Chad Jenkins was not having a very good year in Double-A when he received the promotion to Toronto back on August 5th. Jenkins had spent the better part of last year with the Fisher Cats, and his re-assignment to the club in the spring was not a surprise. His performance, however, was.
In 16 starts for the team in 2011, Jenkins pitched to a 4.13 ERA and 1.20 WHIP with a respectable strikeout rate of 6.64 per nine innings. When a team sends a player back to the same minor league level, they both hope and expect to see some improvements. With Jenkins, the reverse was true. Through 20 starts in 2012, he was sitting on an ugly 4.96 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. His strikeout rate, which had already been fringy, plummeted to a Henderson Alvarez-like 4.49 per nine innings.
Even so, the Blue Jays were in dire need of an arm, so Chad Jenkins got the call. The role the team had in mind for him came as a bit of a shock, as after spending his entire minor league career in the rotation – totaling 73 starts – Jenkins was assigned to the bullpen. As Jon Lott of the National Post wrote in an article on Monday, it’s a role Jenkins appears to enjoy;
“I had those days off, and I just got that urge to throw again. Now it’s like, every time that phone rings, my head snaps around and I’m like, ‘Is it me? Is it me?’ It brings more excitement to the game for me, knowing that I could possibly get in every day.”
Jenkins has only appeared in six games for the big club, but it’s enough of a sample size that we can get some idea of the type of stuff he possesses. In those six games, Jenkins has thrown a total of 92 pitches, with the following distribution: 70 fastballs/sinkers (76.1%), 16 sliders (17.4%), 6 changeups (6.5%). The velocity hasn’t been quite as advertised, as after scouting reports suggested he sat in the low 90’s and touched as high as 96 mph, the PitchFX data has told a different story. The fastball has averaged 90.9 mph (which agrees with the eye test, as it seems nearly every pitch pops 91), and has peaked at just 93 mph. Both numbers are still above average, but don’t quite live up to the hype of years past. On the other hand, the movement on the pitch has been as expected, with plus-life very similar another Blue Jays pitcher, Henderson Alvarez.
Above all else, the slider has been the most pleasant surprise to me. Averaging a solid 83.8 mph, the pitch has been an excellent change of pace for Jenkins, in place of his seldom-used changeup. Of his 16 sliders thrown, only 7 have been in the strike zone, yet he’s racked up 12 strikes. That suggests hitters have had a hard time picking up the pitch out of his hand, and even when they do, the movement makes it difficult to square up. Whether or not he’ll be able to maintain that success as tape gets around on him is another question, but for now, he’s baffling hitters.
While both his fastball and slider appear to be above average offerings, neither has the elite potential you want to see from a late inning reliever. Jenkins’ future likely lies in either the sixth/seventh inning or as the long man/spot starter in the bullpen, as his lack of a solid third pitch makes a legitimate future in the starting rotation unlikely, especially in the AL East. It’s a less than ideal outcome for a first round pick, but given the volatility of minor league baseball and the lack of depth in the 2009 draft, it’s actually not too bad. Of the 29 players drafted after Jenkins in the first and supplemental first round, only seven have made the major leagues. One of those seven is Mike Trout – who all of baseball whiffed on – and another is top prospect Tyler Skaggs, but for the most part it’s not exactly a jaw dropping group. The team has added a number of relievers to the roster over the past couple of months, but with a number of impending free agents and others recovering from serious arm injuries, the experience Jenkins is gaining this year could prove extremely valuable in 2013.