Jacob Tanner Diekman (born January 21, 1987) is an American professional baseball pitcher with the Texas Rangers of Major League Baseball (MLB). He previously played for the Philadelphia Phillies. He throws left-handed. Diekman grew up in Wymore, Nebraska, where he attended a high school too small for a baseball team, so he instead focused on golf, playing baseball in the summer for an American Legion team. He played two seasons of baseball in college at Doane College and Cloud County Community College respectively before attending a junior college baseball showcase, at which he was offered a scholarship to play Division I baseball. However, in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft, the Philadelphia Phillies selected him in the 30th round, and he ultimately signed.
With the Phillies, Diekman began as a starting pitcher and progressed through a few levels of the Phillies' farm system in his first two years as a starter before adjusting his mechanics and lowering his arm slot to throw sidearm out of the bullpen as a relief pitcher. The adjustment worked, and helped him move through the remaining levels of the Phillies' farm system and, in 2012, making his major league debut. Over the next two seasons, he split time between the major league Phillies and their Triple-A (AAA) affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, though while he was with the major league team, was considered one of the "lone bright spots" in both 2012 and 2013. Diekman throws a fastball in the mid-90s (mph), a slider, and an occasional changeup; his fastball is among the fastest of any left-handed reliever in the major leagues.
Diekman's parents have been key parts of his life, especially his mother, who died soon before the Phillies drafted him, and from whom he now draws inspiration. He holds a degree in business administration, and resides in Beatrice, Nebraska in the offseason.
Diekman was born to Paul and Billie Diekman in 1987. He has one brother. He attended Southern High School in Wymore, Nebraska, which was too small to field a baseball team, so Diekman played golf there instead. Eventually, he joined an American Legion baseball team with players from Wymore and several surrounding towns, which Diekman called "the best experience of my life ... so much fun". Concurrently, he worked full-time at a lawn mower factory to earn money to pursue post-secondary education.
After graduating high school, he enrolled at Doane College, where he pitched for one season. He transferred to Cloud County Community College in Kansas. Following his sophomore season, he attended a showcase at which, with a fastball well over 90 miles per hour (140 km/h), he drew much interest. He received an offer for a full scholarship to be a Nebraska Cornhusker, which he would have accepted had the Phillies not drafted him in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft's 30th round.
Between 2007 and 2010, he pitched in the lower levels of the Philadelphia Phillies' Minor League system initially as a starter, and subsequently as a reliever. Although he initially saw success in 2007, posting a 2.72 ERA in 10 starts with GCL Phillies and Williamsport Crosscutters, he struggled in 2008, posting an ERA of 5.09 in 27 starts, split between Williamsport and the Lakewood Blue Claws. At the conclusion of both 2008 and 2009, he pitched in the Florida Instructional League to continue honing his skills on the mound.
He converted from a starting pitcher to a reliever in 2009, along with several other Phillies pitching prospects. Around that time, he also, at the suggestion of the same minor league pitching coaches who converted him to relief, lowered his release point to his current low angle. Success did not manifest itself immediately, as he still posted a 4.04 ERA in 2009, his first season in relief, but in 2010, he cut his ERA to 2.91 while splitting time between Lakewood and the Clearwater Threshers, the Phillies High-A affiliate. At the end of the 2010 season, he played for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. He spent the 2011 season with the Double-A Reading Phillies, accruing a 0–1 record and a 3.05 ERA and 3 saves in 53 games. Thereafter, the Phillies added him to their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
After receiving praise from Phillies' pitching coach Rich Dubee for his performance in spring training, Diekman opened the 2012 season with the Triple-A (AAA) Lehigh Valley IronPigs. With Lehigh Valley, he posted a 1–0 record and a 0.59 ERA with 5 saves in 13 games in the season's first month. He was added to the Phillies' 25-man Major League roster on May 11, and four days later recorded a win against the Houston Astros in his MLB debut. He finished the year an established lefty specialist, and had a 3.95 ERA, though walked 6.6 batters per 9 innings, and was erratic in his control.
