Editor’s note: Each day this week, Tony Lee will examine one part of Bobby Jenks‘ journey to major league stardom. On Monday, Jenks’ high school troubles and unappetizing first taste of professional baseball were covered.
Minor league careers are laced with inconsistencies. Young players often ride the roller coaster as their skills develop, but their competition is altered from level to level.
While the Anaheim Angels were on their way to winning their first World Series title in 2002, Bobby Jenks, one of their fireballing youths, was firmly settled in the front car of that roller coaster.
With Jenks, however, there were many moments when the highs on the field coincided with lows off of it, and vice versa. For a while, nothing seemed to match up.
When the big club won it all, Jenks was 21 and finishing up his third season in the system, after which he was 11-25 with a 5.46 ERA as a pro. He walked far too many batters, unable to harness a triple-digit fastball.
At the very least, the right-hander was healthy and not unlike many other prospects at the time, simply looking to put it all together.
He did in 2003, but the slow climb to the top of the tracks preceded the fast plunge into misery. In 16 starts for the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, Jenks was a dominant 7-2 with a 2.17 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 83 innings. The walks were still high, but the ability to be something special was evident.
So, too, was an off-the-field reputation of revelry, rambunctiousness and drinking that was brought to the attention of the nation through a now-notorious ESPN the Magazine article. Here was a talented pitcher coming into his own for one of the premier organizations in baseball, yet years before he would throw a pitch in the major leagues, he was taking on a potentially damaging stigma.
Whether what was written about Jenks? inability to curb his appetite was warranted or truthful is another story. For his part, Jenks denies some of what was said, and has often contended it was blown out of proportion. What is clear is that his climb to the majors became that much more difficult.
An elbow injury during that same season cut short his remarkable run with Arkansas and left the article to speak more for Jenks than his performance could. The roller coaster was rocketing downhill.
Years later, when excerpts from a book by a one-time minor league teammate discussed some of the same issues contained in the ESPN article, Jenks was prompted to reply.
“You know what? My friends and family that know me. They know the truth,” Jenks said before the 2009 season. “They know none of it is true.”
When the stories first broke and Jenks was injured, he could do little on the field to help his cause. The following season didn?t do much to give him a boost.
Still on the mend and still suck in the role of a starter — one which would never yield long-term success — Jenks threw a grand total of 19 1/3 innings at three different levels, giving up 22 earned runs. The Angels put him on waivers, sending the wayward righty with that one incredible year into the great unknown, where some other team would take on the project turned top prospect turned project again.
Some other team would, and they?d finally get him off that roller coaster.
Check out Wednesday?s story on Jenks and his remarkable splash in Chicago in 2005.