This Royal leads the Minors in walks

May 21st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

has one of the more intriguing stat lines of any Minor Leaguer. And it starts with all those walks.

The Royals’ No. 10 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, has more walks (44) than strikeouts (37) and hits (20). He ranked atop the Minor League leaderboards with those walks, four more than Boston’s Niko Goodrum in Triple-A.

Jensen demonstrated his keen eye at the plate when he posted a 17.1% walk rate in Single-A last season, but it bears repeating: Jensen is just 19 years old, and the jump to High-A Quad Cities in 2023 hasn’t caused him to change his approach.

“I think that I’m showing that I’m not going to get too anxious at the plate,” Jensen said in a phone conversation on Friday. “I’m going to keep searching for a pitch in my zone, where I’m looking at, and I’m trying not to chase those breaking balls. I have an advanced eye at the plate, and if I can pair that with a good, aggressive approach, focusing on those pitches I can drive, I think I’ll see a lot of success.”

Jensen, the Royals’ third-round pick in the 2021 Draft out of Park Hill High School in Kansas City, is seeing better results lately as he settles into a more advanced level -- and as the weather warms up around the Midwest. The catcher is slashing just .175/.403/.298 in 36 games this season, but he has five doubles and two homers in May. His on-base percentage went from .370 in April to .436 in May.

“You can just tell that the games are a little bit faster and advanced from [Single]-A,” Jensen said. “Pitchers are better up here. They have a more advanced approach. They’re pitching a lot more than just throwing.”

You won’t hear Jensen complain about his 27.7% walk rate to start the year. But he is working on his approach. He doesn’t want to be less passive, but he also doesn't want to miss the pitches he can drive. Because when Jensen makes contact, his power can be jaw-dropping. The lefty batter stings the ball, which also makes his plate discipline more impressive.

“There have been sometimes that I walked, but I missed one or two pitches that I could have maybe driven into the gap,” Jensen said. “I got lucky and ended up walking, which is still good. I’m learning how to be more aggressive but also keeping my good pitch selection intact so I can start to drive those balls. That’s a big part of it.

“Stay disciplined, take the walk if they’re there, but also swing at the good pitches I get, too.”

Behind the plate, Jensen continues to make strides. It wasn’t clear if the Royals would keep him at catcher when they drafted him, with some scouts wondering whether he could tap into more power if he was a corner outfielder or first baseman.

But Jensen has been committed to improving his receiving skills, conditioning and game-planning. In Columbia last year, Minor League catching coordinator J.C. Boscan spent every day working with Jensen, and that work has paid off at a higher level.

“As he continues to mature in the game and understand how to game-call, it’s been fun to be able to see him behind the plate,” hitting coordinator Drew Saylor said a couple weeks ago. “I feel like it’s starting to slow down for him even more.”

Jensen is a young hitter among several older players in Quad Cities, like top prospects Gavin Cross and Cayden Wallace, as well as Javier Vaz, the Royals’ 15th-round Draft pick last year out of Vanderbilt.

Being surrounded by those guys, though, is another bonus for Jensen.

“When Gavin, Cayden and Javier showed up in Columbia last year, we were all still pretty young,” Jensen said. “We struggled at the beginning of the year, but that second half, we started to turn it around. When they got there, it was a huge bump in our win column. This year, having them around me has been really special. They went through college, know a little bit more than me, and they’ve helped me out. 

“Especially if I’m going through a rough patch, they’re always there to keep me going, keep pushing me. You need people like that around you. It’s been really fun this year.”