Entering 2013, Diekman was expected to be a key part of the Phillies bullpen after his success in 2012, however he did not break camp with the big league club, beginning the season in AAA. In AAA, he struggled, which delayed his arrival to the major league team until June. While with the big league club, he continued his dominance of left-handed hitters, however was not as good against right-handed hitters (a 150-point differential in opponent batting average and over 300 point differential in On-base plus slugging (OPS)). Diekman improved his control, which made him a presumptive member of the 2014 bullpen, as he was one of 2013's "lone bright spots" for the otherwise dismal Phillies' bullpen. Ultimately, he did make the Phillies' opening day roster as a member of the bullpen.
Early in the season, Diekman emerged as a reliable reliever in the Phillies' bullpen, and was used extensively by manager Ryne Sandberg. As the season progressed, Diekman was more successful against left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters, but was used against both in a variety of situations. On September 1, 2014, Diekman was one of four pitchers who combined for a no-hitter in the Phillies' 7-0 win over the Atlanta Braves in Turner Field. By the end of the season, the Phillies had one of the best bullpens in the league, and it consisted predominantly of young players such as Diekman. There was excitement from both Phillies' personnel and writers that the bullpen could remain solid for a long time because of young pitchers such as Diekman, Ken Giles, and Justin De Fratus. Moreover, Diekman and Giles had potential as closers should the Phillies trade Jonathan Papelbon. Overall, Diekman emerged as a name to be mentioned among the "elite" relievers of the National League, but was overused against right-handed batters, which hurt his statistics.
On July 31, 2015, Diekman was traded to the Texas Rangers along with Cole Hamels in exchange for Matt Harrison, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Jake Thompson, Alec Asher, and Jerad Eickhoff. He became an important bullpen piece in the Rangers' run to the playoffs in 2016. Diekman and the Rangers agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.225 million on January 29, 2016, and avoided arbitration. Diekman finished the 2016 season with a 4-2 record, 4 saves and a 3.40 ERA in 66 appearances. Diekman is expected to miss at least half the 2017 season after upcoming surgery to treat colitis, a digestive condition.
A lefty specialist, Diekman throws a fastball in the mid-90s, a slider at 78–81, and an occasional changeup to right-handed hitters. His fastball is among the fastest of left-handed relievers in the major leagues. Like most left-handed pitchers, particularly those who throw out of an arm angle similar to Diekman's, he is tough on left-handed hitters. In 2013, he held lefties to just a .368 OPS, though allowed a .765 OPS to right-handed hitters. Despite suggestions he remain a lefty specialist, he emerged in 2014 as a favorite middle reliever for manager Ryne Sandberg against both righties and lefties.
Diekman's maturation was characterized by two parents that were equally loving, but embodied a stark juxtaposition in terms of demeanor. His mother, Billie, was Diekman's "biggest fan", and had to order her husband, Paul, to stop pacing, and watch Diekman pitch. However, Billie died at age 57, just months before the Phillies drafted her son. Diekman has sought therapy to cope with the loss, and meditates thinking about her during "The Star Spangled Banner" prior to each game.
"(After his mother's death) Diekman started to appreciate the little things. The game slowed down when he had fun. He invoked his mother's spirit rather than avoiding it. 'The drive and determination she had for all the projects she did, how hard she worked, the dedication she had for her job,' Diekman said. 'It really paid off. It really came to me. I thought, 'If I have a job, I want to put in the time and dedication like she did.' ' That is how Billie Diekman's legacy perseveres. It is why a young man from tiny Wymore, Neb., will cherish Sunday's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a baseball stadium..."— Excerpt from Phillies' Diekman holds memory of his mother close, by Matt Gelb, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 11, 2014
Diekman describes his father as his "best friend", and one who has helped him cope with his mother's death. Away from baseball, Diekman holds an associate's degree in business administration from Cloud County Community College, and enjoys listening to music, working out, and playing golf. He resides in Beatrice, Nebraska during the offseason.