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Surprise! Cubs take pitcher with first-round pick

Fresno State right-hander Ryan Jensen was selected with 27th overall pick in Monday’s first round of June amateur draft.

Ryan Jensen
Fresno State Athletics

A Cubs front office that historically leans heavily toward hitters with its first-round draft picks surprised much of baseball Monday night by selecting relatively low-ranked college pitcher Ryan Jensen with the 27th overall pick in the draft.

At 6 feet, 180 pounds, Jensen, a right-handed junior from Fresno State, goes against the grain of pitchers the Cubs have targeted even beyond the first round in recent years – in terms of size, build and even mechanics, said Jason McLeod, the Cubs top scouting and player development executive.

“He hits the nail on the head of probably things wee avoided in early years,” McLeod said, alluding to an evolving draft strategy in the front office that views pitching prospects through an additional lens of fast-growing pitch-development technology through “pitch labs.”

Jensen, the 109th-ranked draft prospect by Baseball America, and 99th by MLB.com, is an athletic pitcher, McLeod said, with an upper-90s fastball, a power sinker and developing slider.

He’s projected as a starter but some believe he could become a high-end reliever with the ability to close in the majors.

McLeod said a combination of a run on hitters in the first round as well as what they liked in Jensen all spring led to the pick that left many shaking their heads.

“We knew going into that selection when we were going to make it, that it was going to be a surprise, at least to the quote-unquote draft experts,” McLeod said. “We felt the upside is there. We knew that several people would say, `Wow.’ “

Jensen, 21, was 12-1 with a 2.88 ERA at Fresno State – which was playing Stanford in a regional final Monday night – including 9-0 with a 2.32 ERA in his last nine starts, with impressive strikeouts-to-walk numbers.

Under Epstein and McLeod, the Cubs have drafted a pitcher with their top first-round pick only once, in 2017 when they took left-handed college pitcher Brendon Little, also with a 27th overall pick. They also drafted college pitcher Alex Lange three spots later in the first round.