By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – Jacob Robson has always had a chip on his shoulder.
From his days at Vincent Massey Secondary School in Windsor, Ont., to his time with the Ontario Blue Jays and the Canadian Junior National Team, to joining the Bulldogs at Mississippi State University, to the Detroit Tigers organization, the lefty-hitting outfielder has felt a need to outperform others and exceed the expectations automatically placed on smaller players.
“Growing up I was so undersized, more so than I am now,” the 5-foot-10, 175-pound West Michigan Whitecaps centre fielder said. “I probably looked three or four years younger than the rest of the kids on my team. I’d always taken an interest to the speed game, and not so much the drop and drag, hitting fly balls, stuff like that.
“Good things are going to happen, and maybe I’ll run into a few here and there – I ran into one this year – but I’ve always taken an interest in guys who use their speed and try to hit the ball the opposite way and get on base. I grew up watching Ichiro [Suzuki] all the time. He’s the perfect example of that. There are guys in the game who still do it, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury…I don’t think I ever really tried to be the power guy.”
Currently hitting .341/.408/.409 with 56 hits in 42 games for the Midwest League’s Whitecaps, including one home run, one triple and six doubles to go with 19 walks, 18 RBI and 29 runs scored, Robson first began to understand how to use his strengths to his advantage when he joined Team Canada as a teenager, and worked with Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, Greg Hamilton.
“Greg Hamilton is awesome and I love him and I give him a tremendous amount of credit in helping me find out who I am and what I really need to do to excel,” Robson said. “The reality is, if I tried to be a power guy, home run, fly ball guy, then I probably wouldn’t be here.
“He would talk to us and show us, all the faster, smaller guys. He would say, ‘Look, this is your ticket. You’re not going to make it if you try to be somebody else. You can go as far as you want in this game as long as you understand who you are and utilize what you were given. I give a lot of credit to him.”
Outside of his traditional tools, with Robson’s aptitude for hitting, being a strong defender, and an above-average runner, he believes that he has been helped by another factor, that chip on his shoulder. It developed during his time as a young hockey player, and has made him a better athlete and competitor throughout his years in all sports.
“Growing up, I used to play hockey as well, and you can’t play hockey as an undersized guy without a chip on your shoulder,” the 22-year-old said. “That bled into everything that I do. It’s an advantage. I’m not the guy who, if I strike out three times people aren’t going to be okay with it because they think I’m going to hit a home run in the next at-bat…
“So guys with a chip on their shoulders, it helps them come to the park every day and be aggressive and try and shove it down somebody’s throat every game. That’s the way I like to approach my game.”
Developing that approach throughout his high school years, Robson took it to another level at Mississippi State, where he started half the team’s games as a freshman, was the only player on the team to start all 54 games in his junior season, and became a team captain as a senior, before he was selected in the eighth round of last year’s draft by Detroit.
Just days out of college, Robson split his first professional season between the rookie-class Gulf Coast League Tigers and the short-season Connecticut Tigers in the New York-Penn League, where he gained yet another level of confidence in his game, though it didn’t happen right away.
“The biggest thing I learned from being in short-season last year that I took to here is to never count yourself out,” he said. “There was a time in short-season that I was hitting .230 or something like that and I thought I was never going to get out of it. Then the next thing you know, I kept doing my thing and ended up having some success toward the end of the year, and I did just fine.
“There are so many games, and you’ve just got to show up to the field and be consistent every day. In college, there’s a midweek game on Tuesday, three games on the weekend and after that, you’ve got to wait until Tuesday to play again. Then you’ve got to wait until Friday to play. Here, if you screw up, you’ve got to shake it off because the next day you’re going to be in the lineup.”
Aiding in his adjustment from the collegiate game to the professional ranks was Robson’s sense of self-awareness, and understanding of what got him to where he is in the first place.
“It’s just knowing yourself as a player,” he said. “You don’t have to be somebody different every day. The more you can show up and do the same thing every day, and stay within your approach and who you are as a player, the more success you’re going to have. For example, I try to hit the ball middle-opposite way for the most part. Obviously there are certain times where I try and pull it, but it doesn’t matter how many times you play a team, you’ve got to stay with your same approach. It doesn’t matter if you keep facing the same guys.
“If you try and do something different than who you are, you’re not going to have success. So it’s a combination of those two things, don’t count yourself out and then stay within yourself and utilize your own talents that you have. I’m not going to hit 30 home runs, I’m not going to throw a bunch of guys out from centre field, it’s just not who I am.”
When all is said and done, Robson wants to be remembered for exactly who he is, bringing everything he can to the field each day and leaving it there at the end of each night.
“I’m a really aggressive, high-energy type of guy, who gets on base a lot and scores a lot of runs,” Robson said. “A table-setter, depending on where I’m at in the lineup. Obviously if I’m towards the top, I want to get on base a bunch. I’ve been in the three-hole a lot lately, but that doesn’t change my approach because I know that I’ll still be able to run into balls and hit balls into the gaps and things like that.
“Being aggressive and being a guy you wouldn’t want to have on the other team, but you’d want to have on your own team is who I want to be.”