The Chicago Cubs have been hunting for their next big-time star on the mound for years, and they may have found it with 23-year-old right-hander Ryan Jensen.
Who is Ryan Jensen?
Jensen first exploded onto the scene in 2019 as a third-year starter at Fresno State University, where he went 12-1 with a 2.88 earned run average. He won his last nine starts and was named Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year as well as conference tournament Most Valuable Player.
This leap to prominence came as a surprise to many scouts, given that the 6-foot righty had only won five of his 11 starts in two years prior while tossing a 5.84 ERA. Even still, his performances in 2019 were enough to warrant a first-round selection by the Chicago Cubs, who took him 27th-overall. This was the highest that they had taken a starting pitcher since 2005 when they took Matt Garza with their first selection, and he is currently the number-eight prospect in the Cubs’ system.
One of Jensen’s best attributes is the heat on his fastball, which gets up towards the high-90s at its peak, though he can consistently hit 95 throughout an entire game. His control and effectiveness of his top-speed pitch were the best in the 2019 draft class and were a major reason he was taken so early.
If he isn’t burning the plate, Jensen is probably tossing an equally impressive slider that has a furious top speed or his patented slider. He did not always have a great effect with this off-speed pitch, but a tightened grip in his junior year of college helped get more movement on the ball and led to more strikes.
Jensen in Minor League Baseball
Jensen has not produced noteworthy numbers since joining the Minor Leagues, notching a 2-6 record and 4.70 ERA, though if his college stats were any indication, he can grow and reach impressive heights once he adapts to his situation; in fact, he already impresses in several areas.
While his ERA might be average at best, he has doled 1.16 strikeouts per inning, or 10.44 per nine innings, and is only allowing a .186 batting average in 2021— to put this in perspective, this would rank ninth in the Major League. The competition in Single-A is nowhere near what he would face in the top flight, but it is indicative of how he has performed at his level compared to how other pitchers have at theirs.
Jensen’s ability to find the strike zone and render batters useless has impressed members of Chicago’s staff, though he needs to master his control by getting out of dangerous situations, which he has been incredibly poor at. The worst statistic in Jensen’s Minor League resume is his walks per nine innings, which is up at a horrendous 4.86; Cubs’ scouts were worried that he had allowed 4.2 W/9 in college, and his current mark is resemblant of their horror show.
The former Fresno State Bulldog is at an interesting point in his career, even though it just began professionally; because he has many qualities, some great and some, well, not, many have wondered how he would fare as a reliever; the South Bend Cubs tested this theory out against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, where Jensen relinquished two earned runs in .2 innings and was charged with a loss, moving to a 5.29 ERA on the year.
Jensen’s future with the Cubs hinges on two main areas: his ability to improve, just as he did in college, and whether or not he can tighten the control of his pitches. If he can turn some of his balls into strikes and bail himself out of bad positions rather than putting himself in them, he projects as a Major-Leaguer; if he cannot do either, then he is destined to be a lifer in the Minor Leagues.
Keep an eye on Jensen, who is one of the biggest boom-or-bust prospects the Cubs have— if nothing else, he will bring excitement when he is on the bump.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.