The Down on the Farm series will shine the spotlight on various Pittsburgh Pirates minor league players. This edition of the series focuses on Pirates prospect Stephen Jennings, who just completed last season with the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
Stephen Jennings is the 2017 second round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 6’2” and 175 pound right handed pitcher was selected with the 42nd pick of the draft, out of Dekalb County High School in Tennessee. He signed above slot for $1.9 million.
Last year, Jennings spent the year with the Single-A affiliate Greensboro Grasshoppers, where he amassed a record of 7-12, in 27 games started, while pitching to a 4.71 earned run average and a 1.33 WHIP. The 20-year-old righty would strike out 115 batters in 130 innings pitched, while walking only 39. He posted a career best 20.9% strikeout rate last season, but battled with giving up home runs.
In addition, Jennings was simply too hittable for the Grasshoppers last season. In fact, opposing batters hit .269 off of him last year. Jennings needs to work on either being more deceptive with his pitches, or increasing the velocity of his fastball in order to set up his changeup and breaking balls for greater swing-and-miss opportunities.
Jennings possesses a low-to-mid 90’s fastball which he commands very well. His stuff is not overpowering, but he shows excellent mound presence and is mature beyond his age. While the righty has a solid spin rate on both of the breaking balls that he throws, he struggles to find consistency throwing them. He possesses a solid four-pitch mix that includes a fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. He has excellent control over his fastball and changeup due to his ability to consistently repeat his mechanics.
If Jennings, who was the opening day starter for the Grasshoppers last season, can make some adjustments to better harness his breaking balls and can fill out physically, he has the making of a top end of the rotation starter in the major leagues as a ceiling. If he is unable to accomplish those feats, his floor lies as a fifth starter or as a long reliever in the big leagues.
Either way, Stephen Jennings will remain a Pittsburgh Pirates prospect to keep an eye on in the minors this season. While it currently appears that he may begin the 2020 season with the Grasshoppers, there is a good chance that he will quickly be promoted to the High-A Bradenton Marauders. Should Jennings prove that he can hold his own at that level, there is a good chance that he ends the year with the Double-A Altoona Curve. Currently ranked as the 12th best prospect in the Pirates system, Jennings is expected to reach the major leagues in 2022.