Jacob Coats took a long road to signing with the Astros, while his faith and his family drove him to keep the dream alive.
Adversity. Every baseball player encounters adversity in their game, but some find their way through it stronger than others. For Houston Astros‘ prospect, Jacob Coats, he experienced adversity every season he played with one challenge following the previous.
Through faith and the support of his parents, Coats knew he could overcome all obstacles and reach his dream of pitching professionally. And on Tuesday, that dream came true as the 23-year-old inked a minor-league deal with the Astros.
An Uphill Battle to College Ball
High school baseball didn’t treat Coats like he was a future professional prospect. While riding the pine on junior varsity during his junior year of high school, he finally reached varsity his senior year.
With only a few innings to his name early in his senior season, Coats only had one postseason inning under his belt, before his high school career concluded.
"“For me, it was actually extremely difficult,” Coats said about playing high school baseball. “I was kind of passed over my entire high school career. It was kind of another uphill battle the entire time.”"
College teams weren’t lining up at Coats’ door nor flooding a bullpen he was throwing. He only received one offer from a Junior College, where he signed the December after his senior year of high school. This made him a spring transfer, while he was team-less prior to his signing
Coats started his collegiate career at Paris Junior College in Paris, Texas, where he was a reoccurring Day 2 starter in his short stay. His journey here was sparked by passing along film on him reaching the upper 80s, leading to an offer to play at Harding University in Arkansas.
With a Division II offer on the table, a Houston Baptist coach attended a late-season series his freshman year. That coach was Brent Schmidt, who was there to see the starter the day before Coats was scheduled to take the mound.
Coats approached Schmidt before the game, introducing himself and hinting that he should attend the following game. Schmidt did just that, and HBU later offered Coats his only Division I offer, which he accepted.
In his first fall season at HBU in 2018, Coats came off the mound weirdly, tearing his labrum in his left hip. The right-hander pitched on it the entire season, which he pointed to as a factor for his inflated stat line.
"“As the year went on, I really struggled with any kind of stamina and lost my slider,” Coats explained. “My fastball velocity was down. I had gotten up to 90 MPH that summer, but by the end of the year, I was probably about 85-to-86 MPH. And really struggling, as I ended up shutting down about three weeks before the season ended.”"
With COVID-19 shutting down baseball in 2020, Coats was already in-line to miss the season due to the two surgeries he had on his hip before the season was scheduled to start. The now 22-year-old was embarking on his first healthy Division I season in his final year in 2021.
Coats had scouts come watch him play, but he never heard his name called during the MLB Draft. This didn’t stop Coats though, as he knew he wasn’t done with the game just yet.
A Continuation of Play
After going undrafted and unsigned following the most recent draft, Coats received a phone call from his former pitching coach, Micah Bowie. The former major-leaguer had an opportunity for Coats that he wouldn’t let him pass up.
That opportunity was to continue playing but this time for the Princeton WhistlePigs in the Appalachian League, a summer league for college baseball players.
"“I ended up going, and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball. They were in beautiful stadiums, at least in my opinion,” Coats said. “I’m a JUCO kid, and I had never played on anything crazy like those real historic stadiums.”"
There, Coats flashed one his best attributes: the ability to strikeout batters at a high rate.
Although only pitching in 9.2 innings, the right-hander punched out 18 batters, leading to a 16.8 strikeout per nine innings. Looking back at his senior season, Coats had a team-leading 79 strikeouts and a Division I school record of 15 in one contest.
Strikeouts are something Coats thrives off of, but as he waited for an opportunity to be signed by a major-league organization, he continued progressions with Tread Athletics in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Financial complications and distance from home prevented Coats from signing with a Division II school. Similarly, Coats made more sacrifices to continue his road to professional baseball.
In his final year at HBU, Coats slept in the living room of his friend Matt Fauber’s home to save money to eat better.
"“[Fauber] was so generous to let me use his space and take up his living room for eight months,” Coats said."
While saving financials on housing, Coats used this and his left over student loan money to pay for six months of training with Tread Athletics.
There, Coats added four-to-five MPH on his pitches, reaching 98 MPH on his fastball. This jump was something that sparked interests from franchises, once he shared his film to Twitter.
