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Braves prospect interviews: Tyrell Jenkins

Chatting with one of the newly-acquired Braves prospects from a busy offseason, right-handed pitcher Tyrell Jenkins.

Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Although it seems like it happened forever ago, the Braves traded Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden last November in exchange for Shelby Miller and a prospect by the name of Tyrell Jenkins. Jenkins, a twenty-two year old Texas native, is a right-handed starting pitcher whose stuff at the Arizona Fall League turned heads.

I chatted with Tyrell last week over the phone about a variety of baseball-related topics. Without further ado, here's our conversation.

Talking Chop: What was your reaction to the trade to the Braves?

Tyrell Jenkins: You know, for the first five minutes, I was almost heartbroken. The Cardinals were the team that gave me a chance and drafted me. But then I sat back, thought about what happened, and realized that it was just business. I knew that something was going to happen, either being put on the 40-man roster with the Cardinals or being traded. I sort of felt like a prospect in between, and I felt kind of expendable with other guys in the system such as Rob Kaminsky and Anthony Reyes, as well as the depth that (the Cardinals) have in the Majors. I didn't expect (the trade), though after I found out who I got traded for, I was ecstatic.

TC: I know that you played with some current members of the organization in the Arizona Fall League. Did anyone or has anyone in the organization reached out to you?

TJ: It's funny because the two guys who reached out were Aaron Northcraft and David Carpenter, who were then traded. I grew up playing travel ball with Matt Lipka, who reached out, and it'll be good playing with him. I haven't really reached out to many yet, but I've followed some on Twitter and some have followed me back. We'll wait for the Caravan and then hopefully I can get to meet some of them without them thinking that I'm a creep.

TC: How do you feel health-wise after coming back from shoulder surgery?

TJ: I finally feel healthy and I finally feel like I can showcase my potential being healthy and having experience from pitching this past year. I kind of knew working out this offseason that I'd come back healthy. Before my injury, I couldn't even do a pull-up, but I've been working on my lats and back muscles, which I feel will help me. I'm pretty maxed out in the weight room, and I'm throwing strong and I feel that I can make an impact on the team this year.

TC: What do you attribute your strong AFL performance to? Regaining feel and strength after your injury, or something else?

TJ: It was regaining feel and strength and also having confidence to go out there and let it go without worrying about getting hurt. The first time I came back from my shoulder injury, I thought I was ok, but then I tore it again and had some hesitation coming back at the start of this season. But then, during the last couple of weeks of the regular season, I got the feel for my pitching back and was able to air it out and feel comfortable pitching again. Then, out in the fall league, I was able to take that confidence and show what I could do against some upper-level guys and impressed some people, and now, here I am with you guys.

TC: You were a Baylor football commitment before signing with the Cardinals. How do you feel that your athleticism aids you as a pitcher?

TJ: I kind of feel like it just lets me go out there and pitch. I don't think too much; I feel like I know my body and my mechanics. For example, if I cut the ball across my body, I know my glove side flew open. If I'm up and in, I know that my release point was either too high or too early. To the average person, it sounds confusing, but I just know the feeling of it. I know how to make adjustments and stay deep into games. That's just how my body works. Everything feels natural and easy

TC: What are your biggest strengths as a pitcher? Which pitches do you feel most comfortable with?

TJ: I think my biggest strength is being deceptive. With my leg kick and with my loose arm, or how I make the ball whip coming out, the ball's hard to pick up. With my 4 and 2 seam also, guys have told me that they never know if a pitch will be straight or if it'll have bite to it. With that, plus my change and curve, guys don't know what's coming. Also, related to my strength, I feel that I know that I can run it up and throw harder when I need to. In terms of my weaknesses right now, it's my pickoff move to first. It seems like everything goes to s*** when I throw it over to first. (editors's note: I suggested that Tyrell spend some time with Julio Teheran in Spring Training to work on this, which was received enthusiastically.)

TC: Just to clarify-do you currently throw a slider or a curveball, or some combination of both?

TJ: It is a true curveball. In the fall league, I was throwing two different breaking balls. I was throwing a curve and a slurve, more to lefties. I was testing the waters with it. Sometimes, I'd try to throw it 12-6, but I could also make it look like a slider or a curve. I'm not sure if I'm going to stick with (the slurve), but yeah, for the most part, it's a curveball.

TC: Is the development of your changeup a focal point for you?

TJ: Yes, very much so, I feel like I had a very good feel for it in the fall league. I'm talking 3-0, 3-1, 2-1 counts, any time I needed it, I felt like I could throw it. Now, I think it's about consistently keeping that up and being able to have it as a weapon going down the road.

TC: What are some improvements that you'd like to make in 2015 or goals that you have?

TJ: Of course, everyone's goal is to make it to Atlanta. Other than that, just going deep into games. My last eight starts were six innings plus, and 7 of 8 were seven plus. I want to show the guys upstairs that I can be that workhorse. Other than that, just staying healthy, although I know that I can't necessarily control it. I just want to do what I can not to get hurt.

It was a pleasure speaking with Tyrell, who is clearly a bright and enthusiastic person who seems to have a great deal of genuine passion about the game of baseball. Although Jenkins has struggled with some injuries to this point in his career and the statistics that he's produced have largely not been eye-popping, I still think that he has a chance to be an impact Major League starter provided that he can stay healthy, gain experience, and be more consistent. Pitchers who can throw in the mid-90's with an athletic, 6'4" frame and flash nasty curveballs don't grow on trees. Lots of people, myself included, can become a bit disillusioned with a prospect if he doesn't follow a simple, "normal" path which includes finding quick and immediate success without setbacks at each level. Jenkins doesn't fit this mold, but he certainly has loads of potential and could become an important piece of Atlanta's pitching staff in the near future if things break correctly. He'll presumably be part of an exciting Mississippi rotation in 2015, which should also include Lucas Sims and Wes Parsons.

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