Brewers’ pitching prospect Jeremy Jeffress has one of the most electrifying fastballs in the minor leagues and perhaps in all of baseball. Still, he has struggled with controlling his electric stuff as well as his off-the-field lifestyle.
Jeffress, who was suspended 100 games for substance abuse in 2009, is one positive test away from a lifetime ban under the Minor League Drug Treatment and Prevention Program.
In this years’ Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game, Jeffress hit 101 MPH with his fastball, which was broadcast on the national stage by MLB Network. Overall, Jeffress has worked in 10.2 innings this fall striking out 12 and walking 11. That’s Jeffress in a nutshell. The Brewers’ first round pick in 2006, Jeffress has a minor league career 10.6 K/9, but a career 5.5 BB/9 including a 7.3 BB/9 in 56.1 innings at Double-A.
Is Jeffress’s fastball enough to make him an impact big leaguer? Are his control issues too much to overcome? Starter or possible closer? Prospect guru and founder of Projectprospect.com, Adam Foster, recently saw Jeffress pitch in the Arizona Fall League and helps us answer some of those questions.
CS: Jeffress’ fastball has been well publicized and he was the only pitcher in the AFL Rising Stars Game that MLB Network showed radar gun readings on (he hit 100 and 101 MPH). What type of movement does his fastball feature, if any?
AF: Jeffresses fastball has a surprising amount of movement for a pitch that can break 100 MPH. The first time I saw him, he was over-throwing, out-of-sync and his fastball was straight half the time. But it flashed some tail. The second time, the pitch was consistently tailing away from lefties, even at 101 MPH.
CS: How is his command of the fastball?
AF: His fastball command is below-average. His game is reaching back and letting it fly. While his windup is smooth and balanced, he rockets his arm toward the plate — as you can imagine with a guy who throws as hard as he does. He’s not Josh Fields in the College World Series with Georgia effort, but he’s also not in the business of finessing his way to outs. Right now, Jeffress is all about trying to overpower his victims. And that leads to pitches that are more around the strike zone than located in targeted quadrants of the strike zone.
CS: What about his secondary offerings? Can any pitch be described as a plus pitch?
AF: I’ve seen Jeffress flash a plus curveball. It’s a sharp, late-moving downer that breaks away a little from righties. Jeffress was almost all fastball in the Rising Stars Game, but he threw a filthy curve to Brandon Belt. Out of the pen, with his fastball and curve, he doesn’t need a third pitch.
CS: Jeffress worked out of the pen at double-A last season and posted a 15/2 K/BB rate in 14.1 innings after struggling with control for most of his career. There is a growing debate on whether Jeffress should continue to work in the pen as a possible future closer or be put back in the rotation to maximize his value. What side of the debate do you stand on?
AF: Given his below-average command, Jeffress would have a fair amount of implosions as a starter in the big leagues. Even out of the bullpen, he’s going to ignite some rallies against patient teams, unless he improves his command. I wouldn’t waste time trying to stretch him out and allow him to gain the polish to be a starter. He may never surface as a starter who you can give the ball to in the big leagues. He’s a reliever for me.
CS: In your opinion, what is Jeffress’ ceiling in the major leagues?
AF: With two electric offerings, Jeffress has a chance to become one of the top bullpen arms in baseball. Honestly though, I think his radar gun readings have generated more hype than he’s going to be able to back up. Jeffress has demonstrated poor command in each of the five seasons he’s pitched professionally. Will he sell tickets? Probably. Is he fun to watch? Definitely. Is he a guy you can trust with the ball with the game on the line? I don’t think he’s reached that point yet. He does have time on his side, though.