Sleeper prospect Kyle Hendricks opening some eyes

Sleeper prospect Kyle Hendricks opening some eyes

We tend to get excited about hard-throwing prospects.  Cubs fans are already salivating at the thought of drafting one of two hard-throwing pitchers -- Mark Appel or Jonathan Gray.  And that is with good reason.  The ability to throw hard simply gives you more margin for error.  You miss your spots and you can often get away with it because hitters can't always catch up to your mistakes.

That is not the case with 23 year old RHP Kyle Hendricks.  He doesn't have that kind of margin for error, so his game depends on deception and command -- and stuff that is just good enough to make it all work.

You may remember Hendricks as the "second player the Cubs acquired when they traded veteran SP Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers.  3B Christian Villanueva, then a top 10 prospect with the Rangers, was the centerpiece.

But GM Jon Daniels admitted at the time that the Cubs chose wisely and picked up 2 sleepers that they were hoping they didn't have to give up.  At the time of the trade, Hendricks was just 5-8 but sported an ERA of 2.82 (2.76 FIP).  He walked an incredibly low 1.03 batters per 9 innings while striking out a respectable 7.71.  He keeps the ball down, allowing just 0.55 HRs/9 IP.  In other words, he doesn't beat himself on the mound.

So far this year, Hendricks hasn't missed a beat after making the big jump to AA.  He's 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA (2.72 FIP) and his walk rate is still good at 2.01.  The increase is more of a reflection of facing better quality hitters than any lapse in control.  His HR/9 IP rate has gone down to a rate of 0.31

So what kind of stuff does Hendricks have and what kind of pitcher is he?

He'll throw his fastball 87-90 mph, though I  have read a report that he has hit as high as 94 mph.

Whatever the radar readings, Hendricks' game isn't about velocity.  He's a cerebral pitcher (he attended Ivy League Dartmouth) who has a feel for pitching.  He has a vast repertoire that he commands well.  It includes a fastball (both 4-seam and 2 seam), a cutter, a curve, and what is probably his best pitch -- a changeup.

But it's that feel that makes it all work.  It's one thing to know how to throw all these pitches, its quite another to know how to use them and, just as importantly, how to sell them.  Off of Hendrick's delivery, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out which pitch is coming out of his hand.

That may seem like a little thing, but I've watched pitchers where I could call the pitch as it left their hand.   That gives the hitter a big advantage that can negate some of that pure velocity, much like a bad jump on the bases or in the outfield can negate a player's speed.   Hendricks does not give hitters that advantage, so it helps play up his stuff.

Another asset Hendricks brings to the table is great command of all those pitches.  He can locate everything in his repertoire and that gives him another advantage when it comes to setting up hitters and changing planes so that hitters don't get comfortable.  It also helps him  pound the lower part of the strike zone and keep the ball in the park.

Lastly, Hendricks simply knows how to pitch.  His best pitch, his changeup, gives him the ability to change speeds and play up his fringy to average fastball.  He also developed his latest pitch, his cutter, with a purpose.

“I just started throwing a cutter and it’s been a big part of the repertoire lately,” Hendricks said. “If I fall behind in the count or something, I use it as a contact pitch to get out of the count and go to the next hitter.”

Hendricks approach on the mound is well beyond his years and to this point, his knowledge, feel, and ability to command pitches and change speeds has overwhelmed hitters at the AA level.

The tests will continue to get tougher, the command will have to get more precise as he faces better hitters. That already small margin for error will continue to shrink.

But Hendricks has been up to all challenges so far.  He has made the big jumps from the Ivy League to short-season ball to advanced A ball to AA and has adapted, adjusted, and continued to improve his command and knowledge of pitching.

It may not be long before he gets the opportunity to match wits with MLB hitters.

 

Filed under: Profiles, prospects

Tags: Kyle Hendricks

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  • fb_avatar

    Good stuff John! Hendricks sounds like a keeper.

    To bad about Fuji.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Thanks. and agreed on Fujikawa. I saw that tweeted out as I was writing my article. I'll cover it a bit later.

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    BTW, I've read those same reports that say he hits mid-90's on occasion. I wonder if he's like a young Maddux. People don't remember that, when Maddux was young, he could bring it mid-90's when he had too. He just preferred not to. Hendricks might be cerebral in that same sense that he realizes the goal is to get three outs as quickly as possible, not to rack up as many K's as possible.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    That could well be. He also may prefer the lower velocity two seamer since he keeps the ball down and the cut fastball because it gives him some movement.