How a Tweet Got Him Here
Two days before Christmas, Astros’ scout, Jim Stevenson, took to Twitter to ask 2022 Draft eligible players to send him their film, as he would critique those who he saw fit for the next level. Stevenson received over 2,000 submissions, including one from a Houston Baptist right-hander.
For Coats, he sent videos of himself pitching to those he knew in professional baseball, and while scouts started to gain eyes on him, he wasn’t receiving offers that fit his situation.
The Los Angeles Angels were one of the most interested teams, and right before he could sign, the Astros came knocking with Stevenson stumbling upon Coats’ film.
Stevenson remembered Coats from his cup of coffee at Paris Junior College, but he was now blown away from the increase in velocity that Coats built up. So, he reached out to him to get a bullpen session going.
Stevenson highlighted how Coats’ 6-foot-6 frame was showing great movement in his approach on the mound. Coats’ velocity increase can be thanked by his change in technique that he picked up virtually from Tread Athletics.
The velocity spike was the main interest from Stevenson and the Astros, while the organization knew they couldn’t pass up on someone with such a huge jump like his.
"“If the velocity is legit, then we don’t want to miss out on someone in our backyard,” Stevenson said about Coats."
Stevenson says there is a lot of upside for Coats, and it is a no-loss situation to bring in the Houston Baptist product. He didn’t want the Astros to get beat in their own backyard, while Coats was also wanting to stay home and play for a Texas team.
Faith is Guidance
Coats’ signing was life-changing, while it is a moment he will never forget. The 23-year-old felt like he got the opportunity to prove everyone, who doubted him, wrong.
"“It’s indescribable. If you haven’t gone through it, there’s really just no way to quite put it into words. It was really nice to to finally have somebody be like, ‘we believe in you,’ Coats said about his signing. “‘We’re going to give you a shot because we think you can do good things.’ It was just making my heart race just thinking about it.”"
Coats’ relies on his faith to overcome the adversity and challenges in his career. He commends his parish in Seguin, Texas, who have backed him through all the ups and downs.
"“[Faith] is everything, everything I have has come from the good Lord anyway,” Coats said. “I’ve had a handful of injuries and hard times, and God has quite literally healed me. I believe it was a miracle.”"
The Love for the Game
Coats’ father was very-much involved in his son’s baseball development, while coaching him in his younger years.
"“I’m very very close to my dad, and he loves baseball,” Coats said. “While playing all my life, my dad was my coach, and I really just fell in love with it from from the beginning.”"
Hailing from Schertz, Texas, just south of New Braunfels, Coats grew up a fan of the Chicago Cubs, while also holding a liking for the Astros. For one of his early birthdays, he was gifted tickets for a game at Minute Maid Park, where Chicago was the visiting team.
There, Cubs’ pitcher Scott Eyre approached Coats, who had a sign saying it was his birthday. While signing autographs, Eyre gained a life-long fan from a single encounter. Their 10-minute conversation sparked a fandom that Coats still holds true today, while wearing Eyre’s No. 47 whenever it’s available.
"“He asked things about me and was making me feel like I was the major-leaguer instead of the other way around,” Coats said. “Ever since then, he’s been my favorite player of all-time.”"
Coats also attended Game 4 of the 2005 World Series with his father, where he witnessed Jeff Bagwell’s final at-bat; something he described as a great memory between him and his father.
This era of Astros’ baseball is who the 23-year-old grew up watching and describing them as legends, while one his favorite players was later his college coach in Lance Berkman at Houston Baptist.
Coats defines the situation as “unreal,” while he joins an organization that he followed passionately in his youth. Most of his fanatic baseball memories are rooted in Astros’ games that he attended, while he holds Berkman hitting a home run in the first game he attended with him to this day.
"“It’s surreal to know that I’m a member of the organization,” Coats said. “And hopefully one day we’ll be able to put on the same uniform that they put on (regarding the likes of Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard).”"
Coats is excited to be an Astros’ pitcher, while he eyes the Major Leagues as his ultimate goal. With his family behind him, he wants to make them proud and show them their sacrifices helped him reach his dream.