(EDITORS NOTE: The Braves promoted Jenkins to the majors on June 17th. Through 65 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett, Jenkins posted a 2.91 ERA with a 45/24 K/BB and 70 hits allowed, 1.16 GO/AO. Wayne Cavadi's report from mid-April, listed below, breaks down Jenkins as a prospect and the report is still valid based on what Jenkins has done this year).
Tyrell Jenkins followed up a rocky first start with a great outing for the Gwinnett Braves this past week. Finally putting together a healthy season in 2015, just how close is Jenkins to the Atlanta Braves big league rotation?
Jenkins was part of one of the first of many big blockbuster trades John Hart made when assuming the role of GM in 2014. The 23-year old righty came to the Braves on the opposite end of the Jason Heyward trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was coming off a solid, but injury-riddled 2014, something that had become a trend for Jenkins.
Part of a first round that included names like Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey, Chris Sale, Christian Yelich, and Noah Syndergaard, the Cardinals selected Jenkins 50th overall to close out the compensatory picks of the 2010 MLB Draft first round. Coming right out of high school, and slated to play quarterback at Baylor University, Jenkins was considered one of the most athletic pitchers on the board despite being one of the rawest.
He spent his first two seasons in the Appalachian League, beginning his professional career with nice strikeout numbers (55 strikeouts in 56 innings in his 2011 campaign). He would watch them slowly decline as he climbed the ladder and faced more advanced hitting.
Jenkins had a successful 2014 bouncing back from 2013 shoulder surgery, but was still unable to pitch a complete season. Now a part of the Atlanta Braves, Jenkins headed in to 2015 without a full season under his belt in his five years as a pro, topping out at 82.1 the season prior to his surgery.
It clicked last season. He performed decently in his first career stint at Double-A. While in Mississippi, he posted a career best 3.00 ERA over 16 starts. His strikeout rate and walk rate were somewhat concerning, punching out just 59 batters (just under six per nine) while walking 41 (just around four walks per nine or 10% of the batters he faced) over 93 innings. He jumped up to Triple-A for nine starts where his strikeout rate and walk rate stayed nearly identical. Most importantly, he eclipsed 130 innings.
What Jenkins does best is induce ground balls, strand runners and keep the ball in the park. He’s actually never allowed higher than 0.79 home runs per nine, which benefits a pitcher who allows a few too many base runners. He simply isn’t going to blow a batter away with his stuff, he is going to fill the bases due to his command, but somehow, he keeps opposing teams at bay.
His two starts thus far in 2016 show the ups and downs of what Jenkins brings to the table. He lasted three innings in his debut, walking five batters and striking out four. 46 of his 76 pitches (60%) landed for strikes. His second start was a different Jenkins altogether. His command was better, landing 51 of his 83 pitches for strikes, however, he only walked one batter over six innings while striking out five. Based on Jenkins arsenal, this is what should be expected of him every time he takes the mound.
You may think that Jenkins doesn’t have good stuff, but he surprisingly does. He has an electric fastball that consistently comes in between 92 to 94 miles per hour, often topping out at 95. He has a power curve that is tough to hit when he is on, but has a tendency to lose it every now and then. His changeup is a work in progress, but its growth and his athleticism seem to suggest that it should become a successful out pitch. He’s also big, standing at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds.
Watch the bottom fall out as he gets Addison Russell swinging in the Arizona Fall League.
Julio Teheran. Bud Norris. Matt Wisler. Williams Perez. Jhoulys Chacin. That’s all that is standing in Jenkins’ way from a big league debut.
There are two ways to look at it. The Braves could bring Jenkins up as soon as the first injury strikes that not-so-stellar Braves rotation and let him take his licks on the big league level so he’s ready for next season when they hope to begin to compete. They could, on the other hand, realize that this is a lost season and let him mature at Triple-A for most of the year, waiting to see if he develops that consistency not only in his outings, but in his command.
There is no reason to think that Jenkins is the future ace of this staff, but there is every reason to think that he will be a successful major league pitcher for some time. His ceiling is likely a mid-rotation arm, likely settling in in the No. 4 or No. 5 slot, but with such a dominating curve and solid fastball, he is quite the intriguing option out of the bullpen. He will have to fight with fellow top Braves prospect Aaron Blair and the recovering Mike Foltynewicz to get to the bigs first, but expect to see Jenkins get his share of starts this year.