Thursday, June 2, 2016

Braves Shift Tyrell to the Pen

By EricEnfermero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
The Braves knew they had a fun arm in Jonny Venters as he climbed up the ladder before the 2010 season, but the results were simply not there. He gave up too many hits, struck out too few batters, and generally looked like a non-prospect. However, the scouts were sure there was more to Venters than the results. In 2010, he was brought to the majors, moved to the pen, and over the next three years, he had a 2.23 ERA in 230 ballgames.

Could the Braves be thinking something similar with Tyrell Jenkins? It's possible as the Braves move the righty to the bullpen moving forward.

No one has ever doubted Jenkins' athleticism, nor why so many saw potential in his right arm. However, what hasn't added up is the results matching the excitement. Over seven minor league seasons, Jenkins has a 3.77 ERA, a 6.6 K/9, and a 1.9 K/BB rate. The Braves have been able to keep him healthy over the last two years and while his ERA has been solid (3.12 ERA), his metrics have showed little improvement. He too often pitches behind batters, which doesn't help him entice batters to swing at his breaking stuff. This season, he's had just one outing where he has struck out at least six batters. Interestingly, it might have been that outing that influenced the Braves to try him out as a reliever.

In 2016, Jenkins has looked to clean up parts of his game to help him pitch downhill more consistently. The results have been hit-or-miss, but feel for his curveball has been much improved since joining the Braves. That gives him a fastball/curveball mix that could be lethal when Jenkins is not holding back to throw six innings and show hitters something different the second time around. During his May 24th outing where he struck out nine, he used his curveball extremely well and was able to locate his fastball consistently. That fastball has mid-90's velocity when he's letting it fly and can induce a number of grounders.

Jenkins has been a pitch-to-contact guy in the minors, but it seems like he should be so much more. That's why a move to the pen could be what the doctor ordered. Not every starting prospect should be a starter in the majors. Venters would have been a non-factor as a major league starter. Jenkins still may develop into a guy capable of holding down a rotation spot, but the Braves are on the clock. This is Jenkins' second option season. He'll have one more left and what people may forget is that Jenkins does not rank nearly as highly as other Braves' pitching prospects. When he was acquired, sure, he was pretty close to the top pitching prospect the Braves had. There was Lucas Sims and...well, Jenkins. But since then, the Braves have acquired Mike Foltynewicz. And Touki Toussaint. And Max Fried. And...(deep breath)...Matt Wisler, Sean Newcomb, Aaron Blair, Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, and maybe Riley Pint or Jason Groome.*

* - Check with me next week.

Jenkins is no longer a top pitching prospect in a system rich with pitching. It was fine to see if his trade value as a starter would climb to attract enough attention from outside the organization, but if the Braves are being real about moving forward beyond seeking out more and more prospects, finding a role for Jenkins right now is important. Jenkins could be a fun arm out of the bullpen and considering Atlanta's current collection of AAAA-types and over-the-hill veterans (save Arodys Vizcaino), adding an arm capable of developing into a high-leverage reliever is important as Atlanta tries to show improvement in 2017.

Jenkins could - and should - arrive before then. How quickly will depend on the results he shows coming out of the bullpen. It's easy to like or even love Jenkins, who plays Madden online with Braves fans and has a great social media presence. With any luck, we will also love what he's doing coming out of the Braves' bullpen.

By the way, as @DrewExistsBrave once pointed out, "If Tyrell Jenkins doesn’t run screaming, “TYRELL JENKINS!” out of the bullpen & throw 95mph fastballs into the stands then what’s the point?"

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