Kyle Hendricks is the man with a plan

Pitchers like Kyle Hendricks can take time to appreciate.  He doesn’t have the kind of stuff that wows scouts.  There is no mid 90s fastball, no wipeout slider, no knee-buckling curve.  In fact, Hendricks once admitted himself that neither his curve or slider were very good, but as usual he has found a way to adapt.

Hitters probably feel pretty comfortable at the plate because Hendricks is not going to physically intimidate them.  Yet when the game is over they often finding themselves scratching their heads and wondering how they went 0 for 4.

So how does he do it?

Hendricks is the thinking man’s pitcher.   He has that intangible quality referred to as pitchability.  He has a plan up there on the mound and the command to pull it off.  The temptation is to compare him to Greg Maddux, but I think that’s unfair.  Maddux had better stuff than his reputation sometimes suggests.  He was much more highly regarded as both an amateur and a prospect.   It’s not surprising, however, that Maddux is Hendricks’ idol, though he admits his game doesn’t resemble that of the Hall of Famer.  But he is striving to get there.

To listen to Hendricks speak, you can see why Jason McLeod and Chris Bosio are high on him.  He practices what the Cubs preach, starting with developing a routine to do his best ensure to consistency,

“It’s just been my five-day routine, sticking to it and doing the same thing every five days. I’ve had a great feel every time out on the mound and just kinda been in a groove and trying to keep it going…You just have to come to the ballpark every day and focus on what you have to do.”

As far as his stuff goes, it has improved.  The fastball isn’t overpowering but Hendricks sets up the 2-seamer well and it’s effectiveness is enhanced with good downward plane and his ability to locate it down in the zone.  He can dial it up a little more if he has to but he also realizes it’s best for him to use it wisely and conserve stamina.  Here is an excerpt from his interview with Aerys Sports,

Well I throw mostly a two-seam fastball, so my two-seam sits at like 89-91. If I’m trying to blow one by a guy I can go upstairs near eye level and throw a four-seam and max out at a 93-94. Right now it would be nice to get that up obviously but it’s a lot harder then it sounds. Just getting stronger and being able to throw harder. I have been working out and working out hard all off-season. Sometimes I don’t need velocity-games. I need stamina-games where I’m stronger at the end of the game. I want to be able to throw a the same velocity in the 8th inning that I was in the 1st inning.

The change-up had always been his best pitch and typically that’s a weapon against opposite handed hitters.  But Hendricks struggled a bit against lefties, though he did make an adjustment and improved at the end of the year at Iowa.

Part of that improvement has to do with a “new” pitch.  He recently morphed his curve and slider into  a “slurve” (which he still sometimes calls a curve) and it has been more effective than either of the two breaking balls were on their own.  He’s more confident with the combo pitch and it has become a weapon for him against lefty hitters.

” I made a lot of progress in the one month I was in Triple A with Mike Mason, the pitching coach. He started making me use my curve ball early in the count to lefties, like back dooring it. Just flipping it up there and I noticed a lot of time that they would just take it, so I started implementing that into my routine. Basically just trying to go after good left handed hitters. I saw a lot more success.”

He did lose a pitch to his repertoire so he added a new one last year as well.  He cuts his fastball and while it isn’t a swing and miss, he can locate it well and it has just enough movement to where hitters can’t quite square it up,

“I just started throwing a cutter and it’s been a big part of the repertoire lately, 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.”

So while Hendricks doesn’t have that one “wow” pitch, he has four pitches in which he feels pretty confident.  So consistency, improved stuff, and plus command contributed a great deal to his success, but there is one more weapon in Hendricks’ arsenal — his mind.  Hendricks has that in common with Maddux,  They both throw every pitch with a purpose.

Hendricks intelligent approach allowed him to adjust to pitching in one of the Southern League’s most hitter friendly parks.  Of course, Hendricks was well aware of that fact and pitched accordingly,

“The biggest thing if you’re pitching in a small park, the one thing you can dictate is keeping the ball out of the air,” he said. “If you can get a two-seam fastball going and keep it down and on the ground that’s the biggest asset you can have. I’m definitely a ground-ball pitcher. I shoot for early outs and early ground balls and early contact to keep the pitch count down and keep my fielders on [their] toes.”

