Thursday, November 6, 2003
Updated: January 26, 7:33 PM ET
Angels prospect Bobby Jenks
By John Sickels
Special to ESPN.com
Position: RHP Height: 6-3 Weight: 240 Born: 3/14/81 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Bobby Jenks was drafted in the fifth round in 2000, out of high school in Bothell, Washington. Academically ineligible in high school, he would have been a first-round pick on pure talent alone. But most teams were concerned about his background, seeing him as Nuke LaLoosh come to life, a "free spirit" with questionable work habits but incredible natural talent. He posted a 7.86 ERA in rookie ball, then a 5.27 ERA in 21 starts at Class A Cedar Rapids in 2001. In '02, he made substantial progress on the field, but missed several weeks due to a suspension for "violating team policy." In '03, he turned things around, demonstrating more mature behavior off the field and a much better feel for pitching. His work in the Texas League solidified his position as one of baseball's most intriguing pitching prospects.
Physically, Jenks has everything. His fastball can reach 100 mph on a good day, and even on a "bad" day it's in the 94-96 range, with movement. It was allegedly clocked at 102 mph in 2001. He also has an excellent curveball, and he's learned to throw strikes with it. He even has a good changeup that he's starting to use more. With three plus pitches, Jenks can overpower just about anyone when he keeps the ball in the strike zone. His biggest problem has been mechanics. While his delivery is smooth when done correctly, he doesn't always repeat it well, leading to control problems and concerns about injury. Jenks made huge strides in 2003, learning how to change speeds more effectively and keep people off balance, making a transition from thrower to pitcher. He still has work to do improving his command, but progress has been considerable. Jenks is a big guy, and still needs work on the finer points of fielding his position and holding runners. His work habits are erratic, sometimes good and sometimes not. He is not a rocket scientist and never will be, but he's shown flashes of good pitching instincts.
Jenks dominated the Texas League in 2003, with extremely impressive K/IP and H/IP ratios. He still walks too many batters, but it didn't hurt him much at Arkansas, and his performance was substantially better than in '02 or '01. He keeps the ball down, and hitters have a very hard time driving the ball against him. He still needs to get his walk rate down to prosper at higher levels.
Some scouts worry that Jenks' inconsistent mechanics will lead to arm trouble, and indeed he missed several weeks this year with a stress injury in his elbow. He recovered fully and pitched great down the stretch, but the elbow bears watching.
What to expect
This guy has everything it takes, physically, to be a superstar. The question is, will he develop the emotional maturity to take advantage of his talent? Psychology tells us that such things are notoriously difficult to predict. If Jenks keeps his head screwed on straight, and if his elbow is OK, he will be a special pitcher. But those "ifs" are big ones. The risks here are substantial, but so is the potential reward.
John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his Web site, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be published this fall by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.