The path to success has never been an easy one for lefthander Jake Higginbotham. Higginbotham turned down the New York Mets out of high school because he wanted to come to Clemson. After suffering two injuries during his time as a Tiger the easy way out would’ve been to give up.
But Higginbotham stayed patient through his recovery process and earned himself the role of the Tigers’ Sunday starter this past season. He finished the season with a 6-1 record and a 3.47 ERA. This past Wednesday Higginbotham was in Clemson’s Hendrix Center with his girlfriend when he got the call that he was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 11thround as the No. 322 overall pick in the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft.
“It means a lot (to be drafted),” Higginbotham told The Clemson Insider. “I’ve been through a lot here at Clemson. It would’ve been very easy for the coaches to give up on me after my second injury. I had elbow surgery as a freshman and then tore my teres major in my shoulder as a sophomore so it could’ve been very easy for the coaches to move onto the next guy and develop younger guys for the future.
“I had a chance out of high school and turned it down to come to Clemson because I knew I wanted that college experience. I knew I wanted to be a part of something, a part of a team that took pride in the name on their jersey and wasn’t such a business but it means the world to take the next step in my career and I can’t wait. Clemson holds a special place in my heart and I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity.”
That next step for Higginbotham means going to Danville, Va. where he will play for the Danville Braves, which is an advanced-rookie level Braves’ farm team in the Appalachian League. He knows that wherever his professional career takes him, Clemson has prepared him for whatever he may face down the road.
“Coming to Clemson was a change of pace,” Higginbotham said. “I really had to learn how to prepare a week in advance for a start. So I think more so my baseball IQ and the mental part of the game really grew and got better as I got older.
“Then along with the injuries came maturity as well. Having to handle adversity and overcoming adversity and learning that some things aren’t going to be given to you. So I’m forever grateful for the opportunity the coaches gave me. They could’ve moved on from me and tried to send me to the back of the bench. I could’ve become an afterthought but they didn’t let that happen. I’m appreciative and this place is special to me for sure. I can call it home.”
Now after getting past his injuries, Higginbotham has positioned himself for success in the future. However, he knows he wouldn’t be in the position he is today if it were not for some of the people that helped him throughout his baseball journey.
“My mom and dad have been the rock of my career,” Higginbotham said. “They’ve done so much for me. They’ve taken me to countless games. My dad was my coach growing up. He was always one of the few people along with my mom that believed in me. I was always told that I’m the small guy, I don’t stand a chance, I was on the team because my dad was the coach. I got overlooked a lot growing up because of my size.”
Higginbotham never let his size hold him back and when Clemson gave him the opportunity he knew that’s where he was supposed to be.
“Coach (Jack) Leggett and Coach (Bradley) LeCroy gave me the opportunity when I was being recruited here to further my career as a college baseball player. It had always been a dream to play at Clemson. They were always on TV growing up so that opportunity was awesome.
“Then Coach (Monte) Lee being hired, he and Coach (Andrew) See kept sticking with me and gave me a chance. My first pitching coach, Jim Poole, who I’ve talked to extensively today. I wouldn’t be where I am without him. He taught me how to pitch. He taught me what it meant to really be a pitcher rather than just a thrower. He taught me how to throw my curveball so there’s a lot of people but those names really jump out at me as far as just the endless support and the endless opportunities and all of the help that they’ve given me along the way.”