“You have to establish the fastball inside, but when it comes down to crucial points of the game you try to make a guy beat you to the opposite field. You’re not going to give them a cookie and let them pull it, especially at Smokies Park, where you can get it out down the line even if you’re not a power hitter.”

Wrigley plays a little different than Smokies Park in that it plays short in the alleys but the wells make it play like a big park down the lines.  I’m sure we can expect Hendricks to plan ahead and adapt accordingly.

That’s kind of what he does.



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  • "I shoot for early outs and early ground balls and early contact to keep the pitch count down and keep my fielders on [their] toes."

    Here's to hoping some of that rubs off & sinks in on Shark....

    Nice read though John. I'm pulling for the guy. Glad you confronted the Maddux comps early on, I hate them. Not only because Maddux had better stuff, but even the pitchability & command/control pales in comparison to Maddux. People do that with every "finesse" pitcher, but we may never see another Maddux....

    Anyways, Hendricks will be one to watch this year. He has zero margin for error with his command, but something tells me he'll be just fine as 5th starter down the road for us...

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    He'll be fun to watch. I can see him being a solid 4 or 5 and pitching for many years. Looking forward to seeing him in big league camp this spring.

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    "Here's to hoping some of that rubs off & sinks in on Shark.... "

    you stole my thought exactly

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    "Here's to hoping some of that rubs off & sinks in on Shark...."
    I would second that!

  • love the way this kid thinks (and not overthinks) the game.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    Agreed. Great for anyone who appreciates the art of pitching.

  • Nice piece. I'll take Jason McLeod's assessment of this Pitcher (with a capital P) over those who rate pitching prospects by speed guns any day. As Greg Maddux said, who needs another "brain-dead heaver."

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Thanks. I like Hendricks but it's not that black and white. The best hard throwers also know how to pitch. It's better to have good stuff than not to have it. The simple fact is that hard throwers are much more likely to be front of the rotation starters and high leverage relievers. There is no finessing around that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    "Much more likely to be front of the rotation starters"... the degree is highly debatable. You go back 10 years of Cy Young voting or All-Star selections and it's a surprisingly close split among starting pitchers who are K kings versus command kings. Hard throwers have a slight edge, but not major. Plus hard-throwing prospects flame out quicker and have a higher chance of losing time to arm surgery. My preference is for more of a mix in a system and the rotation versus the predominant fad toward power arms. Of course, if you can have command and power, all the better; however, that usually requires subscribing to the Leo Mazzone school of pitching that detests max throwing -- which describes most hard throwers (but not all). As Mazzone says, take 4-5 miles off your pitches and you gain so much more through command. Give me more pitchers (hard and command arms) with low WHIPs and fewer brain-dead heavers wowing 'em with high K/9 rates.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    It's not at all debatable.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Excellent point. End of debate.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    He's debated it countless times, & no one has been able to come back with any facts on the contrary.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    He has debated it? But he just said it's not debatable. Boy this is all so very confusing for this ex-jock. Or maybe Chris Rock was right when he said, "There's math, and everything else is debatable."

    P.S. -- No contrary facts? Except for the ones I noted above. Cy Young candidates. All-Star teams. HOF -- all are fairly evenly split among power and command arms.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Random anecdotal examples are not facts. If you can't even get past that much, why bother with the rest?

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    The point is this: There is no point debating with some people. I'd rather bang my head against a wall.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    "There is no debating with some people." Now you're just repeating yourself. You already stated that your opinion about aces is non-debatable. So you're just compounding irrational thin skin with tautology. And your point about "random anecdotal examples" (highly subjective and thus debatable) is an odd chide when the opposing side provides no supporting facts. Keep in mind this started with a compliment from me and then my adding a simple difference of "degree" but not kind. But as you pointed out, your "facts" (even when not provided) are incontrovertible. But of course, I'm not looking for a combative debate, just intelligent conversation on Cubs and baseball. Your articles provide it, but your comments belie someone intolerant of any variation of opinion typical of talk radio.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    I agree the numbers support your thoughts. But let's see if he can continue to put up those numbers. Plus command can make up for a lot of things look at Mark Bruhele (sp), he was the Ace of the WS for a number of years. Is is stuff outstanding no but he was a very smart pitcher with excellent command.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    The idea that finesse pitchers are preferable over power pitchers -- all other things being relatively equal -- is nonsense. Not one person I know or have ever met in baseball feels this way. It isn't debatable.

