The jump from Class-A Advanced to to Double-A is considered to be one of the most difficult steps in a player’s minor league development. As Alex Skillin wrote for The Hardball Times in 2015, “Double-A, the thinking goes, is where a minor leaguer’s true ability is tested for the first time against competition that can also list “future big leaguer” as a realistic goal.” Now compound that with the difficulty of leaping all the way up and over Class-A Advanced altogether and going straight from A-ball to Double-A, and you have Thomas Jankins’s career path so far.
I first profiled Jankins for BP Milwaukee last summer, towards the end of his breakout campaign in Appleton with the Timber Rattlers. In his first full season as a professional, the now soon-to-be 23 year old compiled a 3.62 ERA and a sterling 55 DRA- across 141.2 innings, accompanied by a 121:32 K/BB ratio and 55 percent ground ball rate. The organization was so taken with his performance that the decision was made to skip Jankins over the Carolina League entirely and assign him straight to the starting rotation in Double-A Biloxi to start the 2018 season. So far, Jankins hasn’t appeared overwhelmed by the significant jump in competition; it’s been quite the opposite, in fact. After his most recent start on Wednesday, a performance of 6.3 shutout innings in a win against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, Jankins owns a 2.03 ERA through an even 31.0 innings with 26 punchouts against just seven free passes. Pitching wins don’t mean much, especially at the minor league level, but according to Shuckers’ broadcaster Garrett Greene, Jankins is the first hurler in team history to record a victory in his each of his first five starts.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Thomas Jankins about his career so far and what the future may hold:
Kyle Lesniewski: You were chosen by Milwaukee in the 13th round out of Quinnipiac University in 2016. Can you describe what that process was like?
Thomas Jankins: Getting drafted in 2016 was a dream come true for me. It was something that I had set as a legitimate goal for myself when I entered college and to achieve it was a special feeling. I was very fortunate to have such great teammates and coaches around me during my time at Quinnipiac, and I was able to develop my skills to a point where I felt like I was ready to compete at the next level. The Brewers were certainly among the teams that were interested at the time, so when they called in the 13th round it wasn’t a huge surprise. If I could go back and redo the process I might have changed my expectations for the draft so that I could have enjoyed the experience a little more. I honestly thought I was going to get picked earlier, but I think it was a humbling and motivating experience for me to go through. In the end, hearing your name called in any round means that you are going to get an opportunity and that’s all you can ever ask for. The only thing that went into my decision to forgo my senior year was that I promised my parents that I would eventually finish my degree. Thankfully, with the help of the Brewers, I have been able to finish my Bachelor’s degree in my first two off seasons which I’m extremely proud of.
KL: How has the transition to pro ball gone? What’s life like for a minor leaguer drafted in the later rounds?
TJ: The transition has certainly been one that has been filled with constant adjustments. From being a person that hadn’t left New England much in my life to living and playing in new places like Montana, Wisconsin, Arizona and Mississippi there were times early on where it felt a little overwhelming. I’m very lucky to have a great support system in family and friends who have helped me along the way and I’ve also learned to embrace the constant changes that most minor leaguers face. As far as being a later round draft pick, I try not to let that define me as a player. The Brewers are a tremendous organization in the amount of resources they dedicate to us as players, and I try to take advantage of that as much as I can. They also have shown that they are less concerned with what round you were picked in once you step foot between the lines, which is encouraging to us players because we understand it’s up to us to perform and advance our own careers.
KL: You’re from a cold weather climate and your school has produced only one major leaguer. Because of that, some scouting outlets saw you as sort of a “raw” prospect with untapped upside that could be unlocked in the pro ranks. What adjustments/improvements has the organization encouraged you to make since coming to Milwaukee?
TJ: I’m not sure “raw” would be the best way I would describe myself at the time but there were certainly a number of improvements in my game that had to be made. Consistency was a major theme in my first season as I had to learn what it meant to prepare at the professional level. Cleaning up my delivery, especially out of the stretch was a step I took in that first year to have more consistent stuff every time I took the mound. I think my second season was about me establishing my identity as a pitcher, there were certainly some bumps and bruises along the way but there were also many valuable lessons learned. I believe moving forward, I have a much better understanding of the player I have to become to be successful at the major league level.
KL: You were successful last season in Appleton, and the Brewers took the unconventional step of skipping you over Carolina and assigned you straight to Double-A in Biloxi. How did that conversation go, were you surprised by the assignment? Does it feel like a vote of confidence from the organization?
TJ: I came into spring training this year trying not to have any expectation of where I would be playing this season. In the past, I have let things like team assignments that are outside of my control have too much of an effect on my performance and this year I was trying to simplify my approach. I just knew that I was going to compete and train as hard as I could to give myself the best opportunity to make a team. When I learned I was assigned to Biloxi, I wouldn’t say I was surprised because I expect a lot out of myself but I knew that it was up to me to show that it wasn’t a mistake. The organization showed that they believed in me to handle it and I believed I could as well, it was just about using my preparation and knowledge from previous seasons as tools to help me make the jump.
KL: Can you provide a self scouting report? How do you like to attack hitters?
TJ: I would describe myself as pretty typical sinker ball pitcher. My velocity is not overwhelming so I have to rely on movement and control to manipulate hitters into swinging at the pitches I want them too. I think I am fairly aggressive in the way I attack hitters which often leads to early count contact, I’m a big believer in the 3 pitches or less mindset on the mound. My goal every game is to try and get into the 7th inning. I try to induce as many ground balls as I can using my sinker, and use my changeup and slider as more swing and miss type pitches. When my slider is on, I think it is my best pitch and hopefully the consistency with it continues to improve. Currently, I am working on using a cutter and hopefully that can become a major weapon for me down the road.
KL: What are your goals for this season and for your career? What strengths will carry Thomas Jankins to the major leagues?
TJ: My goals for the season are to develop a consistent 4th pitch that I can use while still making improvements on my other 3 offerings. Every year I also strive to lead the team in innings. I hope to continue to mature in how I handle both success and failure as I think I have a better understanding of the pacing of a full season after going through my first one last year. My goal for my career is to be a starting pitcher at the major league level, I certainly have a long way to go in my development but I believe I have what it takes to get there someday. I think one of my biggest strengths is self-awareness, I have a good grasp on the things that make me successful on the mound and also understand the many things I need to improve on. If I can continue to polish up the things I struggle with while maintaining who I am, I think that’s a pretty good recipe for success.