The Toronto Blue Jays have churned through a laundry list of names with the sixth and seventh spots of their bullpen, which is not entirely uncommon in the MLB. Each time a spot becomes available, right-hander Chad Jenkins has been the second or third best option to fill the void, but never the first.
Just as Tom Hanks sat stranded on an island in the 2000 film Castaway, kept company only by his friend Wilson, Chad Jenkins now sits in Buffalo, his smoke signals unseen, accompanied only by his friend Rawlings. Jenkins will surely never reach the potential that once saw him drafted ahead of Mike Trout (sorry for my monthly reminder, Blue Jays fans) and ranked highly in Toronto’s top prospect lists, but his transition into a younger Todd Redmond has been disappointing.
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Unfortunately, Jenkins has found his niche in a role that is undervalued and prone to massive turnover rates: the swingman. Are we looking at a AAAA player here, meaning one that is too good for triple-A, but just short of what the Major League club needs? I still don’t think so. Not yet, at least.
Perhaps it’s my overzealous appreciation for the more unappreciated players towards the bottom of a roster, but Jenkins has always remained an appealing arm to me. Even as I’ve waited for his heavy use of sinking action to fully click and turn him into a dominant ground-ball pitcher, his results have not been discouraging at any level.
Removing his 2012 season from consideration, during parts of which he was still being used as a starter, Jenkins’ career MLB ERA sits at 2.69 and he has walked just 1.7 batters per nine innings. What has hurt Jenkins, however, is his inability to strike out MLB batters. Over this period, he has struck out just 4.7 per nine innings.
Jul 4, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Chad Jenkins (64) walks off the field after Oakland Athletics infielder Nick Punto (1) hit a game winning RBI double in the 12th inning at O.co Coliseum. The Athletics defeated the Blue Jays 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
In AAA Buffalo, Jenkins has been a model of consistency. He’s built a 2.08 ERA through 24 appearances, and has really punched the gas over the past few weeks. In his last 10 outings, Jenkins has allowed just one earned run in 20.1 innings with 15 strikeouts.
Keep in mind, though, that this is the same league that Randy Wolf has dominated. Despite the numbers, Toronto sees his pitches being very hittable at the MLB level, and there could be some loose similarities with their views on Jenkins. Besides, over the recent streak I just mentioned, he’s allowed 20 hits.
Now that the career of Chad Jenkins has moved well past what could have been, we need to look at what can still be. I fear a day in the not-so-distant future where Jenkins is Buffalo’s permeant rubber-arm, swinging between starter and reliever, taking bullets for the pitching staff around him. Eventually, though, even if it’s by chance, Chad Jenkins will be the top option when Alex Anthopoulos looks down his list for help. He’s earned a few more professional pay stubs, at the very least.