    I appreciate the kind words but it isn't something I care to debate. I don't want to repeat myself. I think it's a matter of belief with you and in those situations, no amount of facts seem to matter.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Clayton Kershaw. Max Scherzer. 2 examples of hard throwers whove learned how to pitch. Tom Seaver comes across as another example.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Yep. Verlander too. He was a thrower in college. More on the way too. Jonathan Gray is learning how to pitch. Mark Appel pitches mid 90s and he really knows how to pitch.

  • It take more than a 100 per hour fastball to win. Out guessing
    the hitter and hitting your spot is more important. I hope he
    knows that is ok to waste a pitch or two with a count of 0-2

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Don Sutton says it best. Hitting is timing and pitching is upsetting timing. Might help explain why Sutton lasted 20 years and never had an arm problem.

  • Greg Maddux and Kyle Farnsworth. The Cubs had themselves quite the polar opposites on the thinking spectrum at that point, no?

    Hendricks is exactly the kind of pitcher I want to see succeed. He's also the kind of pitcher that, if he takes that last step here, tends to have LONG careers in the bigs--durable and dependable. And Texas included him as an afterthought in the Dempster deal, right?

  • In reply to notcarlosdanger:

    That's about as opposite as you can get :)

    Hendricks is the guy you root for if you like the cerebral part of the game, which I believe many of us on this site do.

  • I'm excited to see what Hendricks ends up being. The command is something that I don't hear a lot about with our other pitching prospects, good arms but learning command, but that command seems necessary to success in MLB.

    I also love to hear about how he thinks the game and how committed he is to succeeding.

  • In reply to Morgzie:

    I feel hopeful that he could exceed expectations and get closer to the top of the rotation than the bottom. This is probably my bias for pitchers v. throwers.

    Because I comment so infrequently (but read all the time), I just want to thank you John for your thoughtfulness and your vision. The insights all the readers here are able to shine because of your leadership. It makes this rebuilding time bearable. It'll be fun as more and more pieces get put in place and more wins come.

  • In reply to Morgzie:

    I am expecting Edwards and Hendricks to make
    it but patience will be key. We loved maddux but
    it took him a year and half to succeed. In fact I think
    in 1987 he was 6-14 with a 5.50 era

  • I saw Greg Maddux when he first came up, and he had a mid-nineties fastball and very good stuff. He's not really a comparable for Hendricks. Current comparables would be Dillon Gee and Mike Leake. Both have similar stuff to Hendricks and are 4/5 starters. It took them about 3 years to develop consistency and both had career years in 2013. Both pitched close to 200 innings, had an era below 4, and limited walks. I would think that since they are successful there's no reason why Hendricks can't be as well.

  • In reply to krn99:

    Completely agree with regard to Maddux. As stated in the article, they are not alike. Hendricks himself said it.

    As for comparables, from a scouting standpoint, Hendricks has been told he compares to Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays. I can see that but I think they have a different approach and Hendricks may have better command, but we'll have to see how MLB hitters approach Hendricks. They're more likely to lay off borderline pitches.

  • In reply to krn99:

    I saw Maddox more than a dozen times at Peoria and DesMoines, as well as his time with the Cubs.

    I remember an article that came out in the Trib in 1988 that was examining the then pitching staff. The point of the article was that it was one of the slowest throwing staffs in the league, with only Maddux and Moyer able to reach 90, both topping out at 91. Both of then cruised at 87 - 89. The most interesting thing to me at the time was that Suttcliffe cruised at 85 - 87, and was unable to touch 90 on his best day. The point of the article was that command within the strike zone was much more important that velocity.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    Those late 80s staffs are not exactly ones I want to see again. Sutcliffe was still effective when healthy and Maddux really started to come into his own, but beyond those two there wasn't much else that was good other than one fluke Bielecki season. Moyer, Sanderson and others were not all that great of pitchers for the Cubs at that point.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Sanderson was a very good pitcher for the Cubs. Unfortunately, he developed arm problems and only was with us a short time. Moyer never really got much of a chance to pitch for the Cubs. Dallas Green thought he couldn't survive in Wrigley Field living off a changeup, so he traded him off in a classic bad deal. Dennis Eckersley also was a very good starter for us but had physical problems in 1985 like most of the rest of the starting staff. The Cubs wanted him to switch to short relief: setup and closing but he refused and was traded to Oakland in another bad deal.

