4 teams in 4 weeks: Ex-Brave Jenkins’ winter whirlwind

 

There hasn’t been much action involving the Braves in four weeks since the Winter Meetings, but that certainly isn’t the case for one of their former pitching prospects, Tyrell Jenkins.

Tyrell Jenkins was traded by the Braves on Dec. 8, the first of a series of moves that have seen the pitching prospect be on four different major league rosters in a span of four weeks. (Curtis Compton/AJC file photo)

Tyrell Jenkins was traded by the Braves on Dec. 8, the first of a series of moves that have seen the pitching prospect be on four different major league rosters in a span of four weeks. (Curtis Compton/AJC file photo)

When Jenkins was claimed by the San Diego Padres on Tuesday after being placed on waivers by the Cincinnati Reds, it marked the fourth major league organization for the affable right-hander in a dizzying span of less than four weeks, a whirlwind that began Dec. 8 when the Braves traded him to Texas only hours after the Winter Meetings ended.

“Yeah, it’s been a very interesting offseason, beginning with the trade to the Rangers,” said Jenkins, 24, a native of Henderson, Texas, who was initially excited about the possibility of pitching in front of family and friends on a regular basis.

Thirteen days later, on Dec. 21, he was designated for assignment by the Rangers, who needed to clear a spot on their 40-man major league roster and hoped to slip Jenkins through waivers and possibly sign the right-hander to a minor league contract.

Even before the Rangers DFA’d him, Jenkins said he had developed some concerns about the situation in Texas. Playing at home can be a major distraction for a kid still trying to earn a job in the majors.

“After I got traded to the Rangers I realized it might not be the best thing for me, because my phone went crazy for a week straight,” he said. “I soon realized that this was going to be tougher than I thought it would be. Your first two or three years, you kind of want to get established before you worry about trying to please outside stuff. It’s hard enough as it is.”

The trade and subsequent DFA hit hard for some Braves fans, who had come to genuinely like him not just as a player but a person – his smile is infectious, his personality engaging – and hoped for the best for Jenkins even if he was pitching for another organization.

Waived by the Rangers, Jenkins went unclaimed by American League teams – teams pick in worst-to-first order, beginning with teams in the player’s current league — but was claimed two days before Christmas by the Reds, whose 68-94 record in 2016 was tied with the Padres for worst in the National League, a half-game worse than the Braves (68-93).

The 2016 Reds set a major league record for most home runs and figured to have at least one rotation spot open entering spring training, so Jenkins thought he’d have a chance to compete for a job.

But unbeknownst to him or his powerful agent, Scott Boras, the Reds tried to slip Jenkins through waivers around the holidays, when major league teams were mostly quiet. The Rangers move, he’d expected. This one, he had not.

“Even when the Rangers DFA’d me, we knew that was going to happen,” Jenkins said by phone Tuesday night from his home in Texas. “We kind of agreed to it, to a certain extent. We knew that was going to happen and we went, OK, that’s fine, we’ll work our way back up. And then when the Reds claimed me I said, OK, we’re going to Cincinnati.

“And then I left to work out (Tuesday) morning and one of the guys from Cincinnati called me and said, ‘Hey, man, I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news but the Padres claimed you this morning.’”

Placed on waivers for the second time in as many weeks, Jenkins didn’t make it past even one team this time. Claimed by the rebuilding Padres. In an offseason full of unexpected turns for Jenkins, the latest development nevertheless surprised him.

“I didn’t even know I had been put on waivers this morning,” he said. “I guess that was their way of trying to sneak me through, but the Padres – once they put your on waivers they get, like, a notification or something. I don’t know how that works, but I guess it didn’t work out and they picked me up.

“So, the Padres got me. I talked to (manager Andy) Green; the GM, I believe, Mr. Preller, A.J. Preller; and I talked to the pitching coach, and they all sound kind of excited. I mean, they all called me, so…. They’re excited, I’m excited.”

And here’s the point of our phone call where his good nature and optimism were as apparent as ever. This is a young guy who’s been beat up a bit by the system this winter, passed around in a series of moves that might damage the psyche of most anyone put in a similar position.

Jenkins’ pride and determination, and his positive attitude, should serve him well now.

“I mean, whether I get DFA’d or claimed 20 more times this offseason, wherever I got I’m just excited to have a jersey, to be able to compete and try to get established,” he said.

