Jeremy Jeffress is a familiar name for Brewers' fans. Once the 16th overall pick of the 2006 Amateur Draft, Jeffress became more known for his suspensions than his performance on the field.
After a cup of coffee with the Brewers in 2010, Jeffress was shipped to Kansas City as a part of the deal that brought in Zach Greinke. Between 2011 and 2014 Jeffress jumped up and down between Triple-A and the Majors with the Royals and then the Toronto Blue Jays. The right-hander has a live arm and features a high-90's fastball, but has never been able to harness the pitch and has struggled with high walk rates throughout his career.
After the Blue Jays designated him for assignment in early April, the Brewers thought highly enough of Jeffress to give him a shot. Since being assigned to Nashville, Jeffress has dominated in 30.1 innings pitched. He has a 1.48 ERA with 34 strike outs. Perhaps most importantly, he has a walk rate of just 3.86%.
Still just 26-years-old Jeffress has made many adjustments in order to help his career, but the most important one is something that was beyond his control. Throughout the majority of his career, Jeffress had suffered from high anxiety and random, unpredictable seizures. Doctors had looked at him and prescribed medicines, but it was not until June of 2013 that Jeffress was properly diagnosed with juvenile epilepsy. Since the diagnosis, he has been put on the proper medications and his symptoms have been all but eliminated.
With both his mental and physical health in the clear, Jeffress has been able to focus his energy on fine tuning his pitching. After watching a majority of his outings this season, the differences in Jeffress' game are clear.
Working out of the bullpen has allowed Jeffress to go to a strictly two pitch arsenal, a two-seam fastball and a power curve. This has allowed him to fine tune his command of these pitches to a level he has never had before.
Despite throwing a two-seamer, his velocity is not lacking at all working in the 94-96 MPH range and pushing to 98 routinely. Jeffress fastball is very heavy meaning it has a ton of arm side run. His success with the pitch can be directly correlated to how well he is commanding it. While command is never going to be a plus for him, he has grown in that area and has been able to place the ball on either side of the plate against both lefties and righties. Where Jeffress has gotten into trouble is with the lack of depth on the pitch. At only 6'1" tall, Jeffress is on the shorter end of the spectrum so it is even more critical for him to get the ball in the lower half of the zone than somebody who would be taller. While his velocity allows him to get away with pitches in the mid to upper half, he cannot have consistent success living up there.
Possibly the biggest change in Jeffress' repertoire has been his ability to throw the power curve ball for a strike. In the past hitters could all but eliminate the offering and sit dead red on a fastball. So far in 2014 with Nashville, Jeffress has routinely pitched backwards starting pitchers with the curve ball and even doubling up on the pitch. Throwing the pitch for strikes has allowed him to use the pitch as a strikeout pitch too. His ability to throw the two strike variety of his curveball to the back foot of lefty hitters has been specifically impressive.
Jeffress has had success at the Triple-A level in past seasons that didn't translate to the big league level, so this is not a sure thing. However, I have followed his career closely and have never seen Jeffress pitch where he is striking out batters at a high rate while limiting walks and hard contact.
With all this said, the Brewers bullpen does not exactly have a lot of open spots and space will be even more limited when Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg return from injuries. Jeffress would need to be added to the 40-man roster as well in order to get a call-up, but that would not be a problem as the Brewers could transfer either Hiram Burgos or Johnny Hellweg to the 60 Day DL to make space.
Many have speculated that the Brewers may look to add one last bullpen arm to finalize, but with the current depth and a guy like Jeffress at Triple-A perhaps the Brewers can focus all their trade chips on offense.