Growing up in western Pennsylvania there are always challenges and expectations when it comes to professional sports. Western Pennsylvania has long been a hotbed for great athletes including: Stan Musial, Honus Wagner, and Joe Montana, who is among many NFL great quarterbacks coming from the region. One of the greatest challenges living in western Pennslyvania is mother nature. The weather can often make it difficult to get practice and game time in outside. For Jordan Jankowski, a graduate of Peters Twp. High School near Pittsburgh, he overcame the weather and looked to follow in the footsteps of some of the great athletes from the area when he began his professional journey with the Houston Astros.
On his high school graduation day, the Houston Astros selected him in the 34th round of the 2008 MLB draft. That year he was named the regions High School Baseball Player of the Year by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While he gave consideration to starting his professional career, Jankowski opted to instead start his collegiate career at Miami (Ohio).
At Miami, Jankowski split time pitching out of the Redhawks bullpen and in the field as a catcher. Jankowski was originally recruited to Miami as a position player. He showed success in both roles during his first two seasons at Miami. Pitching out of the bullpen, Jankowski picked up 15 saves in his 44 relief appearances. At the plate, Jankowski had 193 at bats and showed some pop, hitting 8 home runs his sophomore season with the Redhawks.
After completing two seasons at Miami, Jankowski decided to transfer to Catawba College in North Carolina. Like living in Pennsylvania, Ohio winters and springs can be tough for aspiring baseball players. The right-hander hoped transferring could help him develop as a pitcher and keep his arm healthy. At Catawba, Jankowski transitioned from the bullpen to the starting rotation. He started in 15 games, finishing the season with an 8-2 record and picked up a save in his junior year. He also finished with excellent strike out and walk rates, striking out 10.84/9 while walking 2.39/9.
Jankowski looked to improve on those numbers his senior season. As a member of the Indians staff, Jankowski went 9-2 and picked up two saves in his 17 appearances (13 starts). He improved on his already impressive strike out rate averaging 12.6/9 while maintaining his walk rate. Jankowski did everything he could do to improve and prepare himself for life in the professional ranks. On draft day he once again waited to see if he would be selected. Ironically it would be the Houston Astros once again in the 34th round who would select Jankowski and the right-hander was set to begin his journey to the major leagues.
The Astros quickly assigned Jankowski to Greenville in the Appalachian League. Jankowski appeared exclusively out of the bullpen and posted some impressive numbers. In 23 appearances he went 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA and also picked up four saves. He continued to show he could strike batters out and limit walks in his first taste of professional baseball. In his 32 innings of work he struck out 53 while only walking 10, finishing the year with a WHIP of 1.09.
Houston promoted the right-hander to Quad Cities River Bandits, their class A Midwest League affiliate to start the 2013 season. Jankowski would be part of the Astros pitching tandem philosophy which had you paired up with another pitcher. If you would start the first time out you would flip-flop with the other part of the tandem and come out of the bullpen your next outing. Jankowski appeared in 26 games (89 innings) with the River Bandits starting in 12 games. The right-hander went 3-1 with five saves and an impressive era/whip combination of 2.60/1.07.
In August the Astros promoted Jankowski to the Lancaster Jethawks in the hitter friendly California League. With the Jethawks, Jankowski appeared strictly out of the bullpen and appeared in 11 games. Over the course of his 16.2 innings of work he struck out 20 while only walking four batters. While his WHIP remained low at 1.12 his ERA rose to 5.29 as he did allow 10 runs to cross the plate in his 11 appearances.
As the 2014 season got underway Jankowski was promoted to the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Houston Astros AA affiliate in the Texas League. At the start of his 2014 campaign, Jankowski was used out off the Hooks bullpen. As May came to a close that changed and he once again found himself part of a starting tandem. In 14 starts and 16 relief appearances, Jankowski finished with a 5-6 record to go along with three saves out of the bullpen. On the season he totaled a career high 108 innings pitched and maintained his impressive strike out (10/9) and walk rates (2.17/9).
On January 13th it was announced by the Houston Astros that Jankowski would be getting an official invitation to their major league camp as a non-roster invitee. Jankowski will get to receive additional instruction and the chance to appear in some spring training games. This experience will no doubt get his 2015 season off to a good start. As he continues his quest to the majors we will continue to update you on his progress. Be sure to follow him on twitter @JJ_Jankowski33 and follow us at @CTD_Sypien as we will provide updates on Jordan all season long and into the future.
