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Cubs Prospect Perspective: Ryan Jensen

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The former Cubs first-round pick was sent to face top competition in the Arizona Fall League.

Ryan Jensen pitching in an Arizona Fall League game
Photo by Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Ryan Jensen

Right-handed pitcher. Born November 23, 1997, Monterey, California.
2019 1st Round Pick from Fresno State (Cubs)

The Cubs front office has been criticized for as long as criticism has existed for doing a reasonably poor job of selecting and developing talent. A decent amount of the criticism might be entirely valid. However, with a concept as convoluted and distorted as “scouting and development,” the names and directives change regularly. Assuming that the development or selecting is the same organism between two specific points in time might, or might not, be accurate.

For the 2011 draft, Jim Hendry was largely in charge of the marching orders. He had also been in charge in 2010. However, the two drafts seemed entirely different. Javier Báez was the first Cubs choice in 2011, and he signed for a bonus of $2.6 million. The year before, Hayden Simpson had signed for $1.06 million. Same people, and same scouts. Tom Ricketts was willing to spend more in 2011, for whichever reasons.

With the more recent Cubs, in which seasons might there be a line of demarcation as far as selection process. Why should those years be selected? Jensen, in 2019, was less of a “major college conference arm” (as had been the case in 2017 with top pick Alex Lange), and had a bit more of a yellow flag on wildness (4.6 walks per nine in the Mountain West Conference as a sophomore.) Also, the Cubs had signed Dan Kantrovitz to turn in “the names” by that November. Whichever starting point you prefer, by June 2019, choices had started to become somewhat different.

Jensen had yet to pitch in full-season ball before 2021, with the absence of minor league games in 2020. His first 16 2021 starts were in South Bend, and the last four were in Tennessee. He topped out at 80 innings, which the Cubs apparently deemed not sufficient, so he was sent to the Arizona Fall League.

Jensen, unlike others headed to the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL, has no notable extenuating circumstances. He isn’t a pending minor league free agent (if he were, sending him to the AFL would require a successor contract, a consent to return in 2022). He isn’t even Rule 5-eligible in November. The Cubs, apparently, wanted to get him more innings against good hitters, with no marionette strings attached.

If all goes well, look for Jensen in Tennessee in 2022, with a trip to Des Moines not necessarily far off. Jensen’s (small sample size alert) WHIP was below 1.2. Backing up starting pitching options at any level that could realistically be promoted if things go well of a pipeline heading in the proper direction.

Jensen fanned 10 against a very good Quad Cities team in five innings in July. He tossed five (with seven strikeouts) and six (with three strikeouts) hitless starts twice. He walked as many as four hitters in only one game.

Jensen could be a name of interest for Chicago Cubs-only fans as soon as 2022. At some point, assessing him as a starter or reliever might become a valid debate thread. (I still think of him as more of a leverage reliever.). And, at some point, the entire premise of “If he’s better than the level, promote him” could get him very close to Wrigley. Spotting Jensen against the traditional “superteams” of the Fall League could get a bit illuminating. He had a 7.30 ERA in four outings (two starts) in the AFL entering Monday’s game, which sounds bad but was a huge improvement after getting knocked around in his first two outings. Unfortunately, he got knocked around again on Monday, as Al reported.

Sometimes, you send the player out to see if he’s reached a certain level. Either way, he might clear up a few questions. Or create a few more. He’s done well enough in Double-A to deserve the look.

From the wayback machine.