The minor league regular season will be coming to a close within the next two weeks, and three out of the four full-season teams that are associated with the Milwaukee Brewers are still legitimately competing for a playoff spot. The Class-AAA Colorado Springs Sky Sox have a 9.0 game divisional lead and look like a good bet to go on to the postseason, while Class-AA Biloxi is 3.5 games out, and Class-Advanced A Carolina is 6.5 games behind thanks to a rough August so far.
The one full-season club that hasn’t made much noise all season long is the lower A ball club, Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. The T-Rats sit at a lowly 53-75 even after last night’s 4-3 win over Peoria, which places them as the 2nd-worst team among the 16 squads that comprise the Midwest League. Their struggles have come on both sides of the ball, as Wisconsin owns the worst collective OPS in the league (.644) as well as the 3rd-worst earned run average (4.45).
It hasn’t been all disappointment for Wisconsin this season, however. A few of the prospects on the roster have stood out this season, including one of the top performing pitchers in the Midwest League this season.
Thomas Jankins was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 13th round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, a school known more for its prominent polling institute than for its athletic programs. Jankins was the third-highest selection from the school since the draft moved to June in 1986; the university has sent only one alumnus – longtime reliever Turk Wendell – all the way to the major leagues. If early indications mean anything, however, Jankins may be well on his way to joining Wendell by appearing in the big leagues someday.
After inking for a $100,000 bonus, Jankins hit the ground running as a professional. He began his career in Helena, as collegiate signees often do after the draft. In four games with the Brewers, the righty allowed four runs in 11.7 innings, but a nifty 14:2 K/BB ratio helped prompt a bump up to Wisconsin to finish out 2016. He made eight appearances down the stretch for the Timber Rattlers last season, compiling a 3.20 ERA/3.51 DRA with 21 strikeouts and 6 walks in 25.3 innings pitched.
Assigned back to Wisconsin for his age-21 season in 2017, Jankins has shone for the Timber Rattlers throughout the year. He’s been a model of consistency and durability, making 25 appearances and pitching a league-leading 131.7 innings. Jankins’s 3.76 ERA is easily better than the league average of 3.94, but even that doesn’t accurately depict how well he’s pitched this season. His 2.76 Deserved Run Average translates to a DRA- of 60.5, or 39.5 percent better than the Midwest League average. That means he’s been one of the most effective starters on the circuit in 2017.
Jankins possesses a starter’s build at 6’3″ tall and 200 lbs, and creates quite a difficult downward plane for hitters by coming from a high three-quarters arm slot, nearly over the top. He uses this angle to help generate plenty of ground balls, which he’s induced at a 56 percent rate this season. According to a pre-draft report from Baseball America, on a good night Jankins was sitting in the 89-92 MPH range with his fastball coming out of Quinnipiac, and could touch 93 MPH at times. BA praised his fastball for having above-average sink and noted that he’d shown flashes with both a curveball and changeup. Because of his lack of exposure to high-level coaching, Jankins was viewed as “projectable” by many scouts when he was coming out.
— Brewers Prospects (@BrewerProspect) July 22, 2017
The Brewers were obviously intrigued by what they saw in Jankins, and things have been working out quite well thus far. His stuff doesn’t jump off the board, but Jankins produces quality outing after quality outing by keeping the ball on the ground and limiting free passes – he’s walked just 5.4 percent of the hitters he’s faced this season, and his 2.1 BB/9 ranks 8th-best among Midwest League arms that have thrown at least 100 innings. He can miss a bat or two as well with a 20.3 percent strikeout rate this season, though his 7.6 K/9 does sit just below the league average. Jankins has been pitching especially well of late; he’s posted a 2.29 ERA over his last 63.0 innings and was Wisconsin’s pitcher of the month for July.
The Milwaukee Brewers have had some notable successes with popping collegiate arms in the later arms of the MLB Draft in recent years. Jacob Barnes (14th round, 2011), Brent Suter (31st round, 2012), and Brandon Woodruff (11th round, 2014) have all played roles on the big league club this season. In the minors, meanwhile, Jon Perrin (27th round, 2015) and Quintin Torres-Costa (35th round, 2015) have already shot through the system up to Class-AA this season, and both Jankins and Cameron Roegner (22nd round, 2016) are having success in Wisconsin.
It just goes to show that every pick matters in the MLB Draft. Even in the later rounds, an org can find future setup men (Barnes), swingmen/back end starters (Suter), or even a top pitching prospect if things go well developmentally (Woodruff). Time will tell if Thomas Jankins falls into one of those categories, but based off his physical and statistical profile, he’s certainly a player to keep an eye on going forward.