Seven Questions with Jordan Jankowski
1. You where drafted twice, in 2008 and 2012 by the Astros. Can you share with us each of your draft day experiences?
In 2008 it was actually on the day of my high school graduation. I was sitting by the computer waiting to see if my name would be called. When we got past the 20th round I actually stopped watching. My friends began to prank phone call me and I just decided to get ready for graduation. Then the 34th round came along and I heard my dad cheer and get all excited upstairs so I went to see what was going on and my dad told me the news that I just got picked by the Houston Astros. I was pretty excited and then I graduated from high school that night. It was a pretty good day.
In 2012 It was a similar situation. I was in my senior year and done with college. We had been through about 30 rounds and I had seen some of my friends get selected. I though if it happens it happens and I was helping I think my mom paint her room and my dad came running in and said you just got picked again by the Houston Astros in the 34th round. I couldn’t believe it, it was kinda weird (to be picked by them twice in the same round in different years).
2. Being someone who grew up in western Pennsylvania, do you think that its harder to get noticed by scouts in high school and college baseball due to the weather?
I think it is harder to get noticed. If you put the hard work and effort in eventually someone will notice you. Being were we are located we have a shorter time period to be able to get outside to get game exposure. The main thing is during those winter months is getting your work in to prepare for those months you have that your able to play outside.
3. You finished your college career at Catawba College in North Carolina, how did you end up finishing your amateur career there?
I started out going to Miami of Ohio primarily as a catcher but I turned into a pitcher during my time there. I was playing in a summer league in the south and one of my teammates went to Catawba. I talked to my family about it. I felt that if I was going to become a pitcher I wanted to go south to get more work in and to take better care of my arm. I talked to the coach there and I didn’t have to sit out a year so I decided to transfer there.
4. What pitches do you throw? Give us a little bit of a scouting report on yourself.
I throw a fastball, splitter, curveball and slider. I just learned by splitter this past year in double A and it has really turned into one of my better pitches. When I’m out there I really just like to mix it up. I don’t try to favor any one pitch. I really try to throw all of my pitches and hit different spots. I don’t focus solely on one of them.
5. The Astros organization over the past few seasons has really used the tandem philosophy when it comes to its pitchers. Can you tell us a bit about how the Astros system works?
They normally try to have eight starters they like to refer to it as the tandem system. Your normally on a four-day rotation with the eight starters. If you start the first time then on the second time around you on the back-end side of it. Each pitcher is supposed to go five and then four innings but it doesn’t always work that way if you hit your pitch count. Sometimes you don’t reach the five or four innings. Doing it this way is a good experience because you get to experience both aspects of being a starter and a reliever. No matter what which I was doing my mentality didn’t change because I just went out there to get outs.
6. Has there been a coach or instructor in the Astros organization who has helped you in your development get to where you are today?
All my coaches have been extremely helpful all the way from rookie ball up until double A. I wouldn’t be where I’m at now with out them. In double A my pitching coach, Doug Brocail had a big influence on me. He was a big leaguer and he really helped me take parts of my game to a different level that I didn’t know existed. I was really thankful to have him as my coach this year.
7. Looking into the future what do you need to do to keep advancing up the ladder in the Houston organization.
I just need to keep getting better as all aspects of my game. You always can find something to keep improving on. One of the things that I want to focus on is to never doubt and have a short memory. That is one of the things I really learned this past year is that pitching you need to have a short memory. Since I didn’t pitch all that much until college I have learned some things later than others about various aspects of pitching.
A Few For Fun
1. Who was your favorite player growing up?
Ken Griffey Jr. was my favorite baseball playing growing up. Him being a hitter and me being a pitcher doesn’t really translate but I used to always take batting practice with my hat backwards like he did and I tried to mimic what he did.
2. What are your favorite things/activities to do on the long bus rides you have been in the minor leagues?
Well my fiance is in nursing school and I definitely keep her up late at night texting her on the bus trying to keep myself entertained. I just recently got an iPad this year so that’s going to be real nice. I’ll be able to play some games and watch some Netflix. Besides that sometimes we play cards or watch movies. This year we also had a system were we could play PlayStation 4 on the bus and we did that from time to time. I can’t ever sleep on the bus so I always try to find something to make the time go by faster.
3. I know you’re a big sports fan, with the Superbowl coming up give us your prediction for who is going to win the game? Also who do you like to appear in the Stanley Cup finals?
I pretty much checked out when the Steelers lost but I think that in any sport defense ends up winning championships so I’m going to go with Seattle with my pick. My pick for the Stanley Cup would have to be the Penguins and whomever wants to lose to the Pens. I’ll go with the Penguins and Blackhawks in the cup finals.
A special thanks to Jordan Jankowski for taking some time out of his schedule to chat with us. We look forward to following him all season long and into the future. Please remember to give him a follow on twitter @JJ_Jankowski33 and like Chasing MLB Dreams on Facebook and follow us on twitter @CTD_Sypien as we continue to feature and follow all of our featured players as they chase their way to the major leagues.