Signed as 17 year-old out of Curacao, it took Jair Jurrjens a while to get adjusted to what he calls "a very different culture." His first two years in the States were tough. Despite speaking English well, the young pitcher would shy away from holding conversations with his teammates, too afraid to say something "stupid." "I needed a chance to learn the new culture," he explains, "and I'm still learning to adjust."
It wasn't until Jair got over this fear and started asking questions that he was able to start feeling comfortable both on and off the field. Now, in his third year away from home, he's the first one interrogate veterans for advice and lessons.
Gathering information and understanding the nuances of the sport is essential to Jair's game. He has a solid stuff, including a good fastball, but it's his intelligence on the mound that excites the scouts in Detroit. "I learn and adjust every time I go out there," he says. Jurrjens studies baseball like a student studies a textbook. "I've watched the Major Leagues since I was five, and I look at everything, not just the stats."
Jurrjens uses his knowledge to dominate batters. After starting the year in Lakeland, Jair was bumped up to AA in early June. He has excelled at this level, despite dealing with what he calls "a smaller strike zone and more patient batters." Of the more talented player in AA, he says "If you make a mistake, they will hit it ninety percent of the time."
He attributes a lot of this season's success to the opportunity he had during spring training—representing the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. "I didn't care if I played or not, I just wanted to go to learn and be around those players." Jurrjens ended up pitching one inning in the tournament against Puerto Rico, giving up three runs and picking up the team's first loss.
The experience was invaluable to him, and though he has no excuses for his performance, he feels that he pitched a lot better than his box score suggests. According to him, he only made two mistakes, one of which was a homerun to current Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez. The WBC moment he'd most like to remember is striking out the current Yankee's veteran outfielder Bernie Williams.
Despite his early success, he understands when Detroit is "careful" about promoting up even further. "I understand they're scared to move me up.
They're doing a good job, taking me though it step by step, so they don't make the mistakes that other teams have made with young players."
Jair also understands that it's his play that will ultimately get him to where he wants to be, saying, "I need to make them move me up by showing them I can pitch." In the end he respects the club that is giving him his shot at his dream. "They know what they're doing—they've been doing it for a long time."
But, it's Jair himself who has the highest expectations and accumulates all the pressure. "I don't know about the Tigers, but I know about myself. And I'm very hard on myself." He admits that he is "never satisfied" with a performance, and continues by saying, "what some pitchers would call a really good outing would me an OK one for me."
In dealing with being a young prospect, Jair has learned to look up to a man that has already gone through a similar situation, Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya. Zumaya was signed at a young age and dealt with much of the same pressure Jurrjens has encountered before moving up to the Majors this season. Jair admires the passion Zumaya puts into every outing and sees him as a reassurance that he will one day fulfill his own dream.
Jurrjens' ability to soak up knowledge has put him near the top of the organization's list. As he keeps learning, his ultimate goal is to understand the game so well that "nothing will seem new anymore." And with a little more time, there isn't much doubt that he will eventually get there.