Cubs will never have enough shots, but prospect Ryan Jensen is a good sign

The Chicago Cubs probably wouldn’t even consider writing ryan jensen during the early stages of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regimen because his delivery did not fit the rigid guidelines of the organization at that time. Even as a first-round pick, Jensen probably wouldn’t have been given much of a lead at Wrigley Field in the team’s last competitive cycle. As the front office traded prospects for immediate help, the major league coaching staff rushed to replenish the bullpen, leaving little room for patience. The Cubs recently adding Jensen to their 40-man roster — and protecting him from the upcoming Rule 5 draft — is a reflection of several broader changes within their baseball operations department. It could signal a brighter future for the big market franchise that is gradually lost an identifiable “Cubs Way” after the 2016 World Series.

The Cubs can rebuild their team around shooting and defense this winter by spending big money on one of four All-Star shortstops — Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts or Dansby Swanson — and signing several starters to anchor their rotation. The best-run organizations are able to layer those big deals with young talent and pitching stock. This process is already underway with the emergence of local Cubs like justin steel, Keegan Thompson and Brandon Hughesadditions to the pitching prospect exchange deadline Ben Brown and Hayden Wesneski, and recent first-round picks Jensen, Jordan Wicks and Cade Horton. The Cubs believe this year’s 39-31 (and 3.24 ERA) record after the All-Star break is primarily a consequence of their evolving pitching infrastructure, which is overseen by the assistant general manager/vice president. pitchers Craig Breslow and a collaborative group of coaches. and analysts.

“When you look up,” Hoyer said, “a lot of things we’ve seen in the second half of this year – a lot of the success we’ve had in the minor leagues throughout the year – these are seeds that were planted many years before. It’s just the nature of our work. Often the things we’re looking at right now are things we’ve been planning for many years.”

The Cubs selected Jensen with the No. 27 pick in the 2019 draft from Fresno State University, betting on a special fastball and the athleticism that makes the 6-foot, 190-pound pitcher look more like an intermediate fielder. Some ratings have cast Jensen as a reliever, and that could ultimately be his future at the major league level. But right now, the Cubs aren’t going to rank someone with a repertoire that a team official called “six shots above average.” Jensen, who turns 25 this week, hasn’t had a chance to pitch competitively in 2020 once the minor league season is halted. The Cubs are also optimistic about the progress of what is essentially a complete overhaul of Jensen’s delivery.

This process is much more precise than saying: Hey, let’s clean up Jensen’s mechanics. The Cubs showed Jensen how overdone some of his moves had become and laid out a detailed plan to leave Double-A Tennessee and spend time on the developmental roster. Jensen understandably didn’t want to be out for most of the 2022 season, but an 18.4 percent walk rate and too many uncompetitive pitches forced a reset in Arizona for most of May and part of June. The Cubs were aiming to tighten up Jensen’s arm swing and realign his hips in a way that made it easier to get the timing elements in synch with his unorthodox delivery.

“When you’re as talented as he is, it can be intimidating and difficult to make some adjustments,” said Casey Jacobson, minor league pitching coordinator for the Cubs. “There was definitely some trepidation right away. But it was just a matter of talking it over with him and letting him know that if there was any concern that he would come out on the other side with something diminished, we wouldn’t. I appreciate his confidence, his support and the work he was ready to do with us. The precipice was that there were some extreme moves that really showed up in the Fall League (Arizona) last year. He had a hard time finishing the year in (Class A) South Bend, then he got his promotion to Tennessee. But we saw some really extreme things happen in the Fall League, and then they were still there in Spring Training (this year). We wanted to give him a chance to work on some of them.

“It was just hard to make big jumps while he was still trying to compete. So that’s where this conversation with Ryan became: ‘We can continue with this incremental progress and probably some frustration. Or if you ready to take a chance, let’s go to Arizona Let’s cut out the competition a bit and really focus on those things that we think are going to help you get your elite gear into the zone a little bit more. credit, he was ready to do it and he was ready to go head first.

After Jensen joined the Tennessee rotation in mid-June, he reduced his walk rate to 13.7%, which is still too high but also a noticeable improvement. His business also changed with the adjustments to his arm action. The four-seam fastball immediately played better. He added a cutter that looks like a bad major league pitch. He can always throw hitters off balance by mixing a sinker, slider or curveball, playing on the speed that constantly approaches 100 mph.

As part of their compromise, the Cubs sent Jensen back to Tennessee knowing he was not a finished product. Both teams understood that these changes would come in phases for a pitcher who finished the 2022 season with a 4.25 ERA in 17 Double-A starts. The continued focus this offseason is on the lower half of his body, using force platforms and KinaTrax to identify issues and find very specific things to fix. The Cubs focus on the three pillars of delivery: force generation, force acceptance, and momentum transfer.

“It’s really nice to work with athletes like Ryan because he makes adjustments quickly,” said Jacobson. “He needed feedback for the first two weeks or so and then he started feeling it and it took off like a rocket from there. As soon as he felt it, he was able to tell me about the good rehearsals versus the bad rehearsals. It went so fast. His first enclosure he pitched, honestly, I might have left my jaw in the lab because it was so much better than I thought. What we tried to tackle was quite big, and its first enclosure blew me away with its quality.

Pitching in the Pitch Lab isn’t the same as performing in front of 40,000 fans, but there are bigger lessons that could be applied at Wrigley Field. Jensen is not a data enthusiast; he trusts his feelings and competitive instincts, qualities that will likely endear him one day to Cubs manager David Ross. The Cubs streamlined the information in a way that made sense, and Jensen listened to their suggestions. An organization that has been criticized in the past for a narrow approach to pitch development shows that there is no one philosophy. Cubs are able to identify problems, formulate a focused plan and get results in real time. That’s what player development is all about.

“There is no finish line,” Hoyer said at his season-ending press conference. “You can never get enough (of throwing). We have to talk about increasing it by external transactions. We need to talk about how we can continue to improve the guys we have. We have to keep proving it year after year and keep building on it. »

(Photo: Danny Parker/Four Seam Images via Associated Press)

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