By: Brad Krause
Milwaukee Brewers second base prospect Renaldo Jenkins is known to his family and friends as Ra Ra.
In the future, Brewers fans might be more inclined to spell that Rah-Rah, as his positive attitude, team-first mentality and tireless work ethic make Jenkins a very easy player to root for.
The nickname is one he’s had for years. “Growing up, my little cousin, he couldn’t say Renaldo and it always came out as Ra Ra,” explained Jenkins “so it’s kind of a family nickname that just stuck. And when I got drafted I think my scout had mentioned it to someone in the organization, so it’s just followed me everywhere.”
Jenkins was born in Stamford, Connecticut, but his family moved to Georgia at an early age for his father’s work. Growing up in Georgia, he naturally became an Atlanta Braves fan, but his early childhood ties to the northeast also made him a fan of the New York Yankees and Derek Jeter.
You might think Jenkins would model himself after the Yankees shortstop, but it’s actually another second baseman from Georgia that he would like to emulate on the diamond. “I actually tried to pattern my game a little bit after Brandon Phillips (of the Cincinnati Reds)” said Jenkins. “I just like the way he plays the game so I try to pattern myself after him.”
Jenkins was a multi-sport athlete in high school. Besides being a baseball star, he played basketball for two years, leading his team in scoring as a sophomore, and was the starting quarterback on the football team.
He had an offer from The Air Force Academy to play college football, but ultimately decided on baseball. “Football was definitely a consideration” Jenkins said, “but when I sat down and I thought about it, I just felt that I had a better chance to succeed in baseball so I think by my senior year I had made up in my mind that I was going to pursue baseball.”
That decision turned out to be a sound one as Jenkins earned a scholarship offer to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). In June of 2011, following his senior year of high school, the Brewers selected Jenkins in the 19th round of the MLB draft.
That left Renaldo with another tough decision to make. Would he attend college at UAB for a few years and hope to be drafted again after his junior season, or would he go pro and join the Brewers. It wasn’t a decision that Jenkins took lightly. “It was actually a very close decision” explained Jenkins. “(I) took a little time to myself, just to sit down with my parents and my family and talk. And one of the biggest things my dad told me was, it’s my decision and he let me make the decision myself.
I just told him I wanted to play baseball and so that was the ultimate decision. I felt that I’d get better with three years of pro ball than three years of college and I really just wanted to play baseball and not have to worry about anything else at the time. (UAB) was a really nice school. I enjoyed the campus. I enjoyed the people there, the coaches. It’s just this opportunity came up and I felt I couldn’t let it pass me by.”
After signing with the Brewers, Jenkins began his career with Milwaukee’s team in Maryvale in the Arizona Rookie League, where he hit .253 in 45 games in 2011. He returned to Maryvale in 2012 and proceeded to hit .299 in 29 games before earning a late season promotion to Helena.
Drafted as a shortstop, the athletic middle infielder has seen time at second base, third base and shortstop. That versatility will certainly come in handy, but Jenkins says he just wants to be in the lineup “for the most part in extended I’ve been playing second base every day. I don’t really prefer anywhere. I just want to be in the lineup wherever I can contribute to the team.”
Jenkins hopes to contribute in all areas on the field as his career progresses. When asked about his strengths on the diamond, he responded . “I’d say my base running is probably my (biggest) strength. The bat’s coming around, the defense is coming around, but I’d probably go with base running.”
After swiping 15 bags his first season Jenkins went 10 for 11 in stolen base attempts in 2012. “I feel like (even) if you’re not hitting, you can always run the bases” Jenkins said. “Our base running coordinator Reggie Williams tells us all the time, base running is an art that a lot of people don’t take serious, but you can actually help your team out a lot. So when it comes to stealing bases, I definitely try to put myself in a good position to help the team by getting in scoring position.”
Jenkins knows his game is a work in progress, saying “I need to work on everything. I feel like you can’t get complacent, you just gotta keep trying to get better.” To his credit, he’s willing to put in the work it takes to keep getting better. “In extended I’m up at 5:20 (am) for transportation and we’re on the field practicing at about 7:30. We’ll have a little light workout and (then) we’ll have a 10:30 game.”
Those hours can make for some long days at the Brewers Maryvale complex, but the results are already showing up. In 2011 Jenkins struck out 49 times in 166 at bats, or once every 3.39 at bats.
In 2012 he more than cut that number in half, striking out just 13 times in 97 at bats, or once every 7.46 at bats. “I felt like I had an okay year for my first year” Jenkins said, “but the one thing I was disappointed in was how many strikeouts I had. And so I just really, in the offseason, focused on putting the ball in play and having a better two strike approach. That way if you put the ball in play you have a chance to get on base.”
Jenkins, who hit his first home run (a walk-off no less) on Friday in an extended spring training game, is likely ticketed for Helena when the Brewers Pioneer League affiliate begins play in mid-June.
It’s the next step on Ra Ra’s climb up the Brewers organizational ladder and one he says he’s ready for. ” The truth of the matter is, you always feel that you can compete at the next level, so you just gotta go out and work hard and play every day.”