Jeremy Jeffress was the final piece to the Zack Greinke trade last winter. After a bumpy road to the majors, he debuted in 2010 for the Brewers, pitching ten innings for Milwaukee, then making the Royals out of spring training.
Unfortunately, it’s been downhill from there.
Jeffress spent nearly seven weeks in the majors with Kansas City, putting up a 4.70 ERA in 15.1 innings. That’s not the worst number in the world, but it’s not very good either. The Royals have certainly done worse.
The issue with Jeffress, however, has always been corralling his million dollar arm and getting him to throw strikes.
Jeffress has had his share of off the field issues, as many are aware of by now. In this case, though, the combination of Jeffress’s control problems and the achievements of other Royals minor league relievers working their way up got Jeffress sent back to the minors.
The Royals led the American League in walks allowed, and over his short stint in the big leagues, Jeffress walked 11 batters – 6.5 per nine innings.
But okay, that’s a small sample size in the big leagues. Except that coming into the year, he’d walked 5.5 batters per nine innings pitched as a minor leaguer and then once getting sent to Omaha, he threw 24 innings, with a 6.8 BB/9. He also became hittable, allowing 10.1 H/9, 1.9 HR/9 and put up a 7.12 ERA.
Then the Royals sent him down another level, trying him out as a starter in Northwest Arkansas. He started in eight of his nine appearances in Double A, covering 31.2 innings with a 4.26 ERA. His walkrate didn’t improve by much, though, and worse, his strikeout rate dove to a 5.7 K/9.
Perhaps starting forced him to hold back with his stuff. If Jeffress is going to make it as a big leaguer, he’ll do so with the aid of a 100 mph fastball and a sharp curve. When in command, he could be dominant, however, such instances have been rare. Over six appearances from April 22 to May 5, Jeffress threw 6.1 innings, walking just two and striking out seven. His ERA over that span with the Royals was 2.84. However, shortly after, he gave up a pair of runs to Cleveland as part of their 19-1 trouncing of the Royals. In his next appearance, he recorded just one out, while walking three batters and giving up two runs and taking the loss.
He didn’t appear in another game for Kansas City the rest of the way.
What comes next is up to Jeffress. He’s shown that his stuff can carry him a long way, though, his control may never improve to be a trustworthy late-inning option. There’s still a place for him in the Royals bullpen. Anytime you can bring in a player who can hit triple digits and has a track record of striking out batters, it’s worth a second and sometimes third look.
Jeffress will get that shot in spring training, but the Royals bullpen is quickly becoming a crowded house (and a talented one at that). He’ll have to battle against Louis Coleman, Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Blake Wood, Tim Collins and even long shot options like Mario Santiago, Kevin Chapman or Buddy Baumann (and that’s assuming that Aaron Crow gets a shot at the starting rotation). There are only so many spots, and Jeffress will have to harness his command to get one. If not, he’ll be another fireballer who can’t throw enough strikes to stick around.