STEVEN JENNINGS, RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: November 13, 1998
Drafted: 2nd Round, 42nd Overall, 2017
How Acquired: Draft
High School: DeKalb County HS (TN)
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Jennings was a star quarterback in high school, but had his football career ended by an ACL injury during his junior year. He was healthy enough to play baseball in 2017 and impressed scouts enough that he was considered a second round talent. The Pirates selected him with the compensation pick from their failure to sign Nick Lodolo in 2016. Jennings has loose arm action with quickness, which generates a fastball that, according to Baseball America, ranged from 90-96. In the GCL after being drafted he sat at 89-92, and his velocity has been below that at times. He also throws a hard slider that could end up as a plus pitch, along with a curve that has potential. By the time that he reached Bristol, his change was his best pitch. BA ranked Jennings 49th among draft prospects. He had a commitment to Mississippi, but the Pirates signed him for $264,500 above the slot amount.
Jennings didn’t put up great numbers in the GCL. A lot of it was a shaky stretch in early- to mid-August, but he pitched well in his last two starts. He showed mostly good control but didn’t strike out many hitters.
Jennings spent the season in the Bristol rotation. His performance was uneven, but probably better than the ERA. He improved gradually; his opponents’ OPS, from June through August, was .807, .743 and .627. He had no platoon split. It’s possible he was affected by a broken rib that he suffered before the season and that impacted his preparation.
The Pirates put Jennings in the Greensboro rotation and he had another difficult season. He did, however, make modest improvements in most areas. He allowed fewer runners, and improved his walk and K rates. He also doubled his previous season’s innings total while staying healthy. Jennings improved after a very bad April, when he had a 7.89 ERA. He had a lot of trouble with left-handed hitters, who batted 307/358/475 against him.
The Pirates moved Jennings to the bullpen and he made only one start all year. He opened at Bradenton and pitched well through six games, with a good K rate. The team moved him up to Greensboro, where he pitched well over eight games, with a 3.20 ERA. Starting in mid-July, he spent about seven weeks at Altoona and got hit hard, with opponents batting .313 against him. The Pirates moved him back down to Greensboro in September, where his first game was his one start of the season. He got pummeled, giving up seven runs over four and a third innings, which accounts for the weak ERA with the Grasshoppers. He made one more appearance for them, this one in relief, and fanned six over four one-hit innings. In contrast to 2019, most of his problems in 2021 came with right-handed hitters.
Jennings’ 2021 season was better than it looks at first glance, if you give him a pass for the one start. The Pirates could try him again at Altoona in 2022, but he’ll probably need to miss more bats.