Pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jeff Allison have both had battles with drugs. Thankfully, they are both finally back on the mound and trying to resurrect their formerly-promising professional careers. Thanks to Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton’s well-publicized battle with narcotics as a minor leaguer, there is renewed hope that players dealing with personal demons can have productive Major League careers.
Jeffress, whom I touched on earlier this season, was signed out of a Virginia high school with the 16th overall pick of the 2006 draft. He struggled a bit in his short-season debut after the draft and then made just 18 appearances in 2007 due to suspensions related to drug use. Now reportedly clean, and with a new focus, Jeffress has improved his control significantly (down two runs per nine innings) over his debut season and is striking out more than 12 batters per nine innings. In High-A ball, the 20 year old allowed 65 hits in 79.1 innings with 102 strikeouts. He was recently promoted to Double-A where he allowed two runs and three walks in 2.1 innings in one start.
Allison has a steeper hill to climb in his return to professional baseball because he has missed far more baseball than Jeffress and also had a much more dangerous addiction. The 23-year-old pitcher was originally drafted 16th overall out of a Massachusetts high school in the 2003 draft. He appeared in three games that season and then missed the next year entirely. Allison returned for part of 2005 and made 17 starts with OK results, especially considering what he was going through off the field. Things fell apart for him again, though, and he missed all of 2006 and 2007. Allowed to return to professional baseball in 2008, Allison has expectedly had an inconsistent season in High-A ball. He has allowed 101 hits in 104.2 innings, along with 46 walks and 61 strikeouts. Left-handed batters are hitting .305 against him, while right-handed batters are managing just .221. With runners in scoring position, batters are scorching Allison for a .316 average, compared to .213 with the bases empty, so he may be trying to do too much.
Both players have taken encouraging first steps in their returns from drug abuse, but it still a long road ahead. I, for one, am rooting for both of them.
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