Cubs Name Jen-Ho Tseng Minor League Pitcher of the Year (Scouting Report & Video)
On Monday afternoon, the Cubs named Kris Bryant and Jen-Ho Tseng their minor league player and pitcher of the year, respectively. And while Bryant has lit the world on fire and been the apple of Cubs fans eyes all year, Tseng has largely flown under the radar.
So just who is this seemingly little-known prospect who is not being mentioned in the same breath as Bryant?
Tseng, 19, was 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 19 games (17 starts) at Single-A Kane County. He helped lead the Cougars to the Midwest League title. Tseng averaged 7.3 strikeouts and 1.3 walks per nine innings, and opponents hit just .204 off him. The Cubs signed Tseng as an undrafted free agent in July 2013.
Here is the scouting report I did back on him this past July.
Cubs Prospects Profile
Cubs Insider original scouting report/video
Name: Jen-Ho Tseng
Acquired: 2013 IFA ($1.625 mil bonus)
Weight: 210 lb
2013 Stats: 62 1/3 IP, 2.74 ERA, 61 K, 8 BB, 55 H, 1.01 WHIP (Class A Kane County)
Out of the windup, Tseng takes a short side step and holds the position for at least two seconds before transitioning into the rest of his delivery. It’s an interesting motion that is a big reason that he has what I’d describe as a distinctive delivery, even if it has little affect on the rest of his delivery.
Out of the side-step pause Tseng kicks his knee up to the letters of his jersey while turning his lead shoulder a bit inward, all the while staying well-balanced on his back leg. From here, Tseng’s body starts to lean towards home as he collapses his back knee and drops his ass toward the ground. It’s a classic-drop and drive motion, which gives me pause, but he repeats his fairly well right now. Plus, he uses it to explode towards home, achieving great momentum and a very deep release point.
Upon footstrike Tseng is in a powerful yet balanced position, with his landing knee bent significantly and his chest centered directly over that knee. Tseng is a big kid with powerful legs, making this a very stable position to release the ball from. After release, Tseng is still balanced, falling off towards first ever so slightly.
It’s a solid delivery, and Tseng’s build gives me hope that he’ll be able to overcome the issues with the drop and drive delivery. He’s a tall kid (probably around 6’3″ nowadays), so the lowered release point doesn’t affect his fastball plane like it would a shorter pitcher. Tseng is also a solidly built kid (210 pounds already) and has room to fill out. With that extra muscle in his legs he should be able to repeat his drop and drive mechanics consistently.
Tseng already finds his release point consistently, so the extra muscle could allow him to ramp up his momentum without sacrificing his balance at release.
Tseng’s fastball sat 91-92 and touched 95 the first time I saw him, and sat 88-91 (touched 93 once) in my second viewing. Tseng’s only 19, so the inconsistent velocity from start-to-start doesn’t worry me much. The fact that he was able to ramp it up to 95 in April was extremely impressive, and speaks to the ultimate potential that resides in Tseng’s arm. As Tseng gets stronger, I could see him sitting in the 92-93 range and touching higher frequently.
There’s more to Tseng’s fastball than it’s raw velocity, though. The first of which is that he likes to add and subtract from it as he sees fit (h/t Mauricio Rubio). This is something he showed in July – he sat 88-90 in the 6th inning before finding himself in a two-on-one-out situation before immediately finding 93 in his back pocket to induce a double play. So in any given game he may be holding extra strength in the tank in an effort to pitch into the late innings.
Furthermore, that deep release point I mentioned? It helps the pitch “jump” on the batter. The later release point is a foot or so closer to home, making a 90mph fastball appear a tick or two faster.
Beyond that, Tseng’s fastball also has a good amount of run to it. It’s nothing extreme, but it’s enough wiggle and fade to miss barrels. And, if you’ve watched the video above, you’ll notice that he does indeed miss a lot of bats with his fastball. That’s not easy to do in the low-90s, and is a sign that his delivery has some deception to it.
I think the movement and bat-missing ability makes Tseng’s fastball a plus potential pitch, dependent largely on where his velocity ends up.
Folks, I really wish I had better video of Tseng’s curveball for you because when it is on, it is pretty. When he snaps a good one off, it has sharp bite and good 11-5 break (go to about 4:00 in the video to see one like this). It’s easily flashing plus in moments like this.
The problem is that he doesn’t have a great feel for repeatedly executing the pitch. It’s often hung up in the zone, or never breaks at all. Tseng is often able to find his fastball release point, so I would hope he’ll eventually be able to do the same with his curve. If he does, it’s a plus pitch for me, but he’s got a long way to go there.
Jen-Ho Tseng has a very good feel for a changeup for a 19 year old. In my first viewing of him, Tseng was having quite a bit of trouble with his breaking ball. So, after 3 innings, he started moving to exclusively fastball-changeup sequences against hitters. Midwest League hitters had no chance against that changeup. Tseng’s arm speed on his changeup is great, and it comes in with good fading action.
It’s not a Bugs Bunny changeup, nor one with crazy movement, but it has the combined velocity differential and the movement to be a bat-misser (Lord knows MWL hitters can’t hit it). If Tseng’s able to command it consistently, I think it has the potential to be a plus pitch at the major league level.
The Command and Control
As noted in the delivery section, Tseng’s rock solid lower half allows him to find a consistent release point. As a result, Tseng has been able to fill the zone up with fastballs (just 8 walks in 62 2/3 innings pitched). Tseng already shows some ability to work both sides of the plate with his fastball, and given the balance in his delivery I only expect this feel for pitching to get better.
That’s a scary proposition for hitters, as Tseng’s raw stuff should evolve into enough to get outs with simply average command. Instead, given the strength I expect him to add and his already repeatable delivery, I think Tseng will develop easily-plus command with a chance for a bit more. If he does develop that command, he’ll be able to work advanced sequences against hitters and really attack hitters’ weaknesses.
If the string of “potentially plus’ evaluations of everything in his game hasn’t clued you in already, I really like Jen-Ho Tseng. He’s got projectability left in his frame, he has a repeatable delivery, and he has three pitches that flash plus at times. That’s pretty fun to dream on.
Tseng is also really fun to watch. He has a quiet cockiness on the mound, sarcastically reacting to bad calls in a subtle way, a flourish of the arm after he releases the ball, and a little hop-skip after striking someone out. That, plus his finding 3 extra mph in a big situation, makes me believe he has the mentality needed to pitch at a high level. It’s not quite #rig or #diesel, but it’s something close.
If he hits his ceiling, I think Tseng is a very good #3 pitcher, one who will strikeout a surprising number of hitters with a 3-pitch mix that he commands very well. More realistically (if he stays healthy), he’s a #4 type who occasionally flashes brilliance.
Either way, Tseng is a highly intriguing prospect who is one of the many must-obsessively-follow prospects in the system.