A former quarterback recruit who spurned a football scholarship to Baylor when the Cardinals made him the 50th overall selection of the 2010, Jenkins had his decision second-guessed by others at times, after he struggled to stay healthy in the Cardinals minor league system. He was traded to the Braves along with pitcher Shelby Miller in a November 2014 deal that sent Jason Heyward to St. Louis.

Jenkins was a top-100 prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2012 season, and No. 94 in Baseball Prospectus’ top 100 prospects before the 2013 season. His status slipped some due to injuries that limited him to fewer than 90 innings for three consecutive minor league seasons, but Jenkins appeared to have turned a corner in his first season in the Braves organization in 2015 by posting a 3.19 ERA in 25 starts and 138 1/3 innings.

After starting the 2016 season in Triple-A, Jenkins made his major league debut in June and went 2-4 with a 5.88 ERA in 14 games (eight starts) over two stints with the Braves. He allowed 55 hits including 11 home runs, and posted more walks (33) than strikeouts (26) in 52 innings, the command issues that had plagued him in the high minors only exacerbated against big-league hitters.

He left a Sept. 30 game with numbness in his right forearm and was shut down for the rest of the season as a precautionary measure. Jenkins said the soreness was gone a day later, and this offseason he’s followed his usual throwing program and said his arm feels good and “ready to go.”

Still, he became expendable for the Braves, after adding veteran starters Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia this offseason. They traded Jenkins and lefty relief prospect Brady Feigl to the Rangers for hard-throwing right-handed prospect Luke Jackson.  Jenkins was as surprised as anyone.

“I didn’t think (trading him) was being considered at all,” he said. “I talked to some of the (other Braves young starting pitchers) and we knew that with the moves they had made that a lot of us would probably start in Triple-A and have to work our way up. Obviously they were not going to give anything to us, but we knew that it might be a little different than a year before, that it might not be a lot of young guys, it might be a lot of veteran guys.”

But being traded? That caught him completely off-guard.

The Braves traded from a position of depth and strength, not expecting Jenkins to compete for a rotation spot in 2017 after the offseason additions, and knowing that he’d likely be surpassed in the near future by several of the starting-pitching prospects they have rising in the minor league system.

Now, Jenkins will be trying again to prove himself to another team – the Padres, he hopes, but at this point he realizes how quickly that could change again for someone in his situation. He also knows it could be a lot worse if teams weren’t interested.

“Teams are interested, so that’s a big thing,” he said. “Once I cleared waivers, that’s when I’d be worried. I couldn’t care less what people say about the whole DFA’d and no one will keep me (thing). If people claim me, that’s positive in itself. Wherever I end up, and obviously I hope I stay (with San Diego), but if I go somewhere else, just put my work in and try to improve.”

• Late in the season, Jenkins was shut down with forearm numbness. I went over to talk with him the next day, and he was playing on his phone a classic Al Green tune. I was pleasantly surprised to see any young player listening to one of the all-time great soul singers. “He makes any day better,” Jenkins said, smiling.

So I’ll close with this Green classic, one of my many favorites from The Reverend. Good luck, Tyrell. Lot of Braves fans will be pulling for you.

“LOVE AND HAPPINESS” by Al Green

Al Green

Al Green

Love and happiness (yeah)
Something that can make you do wrong
Make you do right
Love…Love and happiness(Wait a minute)
Something’s going wrong
Someone’s on the phone
Three o’clock in the morning
Talking about how she can make it right (well)Happiness is when you really feel good about somebody
There’s nothing wrong
Bing in love with someone
(Yeah. Oh baby)Love and happiness
(Love and happiness)

(Have to say)
Love and happiness
(Love and happiness)

You be good to me
I’ll be good to you
We’ll be together
We’ll see each other
Walk away with victory

(Oh baby)
Love and happiness
(Love and happiness)

(Hey hey hey)
Make you do right
Love’ll make you do wrong
Make you come home early
Make you stay out all night long
The power of love
(Wait a minute, let me tell you)
The power of love
The power…
Make you do right
Love’ll make you do wrong

(Love and happiness)

Love’ll make you wanna dance and sing
Make you wanna dance

Love and happiness

Love is…
(Wait a minute)
Love is…
Walkin’ together
Talkin’ together
Singin’ together
Prayin’ together
Say, I wanna moan, say..
Moan for love, I say…
Let me moan for love, I say…
Wanna moan for love
Talkin’ about the power…

 


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