  • Let's hope we see a lot of this guy in Wrigley, beginning sometime this Summer,.... about every 5th day,..... and for years to come.

    I've always liked the guys like Maddux and Moyer who beat you by getting you to weakly hit what they want to give you. Power arms are fun too,.... but give me a guy or two in each rotation that can just frustrate hitters consistently,....

  • Baseball has produced many quality staffs that have included a finesse pitcher or two. The opposition gets geared up for one power arm after another, but if one throws in a control guy it implores the the opposition to adjust, which allows the power arms to be more effective as well. It's a similar concept to not throwing all righthanders.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Hendricks could definitely be that kind of nice change of pace guy. I like that his stuff has improved as it gives him a bigger margin for error. I can easily see him slotting in that 4th spot and having games where he gets into rhythm and shuts the opposition down.

  • Was pretty shocked when I saw that he can hit 94 at times. Didn't think he could reach that high.

  • In reply to jswick23:

    Maddox had that pitch too. He would only throw a couple times a game in a key spots after he had set up the hitter.

  • In reply to jswick23:

    It's max effort and it's on his 4 seam FB. It also straighens out at that velo. He is very unlikely to use it as anything other than a very occasional "show me" pitch.

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    I have been all in on Hendricks since he came over from Texas. I think he's going to be a lot better than the "know it alls" think. He gets guys out. He's got a degree in economics from Dartmouth (Go Big Green). He seems to be able to make adjustments (started out slow in Iowa then turned it on). He's been successful at every level. I really think this kid is going to help the Cubs a bunch - this year and many years to come.

  • In reply to MightyBear:

    I hope so. I'm optimistic he can be part of the Cubs rotation as soon as this year and hopefully for years to come.

  • In reply to MightyBear:

    What does a degree in economics at Dartmouth have to do with pitching? Many of baseball's best strategisted were practically initiate.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    Hmmm, let's see Dartmouth = Ivy league = brains = intelligence = pitcher not brain dead hurler.

    Now what exactly does "strategisted" and "practically initiate" mean? Seriously, I am unable to translate that statement into understandable English.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    By very definition, Economics is the study of human behavior. If that ability to think critically and take emotion out of your decision making process, strictly focusing on what data tells you, doesn't make a better pitcher, then he needs his money back. Pitching is a learned skill for most of the great ones, he has displayed the ability to sift through what otherwise seems like arbitrary data and come to a conclusion on human behavior. Economists are statisticians with more depth of understanding the implications of their data. Great point MightyBear. (note my "slight" bias with a degree in Finance and Economics)

  • In reply to Jordan Dutcher:

    Interesting thoughts. I never really thought of it like that, but it make sense.

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    Great article by the way. Well done Mr. Arguello.

  • In reply to MightyBear:

    Thank you.

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    In reply to MightyBear:

    agreed... although I am hopeful his ceiling ends up being a touch higher, I think a 4/5 is a very well thought out conservative estimate.

  • amen,drz
    i like a rotation with a couple of pitchers that
    frustrate hitters. mix them in with a couple of
    power guys and that can make for a solid rotation.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Absolutely b_c. I mean - we already got one of those sorts of finessse guys in the rotation (a guy named Wood) who is never going to overpower anybody, but who was easily the most consistent pitcher we had on roster last season.

    A couple of those guys in a rotation can go a long way eating up innings, keeping your team in most games, and helping keep the bullpen fresh. I wouldn't want an entire rotation built like that - but 2-3 might be workable depending on the 2-3 we're talking about.

  • He certainly says all the right things. Hope he has enough stuff to become an effective MLB starter. He seems like the type of kid you want to root for.

  • Hammel has got to be a flip guy, right? Because if not I'd rather see a young pitcher like Grimm or Hendricks take the ball every five days and develop. Why waste our time with a fill-in guy otherwise?

  • In reply to Matt Mosconi:

    They won't waste their time with fill in guys once the kids are ready. Grimm really struggled as a starter last year and Hendricks has like 8 AAA starts. It won't hurt either to get some time in at Iowa. I don't think you will see the Cubs adding the Hammel's and Feldman's of the world beginning next offseason. The pipeline is starting to fill up with young potential backend rotation guys that should be able to do the same job much cheaper, hopefully beginning some time this year with Grimm and Hendricks. In the future they should only have to look to bring in top of rotation veterans.

