Prospect Report: Ryan Jensen

Premium velocity righthander is scratching surface of potential

Ryan Jensen by Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22)

How acquired: MLB Draft, 1st Round, 2019

The 2019 Cubs draft featured a remarkably different strategy than recent memory. They were projected to pick numerous safe college bats in the first round such as Michael Busch, Kody Hoese, and Logan Davidson. But the Cubs plan entering the draft was to debut a riskier plan. Even on Twitter there was a mild surprise as Jeff Passan announced the Cubs were taking high school right hander, Matthew Allan. High school righthanders are one of the riskiest demographic in the draft so to even see the Cubs prominently connected to a player in that profile raised eyebrows. Instead Rob Manfred stood up at the podium to announce… Ryan Jensen, RHP from Fresno State University. What just happened?

What just happened was the Cubs had started a long-overdue process to go all in on player development. They’d be willing to accept some higher risk if it meant higher reward. And Ryan Jensen is that type of profile. Possessing a similar build to 2020 #3 overall pick, Max Meyer, Jensen offers significant upside and a fallback as a potentially elite reliever.

Mechanics and Control

Jensen begins from the windup with a step back with his left leg before gathering himself. He’s fairly balanced through the hand break before exploding towards the hitter. He holds the ball off to an angle behind his body. It’s difficult for a righty to pick up, but left handed batters get a long look at it. Despite coming from a 6’0″ frame, the motion is a lot of arms and legs and there’s some effort there. I’m not concerned with the frame. A lot was made of his shorter stature (I’m 5’5″, for reference, so all of you above 5’10” might as well be trees to me), however with the progression of pitching staffs in MLB becoming less reliant on innings, a greater focus on impact stuff, vertical approach angle (how “flat” a pitch appears as it crosses the plate), and athletic deliveries can allow shorter pitchers to succeed. See below for screen caps of Ryan Jensen’s delivery.

Jensen struggled with command during his first two years at Fresno State. Racking up 72 walks in 111 innings, Jensen turned the table in 2019. In 100 innings during his junior year, he only walked 27 batters. The timing couldn’t be more perfect as he stormed up draft boards. Any semblance of control dissipated in pro ball, but I wouldn’t put much stock into future projection from 12 innings at Eugene. The talent is there to have average control and command. I’d currently put a below-average future projection on command, but the stuff can be so electric that it could still play in a big way.

Pitching Arsenal

Fastball: Jensen is the rare pitcher who could probably succeed on one pitch (if you count his 4-seam and 2-seam as one). For the purposes of this evaluation we won’t. Jensen sits upper 90s deep into starts with his four seam fastball. It’s a straight pitch, but when pitching up in the zone it can be an effective weapon. In shorter stints, Jensen is closer to triple digits.

2-Seam: This is currently Jensen’s best pitch. It still sits mid 90s, but features late life moving in to righties. The Cubs have had success incorporating 2-seam fastballs into pitching repertoires, especially when they can play off plus sliders. The natural sink from this pitch is pretty impressive. I have this as a plus pitch right now.

Slider: Jensen’s slider can be absolutely nasty, but the command is so erratic. In short outings at Eugene, Jensen would pair upper 90s fastball with a hard slider in the 88-90 mph range. It really fell off the table. It flashes plus, but the command right now gives me pause.

Curveball: From his Fresno St days, Jensen would throw a slower breaking ball that looked like a weaker curve. I didn’t see any evidence of it when he got to professional ball, but it appears that the Cubs are focused on Jensen incorporating a new breaking ball into his arsenal. Combining the following two quotes from The Athletic’s excellent reporting, this curveball is coming along.

Jensen threw around 60 simulated innings during the shutdown and experimented with changeup grips and shaping a new curveball.

Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription required and encouraged)

Ryan Jensen, has an electric fastball, but the Cubs are thrilled about the development of his secondary pitches, a focus this past summer. The expectation is he’ll bring a much-improved breaking ball to the mound this season.

Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription required and encouraged)

Edit: According to Bobby Basham, Chicago Cubs Director of Player Development, in an interview with confirmed the pitch is indeed a spike-curve

[Jensen] has used this spike curve and with that guy, anything that comes out of his hands is going to be power, right?

Bobby Basham, Chicago Cubs Director of Player Development

Changeup: A work in progress, but important for his future development. Even a below-average changeup pairing with the movement off the 2-seam and slider would benefit his profile. No projection at this time.

You can see what the Cubs pitching development infrastructure is working with Ryan Jensen to build: A four-seam fastball/curveball and a 2-seam/slider/(ideally)changeup to each play off each other. If that combination sounds familiar, it’s very similar to Adbert Alzolay’s repertoire in the later stretches of 2020 after he added his 2-seam and slider.

Future Projection

As I said in the review for Brailyn Marquez, I would still bet on Jensen landing as an elite reliever with the info presently available. But it’s so difficult to predict future role without 2020 game footage. Until we see how the new breaking ball and changeup play in live at-bats, we have to just evaluate based on the fastball(s)/slider combo. There’s some big time potential there, but it’s incredibly challenging to succeed in the starting rotation with just two(ish) pitches. Ultimately 2021 will help decide Jensen’s future. If he’s utilized his time in quarantine to hone his mechanics and pitching repertoire, Jensen has significant potential as a starting pitcher. The reports trickling in during the shutdown are encouraging. I can’t wait to see Ryan Jensen in action in 2021.

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