San Antonio — The Padres’ 2016 draft class featured many pitchers with interesting back-stories. Cal Quantrill, Reggie Lawson and Mason Thompson all stood out for their injury histories. Joey Lucchesi went from fourth-rounder to big-leaguer in 22 months. Eric Lauer was always seen as a good bet to move quickly after posting the second-best ERA in NCAA history.
In the midst of all those storylines, if fans knew Jesse Scholtens‘s name, it was for one thing; his $1,000 signing bonus. The California native’s selection in the ninth round seemed to be as much about the signing bonus pool flexibility he offered as it was about getting the Horizon League first-teamer.
But since arriving in the system, all Scholtens has done is plow through opponents and eat innings. He opened the 2018 campaign in Double-A San Antonio – an aggressive assignment, even if the fast ascent of Lucchesi and Lauer skews Padres fans’ perceptions of development timelines.
Scholtens, who turned 24 a day before the season opened, rolled through six starts in the Texas League with a 2.80 ERA that’s been backed up by the peripherals. His success earned him a quick promotion to Triple-A El Paso.
“Jesse’s throwing the ball really, really well to start the season,” said Padres player development director Sam Geaney. “It’s been a combination of throwing strikes and the development of his breaking balls.”
Scholtens says the recipe has been the same at every level.”Command the fastball and then work everything else off of that.”
With the emergence of his curve this year, his strikeout rate has spiked up from 18 percent in the Cal League in 2017 to a third of Texas League hitters.
“Everything revolves around his fastball,” said Missions manager Phillip Wellman. “It’s unbelievable. You watch it and it’s not explosive, but you just watch the catcher and you never see the mitt move.”
While Scholtens has always relied on that kind of command, he’s made a change on the fastball as well this year. At the suggestion of reliever T.J. Weir, he offset his two-seam grip so it’s more of a one-seam offering now.
“It works a lot easier for me, as someone who has trouble getting the ball to run sometimes. It adds just a little more run.”
Scholtens’s fastball sits in the low-90s, but the combination of precise command and newfound run, make it a weapon for him. And, as his catcher Austin Allen notes, “Jesse has more to offer than just a fastball.”
Because he works up and down effectively, adding a bigger curve ball while tightening up his slider this year has helped him get more swings and misses while keeping his walk totals low. Only one pitcher in the Texas League has a better differential between strikeouts and walks on the year.
For Scholtens, the famously small signing bonus was the culmination of a journey after high school. He spent his freshman year at Arizona, but withdrew and went back home to the Bay Area to pitch for a community college his sophomore campaign. He’s stayed in touch with the recruiting lead at Ohio’s Wright State, and when he performed, got a chance to go back to Division I.
“I don’t know how I wound up in Ohio, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made. They were a mid-major school, but we didn’t play like it. We went in to some powerhouses and we competed with everyone in the country. And being in that underdog role has kind of prepared me for where I am now, where you’ve got to prove you belong with the big guys.”
In the professional ranks, it doesn’t get much more underdog than a senior signee without much priority in the organization, so Scholtens has continued to draw on that mentality.
“I’ve got to prove to them that I’m capable of doing what I want to do – that’s throwing, that’s lifting and running, every aspect of the game. That’s the stuff that I can control, so it’s all I can focus on, and let everything run its course.”
The course now shifts to El Paso for Scholtens, who was tabbed for the promotion over higher-profile Missions rotation-mates.
“We’re excited to see how he’s going to step up,” said Geaney. “It was more a decision on Jesse rather than a statement about any other guy on the San Antonio team.”