Jake Esch was due to appear for Great Britain in the 2016 World Baseball Classic Qualifier, but instead found himself summoned to the big leagues by the Miami Marlins. Called up to start in New York City against the postseason-bound New York Mets, the right-handed pitcher availed himself well. Esch hurled 4 1/3 innings, allowing only two runs. He struck out Yoenis Céspedes, an NL All-Star and Silver Slugger in 2016, and veteran Asdrubal Cabrera.
Esch, Miami’s No. 8 prospect in 2016 according to MLB.com, would go on to draw two more starts for the Marlins in his age-26 season. He compiled a 12-10 record with a 4.31 ERA at the minors’ two highest levels, spending most of the year with the Double-A Jacksonville Suns before a promotion to the New Orleans Zephyrs. Esch pitched only four Triple-A games, including a shutout, before getting ‘the call’.
Esch, a shortstop and reliever in college for Georgia Tech, was added to the Marlins’ 40-man roster after a breakout 2015 campaign, but was claimed off waivers by San Diego only a few days before the end of spring training. Esch discussed his callup and offseason with us shortly before moving to the Padres, for whom he is appeared in one game in the majors and started one for Triple-A El Paso.
Gabriel Fidler: You ended the season on a high, getting called up to the big leagues. Talk us through what a crazy day that must have been.
Jake Esch: The day the manager called me into the office, I actually thought I was getting taken off the roster. So I did an emotional 180 after I received the news. Then I contacted as many of my closest people as I could and told them first hand. After that, I had a solid night’s sleep, woke at about 4 a.m. for a flight from Colorado Springs to New York City. I wasn’t about to miss that flight! The rest was just a whirlwind of anticipation and focus. It was everything I could have dreamed it would be. Packed house, playoff race against a playoff contender, Bartolo Colón as my opposition.
NB: Colón, 43, is second all-time in wins by a pitcher from the Dominican Republic with 233, just behind legend Juan Marichal at 243. Dennis Martínez has the most victories of any Latino hurler ever, with 245. Colón will attempt to break both marks in 2017 with the Atlanta Braves.
GF: With the call-up, you missed out on playing for Great Britain just down the road [Brooklyn, New York] from where you made your debut [Queens, New York]. What would that have meant to you, donning the GB jersey?
JE: Every time I get to wear the jersey it truly is an honor. It means I am playing for something greater than I ever have before. I’m playing to represent the millions in the U.K. and worldwide, not to mention the Queen! I’m proud of my heritage and family and I know they are proud that I am so proud as well.
GF: What is your British heritage and how did Coach Carroll get in contact with you?
JE: My mom was born and raised in St Austell, Cornwall. Aside from her and her brother, none of her family has ever left there. My grandfather was an old miner and bus conductor and driver. My great grandfather was in the merchant navy. Our history is Cornish and English through and through. I actually contacted GB in 12 leading up to the WBC qualifier and Euros when I learned I could participate. Had I known sooner, I would have been participating and representing for years.
GF: I see from your Twitter that you played some catch at Finsbury Park last month. Tell us about your trip.
JE: It was a back-and-forth trip all around the city. I took my wife to some of the more obscure locations in London and England. We were in town to visit with the family that couldn’t make it to our wedding, mostly from Cornwall. That being said, I still had to find a way to get my prep work done before the season.
NB: Finsbury Park is the home of the British Baseball Federation’s London Mets, who compete in the National League. The Mets are three-time British national champions, including a 2016 campaign in which they were 26-2.
GF: What sort of prep did you do over the winter?
JE: First and foremost, active rest and recovery. I was beat down at the end of the season so my main focus was getting my shoulder to fire properly and in sync. Most of that work was done with isometric holds in the weight room with muscle specific exercises.
GF: Have you done anything differently this spring and, if so, why?
JE: I’ve relaxed. I gained a ton of experience last spring and last season and my mindset has relaxed. Now I know what my one job is and that’s all I’m trying to execute.
GF: Any teammates that particularly impress you in big league camp?
JE: Ichiro has such an incredible routine and he has mastered preparation. He is truly impressive in his prep work. Giancarlo [Stanton] has unreal power. We’ve got a couple very impressive arms. This team is just packed full of talent.
GF: Is there a certain player you model your game after?
JE: I think the entire Braves’ pitching staff of the 90s has a lot to be liked. The game today is very different from the one they played. But they used command and all parts of the strike zone to get outs.
NB: Atlanta’s rotation in the 1990s featured the legendary trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, all of whom are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
GF: Are there any coaches that you particularly like working with or have especially influenced your game?
JE: I’ve had two, Brendan Sagara and Joe Coleman. Both were in the lower levels of the minor leagues. They were such good supporters and helped me be able to “teach myself” when things aren’t going right.
NB: Sagara has been a pitching coach in the Marlins’ organisation since 2012, when he was with the Low-A Jamestown Jammers, where Esch started his second professional season. Coleman has spent more than 50 years in baseball, winning 142 games in the majors, and has been the pitching coach for the High-A Jupiter Hammerheads since 2012.
GF: What sort of differences are there between big league and minor league spring training?
JE: The biggest differences are probably the treatment of players and they expectations. In the minor leagues you are kind of treated like children because that is the expectation. The major league camp you’re treated like men and professionals and are expected to act and perform as such.
GF: Thinking back to this time last year, how do you feel like you have changed?
JE: 99% of improvement and change has been mentally. My mental state going in to the season has been drastically altered. I’m in spring, of course, to show what I have but that isn’t my primary goal. My primary goal is to be ready to pitch 180+ innings, stay healthy, and get to my top form by opening day.
GF: What adjustments did you make over the course of last year?
JE: I was pitching last year a little handicapped. I was tired and didn’t feel great. So I had to make adjustments start to start just to survive in games. I think those adjustments—or learning how to make those adjustments—drastically enhanced my ability to stick it out for a couple extra hitters when things got tough.
GF: Do your teammates know about your British heritage? If so, what sorts of things do they ask you?
JE: Most that I talk to do know. They say it’s pretty awesome; after that they say “I didn’t know Britain had a baseball team.” I think every ball player wants to play for something greater than themselves and they see that when I discuss my heritage.
GF: Do you have any advice for new players learning the game in Great Britain?
JE: Less advice and more words of wisdom, if you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to get it, no matter how hard it is or what excuses you might come up with. And that goes with anything in life, not just baseball.
GF: Thanks very much!
Previous GB Season Previews have included:
GB Veteran Roth Aims for Giants’ Staff
GB Star Blake Taylor Healthy, Ready to Climb Ranks
If you enjoyed hearing more from players a the national level, be sure to read our ongoing series of World Baseball Classic Retrospectives with players like Kenley Jansen and Andrelton Simmons (Netherlands), Robinsón Canó (Dominican Republic), and many more. Be sure to bookmark the official site of GB Baseball for more news on the team as it ramps up for the 2020 Olympics.