Once the 2014 season ended and the Atlanta Braves made changes at the top of its front office, one of the first moves was to begin restocking a barren farm system with top-end talent. In the first move by John Hart and John Coppolella, a 6-foot, 4-inch right-hander named Tyrell Jenkins was the secondary piece of the November 2014 trade that sent homegrown superstar Jason Heyward to St. Louis. Though right-hander Shelby Millerwas the clear centerpiece, Jenkins proved he was more than just a throw-in to the swap as he dominated the top two levels of the minors in 2015 and racked up awards along the way.
Since coming to the organization, Jenkins has flourished, posting a 3.19 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett. He earned his second career All-Star nod at Mississippi, and following the season he was named the Braves’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Jenkins produced a 3.00 ERA and had three complete-game efforts in 16 starts for the M-Braves to begin the year. He allowed two runs or fewer in 12 of his outings for Mississippi and surrendered only three home runs over 93.0 innings. After being knocked around for nine earned runs in 5.2 innings on May 1, he rebounded to yield only three earned runs over 27.0 innings in his next four starts. Jenkins was Mississippi’s Pitcher of the Month in May despite the hiccup on the month’s first day.
With a wave of success mounting as the season reached the mid-way point, Jenkins was promoted to Gwinnett on July 8 and made his debut the next night against Norfolk. In that game, he reached 100.0 innings on the year in a sterling 7.0-inning shutout of the Tides, registering six strikeouts and allowing seven hits with just one walk.
Following his dominance of Norfolk in his G-Braves debut, Jenkins registered a 2.16 ERA in four July starts before allowing 12 earned runs in 18.2 innings in four outings in August (5.79 ERA) and spending time on the disabled list with arm fatigue. He made just one appearance after August 16, a 1.2-inning start on September 4 at Norfolk.
Coming into 2015, Jenkins hadn’t pitched 100.0 innings in any of his first five professional seasons as the result of multiple injuries. But despite the stint on the G-Braves’ disabled list in August, he finished last season with a career-high 138.1 innings pitched, 5.0 more than he had thrown in the previous two seasons combined.
After such an impressive debut in the Atlanta system, he’ll head to Major League Spring Training later this month looking to break camp with the big club.
Making Atlanta’s Opening Day roster would be considered a big leap, even for the fast-rising Jenkins. The time he’s missed due to injury could lead the Braves to give him more seasoning in Gwinnett, though it’s clear his time is fast approaching. Of the 25 pitchers picked ahead of Jenkins in the 2010 Draft, 13 of them have made their MLB debuts. Of those 13 that have reached the big leagues, the average amount of minor league appearances was 79.7; Jenkins enters the 2016 season having made 83 minor league starts.
The numbers might suggest that 2016 would be the year for Jenkins to become the 14th member of his first round draft class to reach the Majors, but he’ll have to stay healthy and continue to build on his award-winning 2015 season. He’ll also have to outshine some established veterans.
Atlanta has signed experienced arms like Jhoulys Chacin, Kyle Kendrick and Bud Norris, which could present a block to Jenkins’ immediate path to the big leagues. Based on those signings further strengthening Braves’ starting pitching depth, it appears that Jenkins is destined for a call-up at some point later this summer. The longer the Braves stay competitive, like in 2015 when they were just five games under the .500 mark at the All-Star break, the longer Jenkins could pitch at Coolray Field instead of Turner Field. But a “leap” in 2016 means nothing less than his Major League debut.