Jacobson had simply been rushed. He needed another season in the FSL argued some, but the Phillies had decided differently and pushed him along. Perhaps it was the fast track that led to another issue that many have said was a problem with Jacobson's development. Suddenly, Jacobson wasn't the easiest guy in the organization to coach. He seemed to have developed his own style and to some, had developed too much of an attitude. Whatever the reason, whispers of Jacobson's demise started to circulate.

By 2003, the Phillies were more cautious with Jacobson and had him repeat AA. While he admittedly wanted to move along to AAA, Jacobson couldn't argue after the numbers that he had put up the previous season. Early in the year, Jacobson seemed to have it all in the right perspective. "I think I could have moved along, but obviously, I didn't have a good enough season and I understand that. Hopefully, before too long, I'll prove that I'm ready for AAA," said Jacobson in an interview.

Just a few games into the season, Jacobson suffered a concussion when he was hit in the jaw with a foul ball. In his debut season, Jacobson broke his jaw while playing in the South Atlantic League. Before long, Jacobson was back, but would quickly find himself out of action again. This time, back spasms put him on the DL in early May. Barely a month after being activated, Jacobson was hit in the hand by a pitch and was sidelined with a bone bruise. Two weeks after he returned, he was hit in the exact same spot with another pitch and his season ended. The sad part is that between the injuries, Jacobson was putting up respectable numbers, hitting .275. His power numbers were way down, but the optimists in the organization chalked that up to the injuries.

Another red flag went up. Suddenly, Jacobson's defense wasn't what it had been. His ability to throw out base runners suffered and he wasn't able to block pitches in the dirt the way he had earlier in his career.

Last spring, the Phillies decided to keep Jacobson at AA for a third season. It was an understandable decision because of the injuries, but there were reports that Jacobson was not at all happy with the plan. In 2004, the Russ Jacobson that the Phillies thought they had seen glimpses of in the past, was nowhere to be found. The catcher of the future label had already been stripped away, but Jacobson seemed almost lost. Partly because of Jacobson's lack of progress, the Phillies put a premium on catchers in the 2004 draft.

Even hitting guru Charlie Manuel couldn't pull Jacobson out of his slide. Before long, Carlos Ruiz was the rising star behind the plate for the Phillies. Ruiz climb up the ladder crossed with Jacobson's fall down the ladder and Ruiz became Reading's starting catcher. Late in the year, necessity sent Jacobson to AAA Scranton, even though he had hit just .178 at Reading. He would get seven AAA at bats and collect two hits (.286) but it certainly wasn't enough. It's likely that the Phillies had already made up their minds and decided that there simply wasn't room for Jacobson in the organization. After all, Ruiz was coming on strong and the Phillies found a host of young catchers in the draft.

After the season, the Phillies unceremoniously released Jacobson.

It's not unlikely that Jacobson will catch on with another organization. There's always the "change of scenery" scenario. Maybe new coaches will help. Maybe a new outlook will emerge. What won't happen is Jacobson ever seeing the title of catcher of the future come to fruition in Philadelphia.

In addition to releasing Jacobson, the Phillies also released catcher Grant Karlsen, 3B Sean Walsh and pitchers Nelson Santender and James Mayfield. They also signed catcher John Castellano, infielders Buzz Hannahan, Carlos Leon and Randy Ruiz and pitchers Brandon Culp, Felix Villegas, Joe Wood, Allen Davis and Owen Hoegh to minor league contracts.

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