Army grad brings ‘unique’ offensive game to Dragons

Dayton hosts Lansing Tuesday night in home opener at Day Air Ballpark

Jacob Hurtubise did something in his first game as a Dayton Dragon that baseball players aren’t drafted or signed to do.

He bunted.

The goal was not to move a runner into scoring position. Only pitchers do that anymore. The goal was to get on base, which is something Hurtubise did well as leadoff hitter at Army.

The drag bunt toward third base moved a runner to third. Then Hurtubise did another thing he’s good at – stole second base. Michael Siani followed with a two-run single, and the Dragons led 3-0 on their way to a 9-4 victory.

“His offensive game is so unique to the game that’s being played today,” said CJ Gillman, the Cincinnati Reds’ minor league hitting coordinator. “He owns his game better than really anyone I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t try to do anything that isn’t one of his immediate strengths.”

Gillman said Hurtubise is a good left-handed hitter with plate discipline and scary speed that leads to few strikeouts, lots of walks, infield hits and hits that get through because infielders are forced to play closer. And the bunt threat stops defenses from shifting to the first-base side.

Hurtubise led off and played left field in the Dragons’ first two games. His only hit was the bunt single, but he walked four times. In four games on the Dragons’ 5-1 opening road trip, he had a .474 on-base percentage with five walks, five runs scored and four stolen bases. Dayton opens its home schedule tonight against Lansing at Day Air Ballpark.

“It’s about as good as I’ve ever seen, and maybe that’s because nobody does it,” Gillman said of Hurtubise’s bunting prowess. “He will lay it down at will. There’s a million fast guys out there that can’t bunt, and that’s why they don’t do it. He absolutely can.”

In 2019, Hurtubise led the Patriot League with a .375 batting average, had an on-base percentage of .541 and stole 45 bases in 61 games. He holds many Army records for stolen bases, runs scored and walks. He is labeled the fastest player in the Reds’ organization.

“It’s a game about power, but really it’s a game about OPS,” Gillman said of the on-base plus slugging percentage statistic that measures production. “How often can you get on and how often do you hit for power. His on-base percentage is going to be through the roof. It’s about assembling an entire lineup as much as it is about driving guys in.”

Gillman said Hurtubise will face detractors because he never homered in high school or college and might not as a pro. Still, the Reds made it a priority to sign him last summer. The draft was cut to five rounds from the usual 40 because of COVID-19 (20 going forward because the minors were shrunk by 40 teams), so Hurtubise wasn’t drafted. Two days after the draft on June 14, the day after he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., teams were permitted to offer contracts to undrafted players.

Hurtubise was the first player on Gillman’s list. Gillman coached at Air Force before joining the Reds last year and saw Hurtubise several times be a “game wrecker” with his speed. Hurtubise got lots of calls, including from his favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, but Gillman sold him on the Reds.

“When I heard do damage, or take the walk, I was like, ‘That is a system that I fit into extremely well,’” Hurtubise said.

Hurtubise is taking advantage of a 2019 change in the requirements for service academy graduates. The previous rule meant he had to serve the first two years of the five-year requirement, then transition to the reserves and play baseball full time. The new rule allows him to play right away and defer his five years of service until after his playing days.

“The decision was pretty easy,” Hurtubise said. “Obviously taking two years off of baseball would be extremely difficult to be able to try and come back and compete.”

Coming out of high school near Indianapolis at 150 pounds, Hurtubise didn’t think professional baseball was in his future.

“The only thing that I had going for me was that I was fast, and that’s the biggest draw that West Point took to me,” he said. “They wanted to try to develop a player around that speed, and I was lucky enough to be able to start my freshman year in center field.”

Fast starts are a thing for Hurtubise. He’s starting at the High-A level. In the past, first-year players have started in rookie leagues (those affiliated leagues no longer exist) or low A.

“I personally thought that I was going to start in low A,” Hurtubise said. “I thank the coaches for the support and the pride that they have in me for being able to put me in this position, for having the faith and believing that I might be able to handle this.”


Lansing at Dayton, 7:05 p.m., 980

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