Cubs Take A Chance On Ryan Jensen
The Cubs registered the first real surprise in the first round of the 2019 draft, taking Fresno State righthander Ryan Jensen with the No. 27 pick and betting that their internal pitching systems are finally up to speed.
While bonus money, the available player pool and prior selections always factor into each pick, Jensen also represents an organizational shift that has been years in the making. The Cubs believed enough in Jensen’s special fastball—and the strides that they’ve made in talent evaluation and player development—to choose a pitcher who ranked No. 109 on the Baseball America draft board.
Five years ago, the Cubs probably wouldn’t have rated Jensen all that high, either. But the organization's well-documented struggles with homegrown pitchers forced them to think outside the box and take more chances in the draft.
"Ryan Jensen certainly hit the nail on the head,” senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod said. "First and foremost, it is a big velocity guy, a big lively fastball . . . He’s not the Jon Lester-looking frame. He’s just a 6-foot guy, but he’s strong (and) athletic.
"I’d say his mechanics aren’t what people would call typical, just because he’s a little bit deeper in the back with his arm stroke. So this is that player who I’ve talked about in past years that we probably wouldn’t have taken.”
Jensen—the Mountain West Conference pitcher of the year and conference tournament MVP—went 12-1, 2.88 this year with 107 strikeouts and 27 walks in 100 innings.
The Cubs quickly signed Jensen to a below-slot $2 million deal, eager to get him oriented at their Arizona complex and into the organization’s "pitch lab.”
"He's more than just a power arm,” McLeod said. "He has a lot of traits that we were looking for this year in terms of athleticism and (plus) pitch traits. Obviously, he does throw hard. He’s in the upper 90s, near 100 (mph). He’s carrying that velocity deep into starts. We love the life to the heater.
"We really like the projection to his slider. We like the development path that we’ve seen him making so far this year, the improvements that were made and the combination of strike-throwing, missing bats and getting the ball on the ground with that power sinker.”
— Two years ago, with the same 27th overall pick in the draft, the Cubs selected Brendon Little and viewed the junior college lefty as a long-term project. Little posted a 5.15 ERA at low Class A South Bend last year, and then a lat strain sidelined him at the beginning of this season. Little had to wait until June 19 to make his first appearance this year in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
"He’s just on a slow build,” McLeod said. "He's another one who's obviously disappointing for us organizationally. Certainly for him, it’s disappointing. But we’re just going to go real slow with him. We’re not feeling any need to rush him by any means.”
— On the other hand, righthander Tyson Miller is emerging as a breakout prospect at Double-A Tennessee, posting a 2.51 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP through 13 starts and earning a Southern League all-star selection with his ability to induce soft contact.
"This year was just really buying into the whole analytics of pitching,” Miller said, "the science behind it and all the pitch tunneling, where to locate the fastball and where the slider works off that (and then using) the curveball.”
Patrick Mooney is a senior writer for The Athletic Chicago