Brewers re-sign Jeffress to Minors deal

The Brewers have agreed to a Minor League deal with former first-round draft pick Jeremy Jeffress, marking a fresh start for a pitcher whose first tenure included two suspensions for marijuana.

Jeffress had been let go by the Blue Jays last week after allowing four earned runs on eight hits and three walks in his first 3 1/3 innings of 2014 but still averaged better than 97 mph with his four-seam fastball. He will report to the Brewers’ complex in Phoenix first, and eventually make his way to Triple-A Nashville’s bullpen.

“He still has that plus arm that you can’t find everywhere,” Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash said. “So the opportunity to collect a player with this skill set, especially at no acquisition fee, is intriguing to us. We have the history with him, obviously. We know him better than most, so we know what his support system needs to be. I think it’s a good risk.”

Since he is no longer on a 40-man roster, Jeffress is again subject to discipline should he test positive for marijuana, and one more positive test would mean a lifetime ban. The White Sox and Rays were among the dozen clubs to show interest in Jeffress before he struck a deal with the Brewers to reunite with some of his previous support system, including Ash, general manager Doug Melvin and farm director Reid Nichols, each of whom played significant roles in Jeffress’ difficult path to the Major Leagues.

Now 26, Jeffress was 18 years old when the Brewers made him the 16th overall pick in the 2006 Draft and signed him for a $1.55 million bonus. He was promising on the mound but had trouble off it, and was sent to league-mandated counseling after testing positive for a “drug of abuse” — Jeffress has since said it was marijuana — sometime early in his professional career. He garnered a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball in August 2007 after marijuana was again detected in his system, and a 100-game suspension in June 2009 after a third positive test. Along the way, he developed high anxiety and seizures, which Jeffress did not get under control until last year when he was diagnosed with juvenile epilepsy.

The Brewers added Jeffress to their roster in June 2010 after he returned from suspension and converted to relief. Jeffress finished that year with a 10-game stint in the Majors, posting a 2.70 ERA in 10 games, before being packaged with other prospects and traded to the Royals for Zack Greinke in December 2010.

At the time, Jeffress was “getting better,” Ash said. “I think he is much more mature now. He has a child. He has, I think, a different view of life. He has his health in order in terms of medications that he needs to take for his seizures and so on. He hasn’t had one for almost a year now. All of those things, and because of his ability, frankly, he felt good about coming back here. I’m told he had a number of opportunities to go other places, and he chose to come here because he felt the support system is in place and he had some unfonished business here. He wants to succeed as a Brewer.”

In 40 Major League appearances with the Royals and Blue Jays since the trade, Jeffress has a 4.89 ERA in 40 relief appearances, with 42 strikeouts and 32 walks in 42 1/3 innings.

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