Taking to the mound in this edition of C’s Chat is 2022 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Jimmy Robbins.
The 24 year-old from Orlando was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 20th round of the 2019 MLB Draft out of Rollins College, a Division II school in Winter Park, Florida.
Robbins was a two-sport athlete at Boone High School in Orlando where he played football and baseball. In his four-year tenure, he threw a no-hitter for the Boone Braves against Dr. Phillips High School. Robbins helped the Braves win a metro title as a junior before advancing the team to the districts as a senior. He was also named one of the top two-way players at the 2016 Florida High School Invitational Classic and received a Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American.
Those credentials helped Robbins catch on at Troy University in Alabama in 2017 where he put up an earned run average of 4.26 out of the Trojans bullpen, striking out 15 batters over 12-2/3 innings. That summer, Robbins joined the Altamonte Springs Scorpions of the Florida Collegiate Summer League and earned All-Star and Florida League Prospect Team honours thanks to a 3.02 ERA and 30 K’s in 32-1/3 innings as a starter.
Unfortunately, Robbins was sidelined for the 2018 season due to a nerve issue in his left elbow. When 2019 came around, he transferred to Rollins College and split his 18 appearances on the mound between starting and relieving. Robbins won seven of 12 decisions with four saves and a 3.40 ERA, striking out 105 batters and walking 35 in 76-2/3 innings.
After being drafted and receiving a $125,000 signing bonus from Toronto, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound lefty remained in the Sunshine State to pitch for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in 2019. Robbins threw two shutout innings in his first professional appearance June 28. That began a seven inning stretch in which he allowed no runs as an opener over three games, striking out 10 batters, plunking three but walking nobody.
Robbins was then assigned to Bluefield of the Appalachian League and surrendered 12 runs over 12 innings but only six of those runs were earned. He struck out 14 batters against three walks and three HBPs.
Unfortunately, Robbins found himself on the sidelines again with the 2020 minor league season cancelled due to COVID before missing all of 2021 with Tommy John surgery on his left elbow.
Robbins got back on the slope with Dunedin in 2022 and tossed three shutout frames in his season debut against Fort Myers April 22. He was not scored upon in his first 10-1/3 innings with the D-Jays that stretched out over four appearances out of the bullpen. He struck out six batters over four shutout innings against Clearwater May 6 and kept St. Lucie in check with three more goose eggs and five whiffs May 28. After striking out six batters over 3-2/3 innings of one-run ball in Clearwater June 4 to give him an ERA of 1.56, Robbins got the call to go to Vancouver three days later.
Joining the club in Tri-City, Robbins tossed a perfect 2-1/3 innings of relief with four strikeouts July 11. Now he’s a member of the C’s starting rotation and has a 2.89 ERA with the club so far over three appearances in which he has struck out 11 batters against five walks over 9-1/3 innings.
C’s Plus Baseball had a chance to talk to Robbins during the team’s homestand against the Eugene Emeralds. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
C’s Plus Baseball – Let’s talk about the draft. You came out of Rollins College. Take us through your draft process and how that went down for you.
Jimmy Robbins – I started at Troy University and was there through my freshman and then redshirt sophomore season. I went to Rollins, had a really great year there. The program was really great. Coaching staff there was awesome. I started to get some phone calls later that year from a bunch of different teams. Toronto probably showed the most interest prior to the draft. And then the week of the draft, I knew that they were probably one of the final teams that was going to most likely reach out. So we had all my family together on the third day, which was really cool. I probably had 30, 40 people at the house. That was really exciting to get the call from them. And I knew that it was an organization that I would have good opportunity in because there wasn’t a lot lefties at the time. And I knew that if I came in and did my job, I would get good opportunities so it was exciting.
CPB – Who was your signing scout?
JR – Matt O’Brien. He did a lot of the local stuff down there in the Florida area. I met him a couple of times before the draft and he kind of helped me through the whole process, which was cool.
CPB – As you said, it wasn’t really a huge surprise it was going to the Blue Jays who wound up popping you into the draft. That’s got to make you feel good that they were obviously very interested in you.
JR – Yeah, it did. It kind of took the guessing game away from it. There wasn’t a lot of questions coming into it. I knew the final couple teams that had a lot of interest and (the Blue Jays) being one of them kind of made the transition easy.
CPB – Talk about how you got started in baseball.
JR – I started playing when I was four years old in T-Ball and I was never really one of those guys that was beyond naturally gifted above all the other guys. I kind of always had to work my way through each level and prove myself. I played two years of junior varsity baseball in high school. I finally made the varsity team, had to earn a spot in the rotation. I didn’t have any huge Division One offers coming out of high school. So Troy was probably the biggest school that gave me an opportunity and I went there as a walk-on and did what I had to do there. I ended up getting hurt, unfortunately, and that led me to transfer to Rollins. But yeah, my journey from being a young baseball player that just fell in love with it because it was something fun and I had got to play with my friends to playing here now is kind of crazy and it’s come full circle for me. And it’s exciting. I feel really lucky.
