Cubs’ Ben Brown, Ryan Jensen showing developmental leaps in first major-league camp

Jensen revamped his delivery last season, and Brown is adding two new pitches to his arsenal.

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Cubs right-hander Ben Brown is working on adding a changeup and slider to his repertoire.

Cubs right-hander Ben Brown is working on adding a changeup and slider to his repertoire.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Five starts into Ryan Jensen’s 2022 season, the Cubs came to him with a choice. He could stay in Double-A Tennessee and see how far his mechanics could take him, or he could take time out of the season and go to the Cubs’ spring-training complex in Arizona to revamp his delivery from top to bottom.

Jensen had been working on his lower half in the spring, but this would be a more intensive process.

“I was like, ‘You know what, right now, I’m not where I want to be at,’ ’’ said Jensen, who was battling command issues at the time. “So I was open to it.”

Ten months later, he’s back in Mesa, this time on the 40-man roster and in his first major-league camp. Along with outfield prospects Brennen Davis and Kevin Alcantara, the Cubs protected two pitchers — Jensen and Ben Brown — from the Rule 5 Draft by putting them on the 40-man roster in -November.

“Unreal experience,” Jensen said. “That was the thought going into the past season. And obviously the season didn’t go the way I wanted it to last year, so it was out of my hands. But I’m just grateful they gave me this opportunity, to believe in me and have faith in me to perform and help them win.”

Jensen and Brown spent the offseason in Arizona, working out at the Cubs’ facility. Brown, whom the Cubs acquired from the Phillies at the trade deadline last year for closer David Robertson, was adding a changeup and slider to his repertoire.

“That was always something that was a knock against me: I was a two-pitch guy,” Brown said. “And I’m still going to remain pretty strong with those two pitches, my fastball and curveball, but I have a third and fourth when it’s needed.”

Early in camp, Brown already was throwing his changeup in live batting practice. The slider has been slower to click, but he said it’s “almost there.”

“He’ll have days where he’s hitting it, and it’s perfect, and other days where it’s just not quite there,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “And that’s not uncommon.”

Hottovy said he reminded Brown in his bullpen session Friday: “Last year, you had two pitches, and you were competing. Right now, you’ve got three and are working on a fourth.”

And the season hasn’t started yet.

For Jensen, the offseason was about reinforcing his new mechanics.

“A great group effort all around, but it starts with Ryan being coachable and realizing that he needs to make a change and then diving in with both feet,” Cubs vice president of player development Jared Banner said.

His list of changes from last year is long. Jensen shortened his arm path because he used to be on the extreme end of the spectrum — “damn near dragging my hand on the ground.” He worked on being more direct to home plate and keeping his stride leg from swinging open.

“So basically just changing my whole motion, making me a new person,” he said. “Which is kind of a large feat to take on, but I’m happy they gave me the opportunity to do it.”

It’s still a work in progress. Jensen has walked five in two outings this spring. But his efforts made him a pitcher the Cubs weren’t willing to risk losing in the Rule 5 Draft. And they got him to big-league camp.

He and Brown have had pinch-me moments, warming up alongside players they looked up to coming up. In college, Jensen had looked up Marcus Stroman’s pitch grips and tried to replicate his slider — his sinker grip was too “funky” for Jensen to even entertain trying. Early in camp, Stroman watched one of Jensen’s bullpen sessions, then pulled him aside to compliment his stuff and give him pointers.

“I kind of got butterflies in my stomach,” Jensen said. “Those guys don’t have to come up and do that out of their way.”

Jensen threw two scoreless innings in his first outing but allowed two runs against the Rockies on Sunday, walking in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning. Brown has appeared in one game, seemingly unfazed by Brewers slugger Rowdy Tellez’s solo home run in an otherwise efficient two innings.

“It’s an honor, for sure,” Brown said. “But the reality is, too, we’re all competing together to win a World Series. . . . I was in High-A a long time last year, and some guys were in the All-Star Game — whatever it is, we’re working hard toward a common goal.”

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