Sunday, July 12, 2015

Random Prospect Sunday - Tyrell Jenkins

In January of 2010, 17 year-old Tyrell Jenkins made the kind of decision that, for many of us, is one of the most important decisions of his life. The Henderson, Texas native decided that he would pursue higher education at Baylor, accepting a scholarship to play both baseball and football. A quarterback who could run and throw, Jenkins had a shot to stick at the position in a post Robert Griffin III world at Baylor. Rivals ranked him as a 3-star QB who attracted attention from Texas, TCU, and even Michigan. But five months later, Jenkins was drafted with the 50th overall pick of the MLB draft and the Cardinals wooed him away from a potential life in football. Baylor did okay, though.

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Jenkins started two games for Johnson City after signing and would return the next year for a full season with the Appalachian League team. He gave up a few too many hits, but struck out 55 in 56 innings and was playing, as an 18-19 year-old against mostly college draftees. The season and Jenkins's tantalizing collection of tools made him a prospect in the eyes of Baseball America, who ranked him 94th as the 2012 season opened. Jenkins made 19 starts in Quad Cities and his season was limited by both pitch count and injuries, but he flashed the same electric arm. His 5.14 ERA backed off Baseball America, but Baseball Prospectus bought in, ranking him 94th as well.

However, injuries would limit him the next two seasons. He threw just 59.1 innings in 2013 and 74 innings the following year as he pitched for both Peoria, which replaced Quad Cities in the organization, and Palm Beach. His biggest individual highlight came in first win of 2013, which was in his fifth overall game. Facing the Fort Wayne TinCaps of the Padres organization, Jenkins threw his first complete game and only shutout of his career, limiting the visiting TinCaps to three hits and a walk while striking out five. He induced 15 (or 16) groundballs that day depending on the source.

After an injury-shortened 2014, Jenkins was sent to the Arizona Fall League to finish the year. It was there that Jenkins seemed to improve his prospect standing. His ERA was 2.22, though that's certainly not a be-all end-all number. However, he threw well and closed in on 100 total innings for the year. Future major leaguer Dalton Pompey was toyed with in this video.

Following the season, the Cards were left with a choice. Put Jenkins on the 40-man roster or certainly lose him in the upcoming Rule 5 draft. They did neither, of course, trading Jenkins along with Shelby Miller to the Braves for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. It was a sudden change for Jenkins. He went from an organization that was pushing toward another title run to one that looked like a squad that was starting over. Great thing about starting over franchises - they are a great proving ground for young players.

This year, Jenkins made his AA debut at the age of 22. He was the youngest pitcher on his team and one of the ten youngest pitchers in the league. With the Mississippi Braves, Jenkins started 16 games. The walks were a little high - especially for him - but Jenkins flashed the potential the Braves were hoping for when they acquired him. His ERA was 3.00, his FIP 3.86. We can definitely quibble about a high SIERA, but for Jenkins, the biggest takeaway was that he made each start. After his sweet 16 start on the fourth of July, Jenkins was given the news that makes players giddy - a promotion to AAA. Only one more step to go. Jenkins wasn't one to rest on his laurels. In his first outing with Gwinnett, he went seven scoreless innings with a walk and six strikeouts. Hello AAA, Tyrell has arrived.

On the mound, Jenkins throws a fastball that comfortably sits in the low-to-mid 90's range. He has the ability to rear back and add a few more ticks to his velocity, though a scouting report I saw suggested that when he does, it becomes obvious. He also throws a changeup about 10 mph slower that helps set off the fastball and when most effective, hitters drag their bat through the zone after being fooled. The slider has strikeout potential when he has a good handle on it. Jenkins uses a high leg kick that with the right throwback uniform, you might think you were watching footage from the 60's and 70's. He does go to a slide step when needed and can be fairly quick to the plate. Historically, he has been able to pitch down in the zone and get a lot of grounders.

For Jenkins, the results are hard to tell much from. He has missed so much action that not only is he often young for his level age-wise, but young experience-wise. In his sixth professional year, he has never come out of the pen, but only has 374 innings on the mound and he's already in AAA. To compare, Matt Wisler started two years later and has 462.1 ING in the minors and another 29 in the majors. Jenkins is why we still heavily value the opinions of scouts because the numbers won't overwhelm you - even when you take into consideration his age. There is a lot there for the future and we should be excited. He is starting the scratch the surface. The Braves have already burned an option on him this year so we could see Jenkins at some point, though he's probably on an innings limit so it's doubtful without another injury (*knockonwood*) that Jenkins will make his MLB debut until 2016. There are a lot of pitchers in the system and Jenkins might get pushed to the pen, but he has a shot to stick with the big guns.

Be sure to follow Jenkins on Twitter.

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