CPB – You mentioned an injury. Was it a shoulder or elbow injury?
JR – I had a nerve issue. I had an ulnar nerve transposition surgery done, so I had a pinched nerve basically. So that made me miss my true sophomore season at Troy. And then I transferred following that year to Rollins.
CPB – How was it going through the rehab process for that? How much of a grind was it?
JR – At the time, I thought it was terrible because I missed the whole season, but then last year going through Tommy John surgery and looking back, the nerve surgery wasn’t that bad at all. But at the time it kind of sucked because I was in college and I felt like I was just about to get my opportunity to start at Troy. And so I felt like I was missing out on a lot, but you know, I think it was a blessing in disguise. It led me to Rollins and I had a great opportunity there.
CPB – When you look back at your time with Rollins, what would you say was your best memory there or your best game?
JR – We had a lot of fun there. I had a game later in the season against Florida Southern, which was one of our rivals at the time. And I actually came in to close that game and I just remember it was the best I had felt on a mound. I was throwing really hard and I got a huge save and the boys were really excited and I think that clinched us a spot in the playoffs too so that was really exciting. I remember that as being one of my more fond memories there, but I got to have family at all the games too, being close to Orlando. I think I had a game where I had like 12 or 13 strikeouts and that was when I reached 100 strikeouts on the year and the announcer said it and everything so that was kind of cool too.
CPB – Who would you say has helped you out the most in your career? Any coaches or pitching coaches who’ve helped you out?
JR – Yeah, there’s so many people. I had a pitching coach when I was in middle school, José Santiago. He played a bunch of years in the big leagues. So he took a lot of time with me when I was younger to kind of help me fall in love with pitching. I played multiple positions and he kind of was one of the guys that made me settle in as a pitcher. And I went to him for several years and still keep in touch with him today. So I’d say he was the biggest from a coaching perspective as far as when I was young and really like making me fall in love with being a pitcher.
CPB – You’re from Orlando, who was your favourite team? The Rays maybe?
JR – No, I grew up a Yankees fan. My whole family is from New York so I grew up a big Yankees fan watching all the Yankee games. Derek Jeter was my idol growing up. So yeah, I was a big Yankees guy. I never really paid any attention to the Rays, even though I was in Florida. So yeah, it was the Yankees growing up for me.
CPB – What was your like your first pro season with the Gulf Coast League and Bluefield Blue Jays?
JR – It was good. It was definitely a learning experience coming out of a Division Two school and jumping into pro ball. You’re surrounded by guys that come from a lot of big programs and stuff like that. I was really successful in the GCL. I was there for a couple weeks and then went up to Bluefield which was a completely different experience for me too, being away from home and playing against pro ball guys for the first time. And I think it was an adjustment period for me. I had some really good outings and I had some not so great outings, but I also think I was still kind of learning about myself as a pitcher too and finding out what I was good at and what my strengths were. So I think I was better for it but it was a good experience and I think I learned a lot from my first year.
CPB – Bluefield and Princeton is quite the rivalry and that’s one of the big highlights there. When you look back your time on Bluefield, would you say that’s it?
JR – Yeah, that was definitely the highlight. I can’t remember what they called the Cup up there (Editor’s Note – the Mercer Cup). But we won that the year that I was there and that was really cool. We stormed the field and I remember that being a big deal. So yeah, that was fun. Those were definitely the biggest games and the biggest turnouts whenever we played Princeton.
CPB – So 2020 dealing with COVID. How did you get through that? How did you stay motivated?
JR – Yeah. My 2020 year was kind of nuts. So I showed up for spring training, COVID hit and the season was canceled. I actually was at the team hotel when all the news was breaking and people were trying to figure out what to do. And I came up with the idea and the plan to drive my car from Dunedin to Texas. And I lived with (Blue Jays 2019 first round pick) Jordan Groshans and his family for about two months. And the reason was because he had a training facility in his backyard and I knew that a lot of facilities in Orlando were probably going to be closed because of COVID. So we drove all the way out there just so I can keep working out and stuff like that. And I think that was a good experience for me because I got to focus every day on baseball and I also built a good relationship with Groshans who’s obviously doing really well now. I did that for a couple months, came back to Orlando at the end of that summer started training really hard at home. I bought an in-home gym to put in my room so that I could still keep working out and stuff and then I started to have really good results on my bullpens and got an invite to FDL (Florida Development League). And I did really well in FDL. I think I raised some eyebrows and kind of put myself on the map a little bit inside of the organization. So yeah, that year was big for me just as far as I think I grew as a pitcher and my stuff got a lot better because I had so much time to kind of hone in on the things I needed to work on. So it sucked that we couldn’t play baseball, but I think I found some positives in it.
CPB – 2021. What happened?