    The tempting comparison is Maddux and I guess we could describe him as a Greg Maddux starter kit -- but remember that Maddux was already in the majors at age 20. Hendricks command and knowledge of pitching is very good, but Maddux was off the charts in those two areas. I think Hendricks can continue to improve on those areas of strength and while we may never see another Maddux, maybe we'll see a solid rotation guy for years to come.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Oh, I completely agree. Maddux was a phenom. I just think Hendricks' stuff, command and approach are Maddux-like. I'm not saying he is going to be Maddux, but if he became Maddux-lite, it would not surprise me.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Maddux had his teething problems. He was getting knocked around regularly, with era's in the 5s, until his breakout season in 1988 at age 22.

  • Love these prospect highlights John! We need to hire you a research assistant so we can have a new one of these on a regular basis.

    So if Fuji takes 18 months to get back to 100%, this was a wasted contract.... oh well. Hopefully he makes a full recovery and is able to help out at some point.

    IDK about Hendricks, maybe he makes it - maybe he doesn't. Guys like him have almost no margin for error at the MLB level. I've heard some compare him to a young Maddux, which IMO is ridiculous. Greg was one in a million. That comparison isn't fair to Kendricks. I'm pulling for him. It's hard to get excited about soft-tossers. But he may be a viable #4/5 starter down the road or trade fodder, which can only help.

    I'm curious though, because one of the keys with "soft tossers" is their movement, is he able to start a pitch off the plate and have it tail in for a strike? Sounds like he hits on the other things (pitching intelligence, identical arm angles/speeds, etc) .

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I think a Maddux comp is always tempting when we see a guy like this but Maddux was so unique that he almost defies any comparison. There are similarities in style, stuff, and approach but to this point there is huge gap in the degree of execution of those things.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Maddux was a high draft pick who pitched well in the minors and made the majors at a young age. He was a top prospect all the way.

    I think a better Hendricks comp is Joe Blanton. Blanton isn't Maddux, but he's a reliable innings eater, and I think that's about Hendricks's upside

  • In reply to Zonk:

    As you probably know, I'm not really a comp guy, so this isn't an area I like to delve into a whole lot. I agree there are some similarities to Blanton -- but don't forget that he was even a higher pick than Maddux. And the body type is so very different. Blanton is a big framed guy who is built to be an innings eater/workhorse.

    I'll just call Hendricks the kind of starter who doesn't beat himself on the mound, a guy that can give your team a chance to win every time out -- and that's all you can really ask from a guy with his profile. On the other hand, it's impossible to predict whether Hendricks can continue to refine his command and approach so I don't like to necessarily put limits on him either.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    So you're saying he isn't likely to get "Hinshawed"? I'll take that!

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Are you volunteering? :)

  • Wow, talk about timing on the Maddux comps..... lol

  • TJ for Qg.

  • I'll have to address it later. The news was tweeted out as I wrote this article. It's really unfortunate as he was a key piece to help solidify the bullpen. Cubs will really need to address this area in the offseason -- not that they should spend a lot of money on it, but they have to do better than bet on flyers next year.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed. Also, Vitters has been put on Iowa's DL.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah, this is frustrating. Next year was looking like the year Zych and McNutt helped solidify things but that looks -- at best -- doubtful at the moment. Dolis might help. Sanchez has the arm, but needs the command. But it's going to need some arms if next year is the year.

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    John, this is completely off topic, but I'm curious to know why the international scouts are so adamantly opposed to an international draft. Even if MLB goes that direction, teams are still going to need scouts. Am I missing something here?

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I absolutely loathe the idea of an international draft. It punishes teams like the Cubs who are willing to outwork and out-invest their competition. The Cubs and other teams have built first rate facilities and hired top notch scouting/development people to help these kids develop both as adults and as players. It's a shame that any old team can pick the top end prospects without putting in the same work and well-rounded approach to scouting and development. We saw it really hurt the quality of Puerto Rican players in MLB and we could see the same happening with other international players. It will also practically destroy the Asian amateur market. A draft hurts the teams that work harder in this area and takes money from the players and puts it back in the owner's pockets.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Now that I can agree with.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Wish people with more influence than John Arguello would take up this torch because it could still be stopped. It's going to do a lot of damage to the game internationally and remove a key lifeline for poor kids in developing countries. But, hey, at least this way Loria and Reinsdorf can enjoy the good lobster more often.

  • Love this kid. I think even more important than top velocity is what kind of Delta V you can achieve with the same delivery. Sounds like Hendricks really sells this. Plus his control is just off the charts.

  • fb_avatar

    I am anxious to see Hendricks pitch in AAA. The reason is that I want to see if his stuff and command plays up at a higher level. Alot of times, finesse-types have trouble with that jump, as more professional hitters force you to be finer with your command, and punish you when you are not. In general, AAA hitters are veterans, so they know how to work a count and wait for their pitch, generally.

