Name: Chris Jensen
Height/Weight: 6’4’’, 200
How Acquired: Drafted by COL the 6th round in 2011
Most of the trades the Oakland A’s made during the off-season leading up to the 2014 season involved Oakland sending prospects to teams in exchange for major-league veterans. The one exception was a deal the A’s made with the Colorado Rockies, and that deal may prove to be the best one the team made that off-season. In the deal, the A’s sent oft-injured left-hander Brett Anderson to Colorado for left-hander Drew Pomeranz and right-hander Chris Jensen. Pomeranz had some big league experience before last season and he wound-up having a significant impact on the A’s pitching staff, posting a 2.35 ERA in 69 big league innings. But he may not be the only positive return from that deal, as Jensen had a strong 2014 season in his own right.
Jensen pitched collegiately on the same University of San Diego staff that produced A’s starter A.J. Griffin, A’s minor leaguer Trevor Bayless and Nationals’ prospect Sammy Solis, among others. Like Griffin, Jensen split his time at USD between the starting rotation and the bullpen. Jensen was mostly a reliever his first two seasons in college, but he moved into the rotation in 2011. He parlayed a strong junior season into a sixth-round draft selection by the Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies sent Jensen to short-season Tri-City of the Northwest League to make his professional debut. Jensen made eight starts that season, posting a stellar 2.68 ERA and a 28:10 in 37.1 innings. With his college season and his pro debut combined, Jensen threw a then-career-high 119.2 innings in 2011.
“I like the way he competes. You never really see him sweat. He’s cool, calm and collected." - A's bullpen coach Scott Emerson
Despite the increase in workload, Jensen didn’t miss a beat in 2012. He spent the entire year at the Low-A level, pitching in a career-high 145 innings. Jensen’s ERA was 4.28. He did a good job of keeping the ball on the ground and had a 95:50 K:BB with 14 homeruns allowed.
The Rockies moved Jensen up another level in 2013, this time to High-A. He spent the entire season with the Modesto Nuts of the California League. Pitching for the Nuts, Jensen made five starts against the A’s High-A affiliate, the Stockton Ports. He pitched well against the Ports, especially late in the year, catching the eye of A’s scouts. Overall, Jensen had a solid season with Modesto. His ERA was a bit high (4.55), but his K:BB was solid (136:39) and he had a 1.24 GO/AO. His FIP was 3.56.
The A’s continued Jensen’s yearly rise through the minor leagues by bumping him up to Double-A Midland for his first season in the organization. Jensen was part of a Midland staff that was tops in the Texas League in pitching. The RockHounds' staff was instrumental in team winning the league championship. Jensen posted his best ERA since his pro debut, putting up a 3.14 ERA in a league-high 160.1 regular season innings. He would tack on another 10.1 innings during the Texas League playoffs.
Jensen’s K-rate fell from his time in the Cal League (20.5% in 2013 to 13.8% in 2014), and his BB-rate nearly doubled (5.9% to 9.1%). However, he allowed just three homeruns (0.17 HR/9) and his FIP was a solid 3.67. He posted his highest groundball rate since his pro debut (43.9%) and he won 12 games. The rest of the Texas League was impressed with Jensen’s performance. He was named to the post-season Texas League All-Star team, an honor voted on by the league’s managers, coaches, PR directors and beat writers.
Jensen was Mr. Dependable for the RockHounds in 2014. He had one poor month (May, when his ERA was 6.06 and he went 0-5). Otherwise, Jensen had monthly ERAs of 2.84 or lower. He spent much of the season working on his breaking ball, trying to get more bend with the pitch. That experimentation led to a better breaking ball for Jensen as the season wore on. Former A’s minor league coordinator and current A’s bullpen coach Scott Emerson believes Jensen’s game will take the next step when he masters the breaking ball.
In addition to the breaking ball, Jensen has a good sinking fastball that he was able to get more movement on in 2014 than he has in previous seasons. That led to more groundballs, which led to quicker outs and longer outings. He also has a solid change-up that he can use in any count. Jensen was particularly tough on right-handed hitters in 2014, holding them to a .213 BAA. Left-handers batted .290 against him.
Jensen has been durable throughout his career and he is an excellent competitor. He is also a good athlete who fields his position well despite being 6’5’’. He has an easy throwing motion that he repeats well and he attacks the strike-zone aggressively.
"He's a good student," Emerson said. "I like the way he competes. You never really see him sweat. He's cool, calm and collected. And he’s going to throw a bunch of strikes and change speeds. If he can get that breaking ball to be a little bit better, that’s really going to help his future."
Jensen turned 24 at the end of September. Jensen’s aggressive approach and ability to get groundballs could make him a good fit in a big league bullpen if he can’t bring his breaking ball up to the same quality level as his fastball and change-up. He should have a strong chance of making the A’s Triple-A starting rotation during spring training. If the A’s end up having too many experienced pitchers at the Triple-A level, Jensen may have to start the year in Double-A, but he will be first in line to move up to Triple-A when there is an opening should that occur.