JR – Well, it didn’t really happen. I showed up, actually I blew out my UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) the week before the season started. So right before spring training, I found out I wasn’t going to play all year. So I spent the whole season in rehab, which was probably the most trying time for me as a baseball player because there’s a lot of ‘Why me and why am I going through this? I did everything right.’ And I knew that was basically going to be two years without baseball following 2020. So that was a really frustrating time early but once I kind of accepted that I had to deal with it and make the most of it. I think I learned a lot about myself as a baseball player and as a person and as a teammate, I think I’ve grown a lot since getting drafted. And I think a lot of that was because at the time I spent in rehab and just how to be around staff and how to be around other players. So I think now I’m better for it. And I think it also developed my game a lot too. I got to work a lot in catch-play on different things that I struggled with before. And I’m throwing the ball now better than I ever have. So I think it was a good experience for me because I think that adversity helped me become a much better pitcher.
CPB – The Player Development Complex (in Dunedin is) state-of-the-art. How has that helped you out?
JR – It’s helped me out a lot, especially getting to use that during rehab. I think that was kind of one of the hidden blessings of the time that I did get hurt because it was basically the first full year at the PDC and the facilities there are unreal. I mean, I had everything I needed to get healthy and then get strong again and then develop my game with the pitching lab and the staff that’s down there. It really gave me a good opportunity to develop just beyond rehab. It wasn’t all about just getting healthy. It was about getting better too. And I think because of how great that complex is, I had every opportunity to take advantage of it. And it’s one of those things where it’s everything you need or could possibly need is there. So it’s up to you to whether or not you use it. And I think I used it really well.
CPB – I guess it helps you with stuff like release point or tunneling your pitches or whatnot?
JR – Yeah. The pitching lab, I mean, there’s like a hundred cameras in there, slow-motion cameras and everything you could possibly imagine. So you really get to hone in on the small stuff that might make a big difference on your pitches and things like that. And I added a completely new pitch with the cutter and I completely reinvented my changeup. So that was a big deal for me to have that technology to use have at my advantage every day.
CPB – Your pitching repertoire, you just mentioned – cutter, change and fastball ?
JR – Yep. A four-seam fastball, cutter, changeup and then the sweeping slider. Those are the four pitches I throw.
CPB – What would you say is your go-to pitch?
JR – Oh, man. It used to be just fastball all the time. That used to be kind of my go-to, but I’ve really gotten comfortable with the cutter and the slider. So I use those a lot. I feel like I can throw them for strikes whenever I need to. It’s really a four-pitch repertoire that I feel like I throw a good percentage of all of them. Most of my starts this year, I’ve had a pretty good breakdown of all of them. Right now, I’d have to probably say the cutter has been my favorite pitch to throw recently.
CPB – 2022. Finally getting back on the mound again. What was it like pitching for Dunedin?
JR – It was really exciting to be back on the mound again in a competitive atmosphere. I think that’s what I missed the most. When I was hurt, you kind of lose that competitive edge of baseball. Even if you’re around the game every day, you’re not competing against someone in a different Jersey and that’s tough. So it was exciting to get back on a mound and be trying to help a team win games. It was great to be able to be in Dunedin too because I had my family there. So yeah, that experience was nice. I think it set me up well for everything I have coming now.
CPB – You make your debut on the mound for the C’s (in Tri-City June 11) and it went really well. What was working for you that day?
JR – That was one of those days where everything kind of felt really good. The fastball was really good that day. I got a lot of swing and miss on it. The cutter was really good. I was able to get ahead of counts. I think I threw 100 percent first pitch strikes that day or something like that. So I was able to be ahead of guys a lot and then the put away stuff was there. The slider was good so I was able to use everything that day to get a lot of swing and misses and, and keep the hitters off balance.
CPB – Starting versus relieving. Do you have a preference?
JR – Starting for sure. Just because I’m a big routine guy and I’ve, I’ve gotten really comfortable with a routine that I’ve had written out now for, for almost a year. I have it written down to the minute as far as what I like to do before each game. So starting is definitely what I prefer and I know that I have the pitches and the repertoire to be able to do that and go through a lineup multiple times but I’ve now done both, especially coming out of rehab. So, you know, I can do both, but if I got to pick, it would be starting.
CPB – Your impressions of Vancouver. I don’t know if this is the first time you’ve been north of the border but what’s it been like for you?
JR – Yeah, it is the first time farthest west I’ve been and farthest north I’ve been so it’s been awesome. I remember getting here and I was blown away by how big Vancouver was. I didn’t imagine it being such a big city and I’ve been talking to my family. I feel like it’s got everything you want. It’s got the beach, it’s got mountains and it’s got the big city too. So it’s been awesome. I love the place. The stadium is amazing. The crowd is awesome. I’ve never played in front of a crowd like this so that’s been fun. So yeah, I’m in love with it so far.
- Uniform Numbers – Wore number 37 with Troy, number 17 with Rollins College and number 8 with Dunedin.
- Twitter – @jimmy_robbins
- Instagram – @jimmyrobbins_
- Future Plans – Entering pharmaceutical sales
As we roll the credits on another episode of C’s Chat, thanks a million again to Jimmy Robbins for the chat and to C’s play-by-play man Tyler Zickel for setting it up.