Blue Jays: Opportunity knocks for Chad Jenkins in 2016
The Toronto Blue Jays have made a human yo-yo out of Chad Jenkins since he broke through with the big club in 2012. The right-handed pitcher has been optioned 10 separate times by the Blue Jays, but with all three of his options years now burned, Jenkins’ contract status and the organizational depth around him suggest that he’ll be facing a great opportunity in 2016.
Jenkins is a limited arm, and that’s something that has been evident since he was drafted 20th Overall out of Kennesaw State University in 2009. Perhaps “steady” is the most accurate description of Jenkins, but in a game so difficult to forecast, there’s certainly room for the predictably unspectacular.
Option years have worked against Jenkins as much as any player in the organization over the past several years, seeing him bounced around in favor of out-of-option arms despite posting a 2.63 ERA in 65.0 innings across 2013 and 2014.
Aside from 3.2 big league innings in 2015, the majority of Jenkins’ season was spent back with the AAA Buffalo Bisons. Despite the odd spot starter and bullpen churning at the Major League level, he seemed to exist one spot away from being the next man up. In 41 appearances, including 11 starts, Jenkins posted a 2.98 ERA with a 1.32 WHIP. Before any discussion regarding his 2016 role takes place, the Jays will need to pick a path.
It would be nice to give Jenkins some positional certainty between starting and relieving, but that’s rarely the reality for players of his standing, and decisions with Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna will take priority. While Jenkins won’t be in the picture for a starting rotation spot barring the unpredictable, the Jays could take a risk by attempting to keep him in the organization as a depth starter.
Filling out the rotation behind Marcus Stroman and R.A. Dickey is priority number one, but realistically speaking, the Blue Jays will need substantial depth even behind those additional arms. In 2015, 12 different pitchers started a game for Toronto. If Chad Jenkins can carve out a role in the 6th to 10th starter range, that’s undoubtedly valuable.
To protect Jenkins on the MLB roster, however, he’d surely have to convert into a long relief role. Let’s assume for a moment that at least one of Sanchez or Osuna are transitioned into a starting tole, leaving the other to occupy a back-end ‘pen role. Brett Cecil would remain in place with Liam Hendriks being a candidate to move into the 7th inning, so in theory, Jenkins could also carve out that role as his own.
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The key with Jenkins, in my eyes, continues to be his ability to produce ground balls. His 4.6 K/9 in a limited MLB sample size is a bit of a low-ball as the 5.5-6.0 range represents his game more accurately, but he’ll still struggle to rack up strikeouts. If that’s the case, his ticket to success in the ‘pen (or as a starter, for that matter) will be pitch mixing, sinking action and ground balls.
Jenkins has forced ground balls at a 48.1% rate through his 100.2 MLB innings, a number that I’d love to see around 55%. The Todd Redmond-esque innings-eater out of the bullpen isn’t the sexiest position in baseball, but with a rotation that could conceivably feature Sanchez and Drew Hutchison, the potential for a short outing necessitates someone that is not a one-inning arm.
Salary considerations are a big part of this, too. While you can expect Toronto to be very active with Minor League signings and depth moves, the current roster structure offers limited MLB-ready arms at the cost of Jenkins. Amid rumblings that the Jays are considering a payroll reduction, or at least holding the line from 2015, Mark Shapiro will have a close eye on
players salaries like Jenkins.