    Nick Struck is an example of a pitcher who, so far, can't make that adjustment. Hendricks looks better, but Struck illustrates the point.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Agreed. I like Hendricks command better than Struck's. Approach is a little different. Struck is like a bulldog out there, he's fearless and attacks the zone but his command hasn't been good enough so far this year -- and his stuff has never been good enough to get away with stuff up in the zone. He's been exposed a little and he has to improve that command to stay in the rotation depth picture. Hendricks seems a bit more cerebral, has more of a feel for pitching. I don't know if that necessarily makes him better, but he's different -- and totally agree that his command has to be more and more precise as he faces more experienced hitters such as the ones he'll face in AAA and/or the majors.

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    Just out of curiosity, I wonder how Hendrick's stuff, command and approach might play out of the bullpen. Generally, guys throw harder out of the pen than as starters, and if he could consistently maintain low to mid-90's while keeping that same command and approach, he could still be really special even if he doesn't make it as a starter. Trevor Hoffman anyone?

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I think his characteristics play out better as a starter. That feel for pitching, cerebral approach, and command are what you want to see in a starter. I think you leave him there until he proves he can't do it.

    I see someone like Struck as potentially getting a boost in the bullpen. He can probably increase his velocity and his aggressive mentality might work better in short stints.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm not saying he should be moved to the bullpen now, but if it turned out that he couldn't make it as a starter or if there is just no room in the Cubs rotation, it is an option to consider. I bring up Hoffman, because he might be one of the most cerebral relievers ever.

  • I was salivating over Hendricks the day he came over. That ERA, walk rate, and the scouting reports were just too good. Picking up a potential gold glover at 3B and someone who understands pitching at the level Hendricks does was a very nice haul for two months of Ryan Dempster.

  • In reply to Jim Weihofen:

    It was a nice haul -- especially when you consider that the Cubs had their backs against the wall. THey had to trade Dempster and he wanted to go to one team -- and every other team knew it. Much respect to the Rangers for being reasonably fair in that tough situation for the Cubs.

  • Hendricks has obviously found out you don't need to throw the ball through a wall to get guys out and might result in lower pitch totals overall. The guy I think deserves to be watched is Rosscup- his numbers suggest he might have more success at the next level than Hendricks. But it's nice to see some of the recent acquisitions have been performing, unlike guys like Maples, McNutt, or Kirk. For all the attention they've had, none of them has lived up to the expectations the were drafted with.

  • fb_avatar

    John

    We've seen a little player movement over the past couple weeks but when do you expect to start seeing some of our better prospects move up? Pierce is handling low A fairly easily and Soler needs a little more time in Daytona but probably not too much more.

  • In reply to Zachary Myers:

    I think we can expect to see a lot of movement in the second half and after the draft. The large influx of players will force the Cubs to make room and evaluate who is ready for promotion. I look for Pierce Johnson, for example to move up. Look for guys who a are a) performing well, b) a bit old for their league, and c) guys who are repeating a level -- John Andreoli, Matt Szczur, are good examples guys who fall into all categories. Eric Jokisch is also a good candidate. Guys like Soler, Baez, Vogelbach will have to do earn it strictly by performance and I'm not sure they've done that yet to a high degree of certainty. Not yet.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Szczur and Ha are both guys we need to evaluate. Szczur is blocked a bit by B-Jax; they'd probably like them both to play CF, though B_Jax is more polished, so he could take a corner.

    Ha is hurt, but he is also Rule-5 eligible; I personally don't think he is worth a 40-man spot, but you never know. They probably have to at least think about it. If so, he needs to be promoted to see if he can hit AAA pitching, at least.

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    In reply to Zachary Myers:

    One guy I want to see promoted is Rosscup. He's clearly dominating at AA, and he is Rule-5 eligible after this season; Cubs need to see him at AAA to help determine whether he should be protected or not. He's also 25, time to sink or swim.

    Another guy in that same category, sort of, is Yeiper Castillo. He just got promoted to AA, so he needs a month or so, but if he continues to pitch well he'll be promoted aggressively; he is a minor league FA after this year, so Cubs will need to add him to 40-man or risk losing him

  • I like the fact the Cubs system will soon be flooding with prospects. Some of the pitching may not be top end just yet, but it is better and within 2-3 years of arriving. However, what I like best is that I think there is accountability and competition throughout the Cubs system where players just can't rest on their laurels anymore. Clearly, expectations are being put forth at every level and Mr. Johnson's influence is just beginning with the pitchers.

  • In reply to historyrat:

    Should have stuff coming up on Johnson sometime next month. Doing research.

  • John- from what I am reading, I feel a good comp to Hendricks could be Kevin Slowey or a Tommy Milone. What do you think?

  • In reply to Panama Cub:

    That might work.

  • I watched Cabrera, McNutt, and Zych get pounded last weekend and Hendricks, Rosscup, and Jokisch make hitters look like rusty gates. I think that it something to do with the the aggressiveness of the other team.

  • A little late but, do you think he'll get the bump to AAA mid season? If he does will he be a september call up?

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