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Former first-rounder Jeffress returns to Brewers

PITTSBURGH -- The Brewers have re-signed former first-round Draft pick Jeremy Jeffress to a Minor League contract, marking a fresh start for a pitcher whose first tenure with the organization included two suspensions for marijuana use and trouble with seizures.

Jeffress, 26, 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. Since he has not pitched since April 4, Jeffress will first report to the Brewers' complex in Phoenix, and he'll 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."

He is no longer on a 40-man roster, so Jeffress is 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 or so 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.

He was 18 years old when the Brewers made Jeffress the 16th overall pick in the 2006 Draft and gave him a $1.55 million bonus. He was promising on the mound but had trouble off it, beginning when Jeffress was sent to league-mandated counseling after testing positive for a "drug of abuse" -- he said later it was marijuana -- sometime in late 2006 or early '07. 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, Jeffress began to struggle with high anxiety, trouble sleeping and seizures, which Jeffress did not get under control until last year, when he was diagnosed with juvenile epilepsy.

He was still struggling with those issues when the Brewers added Jeffress to their roster in June 2010, a reward, club officials said at the time, for his good behavior during his long suspension. Jeffress converted to relief and finished that season 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.

"I think he is much more mature now," Ash said. "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 unfinished 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.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy.
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