Jensen Pick Ushers in New Organizational Draft Philosophy for Cubs

When Ryan Jensen‘s name was officially announced as the 27th pick overall to the Cubs the tweets started to pour in at what a surprise it was for the Cubs to take such lowly ranked prospect so high. MLB.com had him ranked 99th overall on their big board and Baseball America 109th on theirs. That would make picking Jensen a huge reach at 27th overall by their rankings. With the Cubs having a very limited amount of draft pool money at 5.8 million to spread out their entire draft class of 40 picks, this was obviously a move made to pay their first pick an undervalued rate. This way they can take chances later in the draft to entice high talent high schoolers with an over slot contract to forgoe their college commitments to be pro’s and put themselves in the hands of the Cubs developmental system to mold in the way they want.

It’s also clear Jensen has the arm talent possessing a 98 MPH heater. Of course as we know, it takes more than high velocity to be a successful pitcher at the next level. Especially if the goal is to be a starter in the league. He’ll need at minimum 3 pitches he can throw and throw for strikes. At current he possesses 3 pitches in his arsenal but only one is considered to be above average. That’s his fastball obviously throwing two variations of it which I’ll get into greater detail later in the piece. He also throws a slider that the draft media analysts call promising and can be a wipeout pitch with the proper development. He also throws a changeup that is at what is being called a current average changeup per MLB standard. So, with more work he can sharpen that up as well. Of course, there is always the possibility if not likelihood that he develops another pitch or two and even loses a pitch he hasn’t developed the feel for which often happens with prospects as they jump level to level.

The pick also ushers in a new era of draft philosophy for the organization. In the past the Cubs chose to pick and develop position players over arms. Arms are risky and picking one at the top can derail a system if they don’t develop into the elite talent they were projected to be or have a career filled with arm surgeries. In Jensen, that risk is at a high level too. It’s why he was rated so low. He’s not a prototypical rotation horse in how he’s put together. He’s shorter than you’d want in a stud ace. He also throws really hard which leads one to believe he has a high effort delivery which puts torque on that arms as he uses more arm than you’d like to get the proper rotation on his pitches. One of the knocks on his delivery is that he tends to over stride. Perhaps to overcompensate for his lack of size. Obviously, the Cubs see something in him that have them believe he is more steal than reach.

Cubs senior vice president Jason McLeod who is the top executive that directly oversees drafting and development gave his take on the pick.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations with all of you (in the media) over the years about our development, or our maturation, if you want to call it that, in terms of how we wanted to go about identifying and selecting pitchers in the draft, especially up at the top,” he said. “Ryan Jensen certainly hit the nail on the head in terms of things I talked about that we probably avoided, especially in those early years.

“First and foremost, it is a big velocity guy, a big, lively fastball. He’s not 6-5. 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 that I’ve talked about in past years that we probably wouldn’t have taken.”

So in these comments he acknowledges Jensen’s physical size limitations and the possibility that a high velocity undersized pitcher may run into arm issues in the future. So the Cubs have identified that they do need to take risks at the top of the draft to bring in premium talent to upgrade the pitching talent in their minor league system which has been a failure up to this point. Later in his conference call, McLeod addressed the reach aspect of the pick according to the media ranking of Jensen.

“At least to the draft experts, quote-unquote ‘experts,’ if you will,” McLeod said. “We knew that someone would say, ‘Wow, but this is where he’s ranked.’ The funny thing is after they said that, (five) picks behind us, Houston took a catcher (Cal’s Korey Lee) that was ranked, like, 170th by Baseball America, and (there are) two pretty smart front offices there. We understand it, but at the same time, we trust in our process.”

In spite of the less then ideal size of a power pitching starter the Cubs liked his athleticism which helps in repeating a pitchers delivery which in turn helps with consistency of his release point which in turn helps with control and command. McLeod hit on these points in his conference call as well.

“It’s more than just a power arm,” McLeod said. “It’s a lot of traits that we were looking for this year in terms of athleticism, (plus) pitch traits themselves. Obviously, he does throw hard. He’s in the upper 90s, near 100. 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.”

That power sinker would indicate he throws a two seamer which helps put movement on the ball. He also throws a four seamer which tends to be straight and used more to locate to get outs as opposed for movement to miss bats and is easier to control and also tends to have higher velocity on it. It’s also known as a rising fastball. The last Cubs starting pitcher I can think of with that type of velocity on a two seamer is Carlos Zambrano. So the Cubs are definitely targeting pitchers that can play in their ball park especially when it plays very small in warmer whether with the wind coming out of the south carrying would be fly-outs into home runs. With the Cubs outstanding infield defense throwing ground balls is advantageous to getting outs and also limiting pitch counts making for deeper outings and lessening the stress on your bullpen. He also has that strikeout electric stuff to miss a bat when a strikeout is needed. Something he certainly did with 107 strikeouts in 100 innings. He did have a high batting average against (2.88) which might indicate a high ground-ball rate which should diminish with an elite defense behind him. He was able to limit damage by missing those bats with a very respectable 2.88 ERA on his way to a 12-1 record.

This pick obviously is meant to develop Jensen as a future starter in their rotation of the future but the advantage of drafting a power arm like his is if he does fail to get through a batting order on the second or third time around consistently you can always converted him into a high leverage reliever. McLeod puts the period on the pick and this blog.

“What he’ll be in the end is obviously to be determined,” McLeod said. “But we certainly think he has the attributes to start, especially with the way he uses his fastball, the two- and four-seamer. We’re excited to get him into our pitching lab.”

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