One of the more common conversations among sports fans, writers, and athletes is asking the "what ifs" of a player.
What if Ted Williams hadn't lost five years to military service in the prime of his career? Could he have topped 600 homers, or topped .406?
What if Mickey Mantle didn't drink his liver into oblivion? Could he have surpassed Roger Maris in 1961, or passed the Babe's hallowed 714 mark before the consistently healthy Hank Aaron?
What if Doc Gooden hadn't thrown away his career to booze and cocaine? Could he have surpassed Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, or Randy Johnson as the greatest pitcher of this generation?
Sadly, the "what if" question is being asked of Jeremy Jeffress before his major league career has even started. Jeffress failed his third drug test in June, and will serve a 100-game suspension. According to his agent, he will re-enter rehab (his first stint came after his 50-game suspension in 2007) to deal with his ongoing problem with marijuana.
To say that Jeffress is talented is an understatement. He was the organization's "Minor League Pitcher of the Year" last year. He can hit 102 mph on the radar gun. He has a cutter and curve which earned him comparisons to Gallardo. Clearly there's a reason he was a first-round pick three years ago.
However, as the class of 2006's Evan Longoria, Tim Lincecum, and Joba Chamberlain have thrived in the big leagues, Jeffress struggled in AA before being sent to Brevard County. The book on him has always been that he's very raw, but it's tough to get the needed reps if you're not allowed near the mound for 150 games in the minors.
Now, you might say that a) weed isn't tested in the majors (as Geovanny Soto aptly proved), b) it's not exactly HGH or "The Clear", and c) plenty of major leaguers have done recreational drugs and succeeded.
But Jeffress' struggles to control his need for weed in the low minors is a clear red flag that he is not at all capable of handling the bigger pressures and perks of the majors right now.
That is not to say he will never make it to Milwaukee. Josh Hamilton failed drug tests three times in the minors before turning his life around, and thriving with the Rangers. But Jeffress' next failed test will be his last—a lifetime ban is the next elevated consequence.
And if Jeffress is banned, then we as Brewers fans should shake our heads. Not in anger or indignation, but sadness. Take the signing bonus and talent away (like the weed is currently doing), and you have a kid who can't get his act together, and uses a substance to escape his problems.
And all he would have left is that lingering question that everyone has if they cannot reach their potential.
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