Some of the more under the radar type of prospects are the durable soft tossers. Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Steven Jennings could eventually be one of those types.
During the 2017 MLB Draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected a handful of pitchers who have since become notable names in the minors like Shane Baz and Cody Bolton. During the 2nd round, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected high school right handed pitcher Steven Jennings out of Tennessee. Since then, he has one of the team’s more worthwhile top pitching prospects in the Pirates’ system.
Jennings didn’t get off to a great start at Rookie Ball, having a 4.10 ERA, 4.68 FIP and 1.55 WHIP across 26.1 innings of work. The then 18-year-old only struck out 13 batters, resulting in a weak 10.7% strikeout rate. But Jennings was inducing ground balls at a ridiculous 55.8% rate. This resulted in a solid 0.7 HR/9. Control wise, he showed decent, but not great control with a 8.3% walk rate.
In 2018, Jennings showed some major improvements in striking out batters, seeing his strikeout rate rise to 18.2%. He was also still limiting home runs to a 0.7 per 9 rate, and his WHIP dropped to 1.45. But that’s about where all the positives end.
Jennings saw his ERA rise to 4.82, while his FIP remained pretty similar at 4.65. He also saw his walk rate spike by 1% to 9.3%. Jennings’ groundball rate took a few steps back to a still solid 43.9% rate. This was all through 65.1 innings at Rookie Ball.
So far, 2019 has been his best season yet. Through 130 innings at Low-A Greensboro, the young right hander had a 4.71 ERA, 4.23 FIP, and 1.33 WHIP. Jennings posted the best strikeout and walk numbers of his career with a strikeout rate above 20% at 20.9%, while posting his career best walk rate at 7.1%. However, home runs became a bit of an issue as he surrendered 15 on a career worst 35.8% ground ball rate. He still posted the best xFIP of his career at 3.99.
Currently, the 21-year-old has four pitches to his disposal: a fastball, slider, curveball, and change up. Jennings is your typical soft-tossing starting pitcher. His fastball sits in the high-80s, low-90s. However, it has an above average spin rate. Out of all the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospects, he has the second most RPM on the pitch with 2500. Currently, FanGraphs only gives it a future grade of 45, while MLB Pipeline has it at 50.
Out of all his pitches, his slider is the best. FanGraphs pins it at a future of 55 while MLB Pipeline also places it at 55. That’s because, like with his fastball, has a lot of spin. He reached the 3000 RPM plateau with the pitch. He is one of only nine pitchers to be able to reach that mark. His curveball grades at around average with a 50 from both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline. According to MLB Pipeline’s scouting report, the right hander has a good feel for both breaking pitches. He also throws the change-up to mix things up, however it’s probably his worst pitch with a 35 current/45 future grade per FanGraphs.
However, what he lacks in velocity, he makes up in control. He probably has the best control and command of any prospect in the organization. We saw he improved his walk rate to a pretty good 7.1% rate. In comparison, the MLB average in 2019 was 9%. Jennings has a future grade for his command of 60 while MLB.com places his control at 55. Both of which are above average grades.
Now Steven Jennings obviously isn’t any sort of flashy prospect. He only ranks 27th among the Pittsburgh Pirates best prospects according to FanGraphs. Jennings isn’t going to pass anyone like Mitch Keller, Brennan Malone, Tahnaj Thomas, Cody Bolton, Carmen Mlodzinski or Quinn Priester on prospect charts. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be a productive major league arm. Jennings will make the MLB based on his control and durability.
With his fastball only topping out in the lower-90s, he’s not putting a lot of strain on his arm, but the high spin rate gives it potential to be a plus pitch, and the same can be said about his slider. Jennings could be a solid backend type pitcher who you can rely on to give you 6 innings a start and keep you in the game. But with all the top pitching prospects the Pirates now have, he is likely going to be held to a swingman type role.