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Braves prospect retrospect: RHP Tyrell Jenkins

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The Atlanta Braves didn’t always have the depth on the farm in pitching they have the past two years. Once upon a time Tyrell Jenkins was one of the best they had to offer.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We started our look back at some prospects that may have gone forgotten from yesteryear with Jose Peraza. We continue our stroll down memory lane with a look at one of the better pitching prospects in the system just a few years ago.

A quick note on these prospects we’ll be looking at: Some will be highly touted and never pan out, some will go on to be All Stars, and some will go on to the Hall of Fame. But for every star we look at, we’ll take a look at some random names along the way that just didn’t come to fruition.

And on that note, we present to you Mr. Tyrell Jenkins.

Tyrell Jenkins, budding right-hand MiLB prospect

Jenkins was a stud athlete in high school playing football, basketball and baseball for Henderson High School in Texas. He was so good, in fact, Jenkins committed to Baylor to play both quarterback during football season and hit the baseball field in the spring. The St. Louis Cardinals liked his athleticism and made him their first round draft pick in 2010 keeping him from Baylor and sending him to Johnson City of the Appalachian League.

That was quite the first round to be part of: names like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Chris Sale, Christian Yelich and Noah Syndergaard were just a few of the star-studded names to go. It seemed like Jenkins was destined for the big time.

He debuted as a 17-year-old that 2010 season in the Appy League, pitching three shutout innings, showing off a fastball that people seemed to love along with a curveball and changeup. There was no denying that Jenkins was more athlete than pitcher, but with a fastball in the mid-90s as a teenager and three workable pitches, the sky seemed to be the proverbial limit.

Jenkins had a solid second season in the Appy, but then the injuries started. He tossed 82.1 innings in 2012 — his first go at full-season ball — before a shoulder injury and ensuing surgery in 2013 held him to just 13 starts and only 13 more the next year. It was his time in the 2014 Arizona Fall League that caught people’s eyes, but it was still much more athleticism than pitchability. Still, people saw top-of-the-rotation talent in his live arm.

The Braves Years: Jenkins gives hope to the rotation

Following that autumn in the desert, the Atlanta Braves came calling and Jenkins was the prospect paired with Shelby Miller in the Jason Heyward trade. Jenkins entered the 2015 season in the minors among a cast of new young guns like Sean Newcomb and Aaron Blair as well as some old reliables like Lucas Sims in the upper levels. MLB Pipeline had Jenkins the seventh-best prospect in the Braves system for 2015, and it seemed like the Braves were in a prime spot with a nice arsenal in place.

The thing was — and some of this was due to injury — Jenkins was still raw. He still pumped that fastball hitting the mid-90s and his 12-6 curve was a strikeout pitch when he landed it, but it was inconsistent. His strikeout rate seemed to get lower and lower and the lack of command led to a climbing walk rate. Still, Jenkins pitched his first full season in 2015, making 25 starts across Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett and looked like he was on the cusp of his big-league debut in the coming 2016 season.

Jenkins made his way up the ladder with a high ground ball rate and limiting the long ball at every stop. It was quite different when he finally made it to Atlanta in 2016. He pitched one shutout inning in his debut, but in his second appearance a week later, he was rocked for four runs in four innings with 10 fly balls allowed, one of which left the yard. He looked like he was settling in at the end of July with three-straight starts of six innings allowing just two earned runs combined, but was rocked to close out August in two starts.

That winter, the Braves ended the Jenkins experiment and shipped him to the Texas Rangers.

In hindsight...

If you look at the Jason Heyward trade it wasn’t the immediate pieces that made it as valuable, but what there is now because of it. Jenkins was flipped for Luke Jackson, the reliever that Braves fans love or hate depending on which week it is, and Miller was turned into Aaron Blair, Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson. Now, three of those names have caused Braves fans plenty of anxiety over the years, but anyway you cut it, they’ve played a role on back-to-back National League East championship squads.

Jordan Walden was the other Braves’ piece in the Heyward deal. He came out on fire in his Cardinals debut but saw his season end in April with shoulder soreness. It was an injury he never recovered from and never pitched another inning in the bigs.

Heyward? He turned a solid 2015 with the Cardinals into a ludicrous contract with the Chicago Cubs through the 2023 season, and until last year, never looked much like the player he was those early years on the Braves.

As for Jenkins, he never threw a big-league pitch again. Just two weeks after being traded to the Rangers, he was released and signed on with the Cincinnati Reds. Two weeks after that, he headed to the San Diego Padres. By mid-season, he was out of baseball after pitching to a 7.75 ERA in 17 appearances for Triple-A El Paso allowing 71 runs with 56 strikeouts and 52 walks in just 82.1 innings pitched.