  • In reply to Matt Mosconi:

    I think he's a potential flip guy even if the Cubs do well -- and certainly if they don't.

  • Great article John, I like throwing in pieces of interviews to let us get inside his head a little bit and see how he ticks.

    Would you compare him to a right handed version of Travis Wood? Similar arsenal and velo? Both jamming hitters inside to set up their other pitches? Using the cutter for weak contact? I could see them having similar paths where it might take a year or two for him to put everything together at MLB level but to have a break out year and prove a lot of people wrong about him.

    I have high hopes T. Wood can repeat or come close to last year and Hendricks could do the same. Pair them up with a couple of higher velo throwers like E Jax, Shark and Arrieta (hoping he can put it together too) and next year could have an above average rotation around July

  • In reply to IowaCubbie:

    Thank you. I gleaned those quotes from three different pieces and tried to make it all fit together, so I appreciate the kind words.

    I like Wood. He's probably going to be more like the second half pitcher (3.60 ERA) than the first half (2.90 ERA), but I will gladly take that.

  • A rotation with wood,hendricks & edwards is a great
    3-4-5 now we need to find a 1-2 to complete it.
    Maybe shark or grimm or arrieta or the #4 pick
    can fill one of those spots. But I think we will have
    to go get that other guy.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    If we can get one spot in the rotation nailed down between Hendricks and Edwards I will be ecstatic.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    In 2016 maybe. Right now Edwards has the stuff to be a closer or perhaps a for, but he has trouble getting beyond 4-5 innings against minor leaguers. He needs to spend a year or two in the minors building up his arm strength and improving his command.

  • I would hope Jackson also starts well enough to bring something back. I am eager to see these up and coming pitchers in June and July. Great article John but I have to admit I know nothing about pitching (or hitting for that matter).

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    He interviews like he pitches -- intelligently. You could tell he went to an Ivy League school.

  • John,

    If you had to guess, who would be the I-Cubs opening day starter? I ask this because I will be there that day.

  • In reply to Rudy:

    I'd guess Hendricks based on his performance last year, though it could go to someone like Rusin if he's sent down since he's the vet of the group.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Are you thinking Grimm makes the final cut? Because if he doesn't, that's who I want as my #6 SP. I don't think Rusin could over take him, but Grimm is certainly capable of over taking himself....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    If Grimm doesn't make the team then he could be that "6th starter". It would make sense for him then to stretch out in Iowa.

  • John, don't Dallas Beeler and Ben Wells profile as guys similar to Hendricks? Cubs apparently like both of them.

  • In reply to notcarlosdanger:

    Beeler and Wells are bigger bodied guys but they are similar in that they throw 2-seamers with good plane and are good at inducing ground balls. Neither has the command that Hendricks does, in my opinion, sO I would rate Hendricks ahead of both at this point.

  • At one time Wells had a 95 plus fastball. I believe he has had a substantial drop since his arm problems the year before.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    Yes. He's more 88-92 now but he does get good movement on the two seamer.

  • Barney gets one year deal worth 2.3 mil to avoid arbitration.

  • In reply to IowaCubbie:

    I think Shark is the only one left that hasn't agreed yet.

  • I like the Maddox comp / non comp. As John has pointed out, the margin for error for guys without the power stuff is much less. So it's hard to project this guy until he proves himself at the MLB level. His ceiling is hard to predict, and his floor is a complete flame out. The one area I would like to see him and Maddox compared to someday is that they outpitched their predictions as prospects. Here's BA's rankings of Maddox in the 80's:

    1.Shawon Dunston, ss
    2.Billy Hatcher, of
    3.John Abrego, rhp
    4.Tony Woods, 3b
    5.Greg Maddux, rhp

    1.Carl Hamilton, lhp
    2.Billy Hatcher, of
    3.Mike Brumley, ss
    4.Gary Parmenter, rhp
    5.Drew Hall, lhp
    6.Rafael Palmeiro, of
    7.Greg Maddux, rhp

    1.Rafael Palmeiro, of
    2.Drew Hall, lhp
    3.Dave Martinez, of
    4.Carl Hamilton, lhp
    5.Greg Maddux, rhp

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Carl Hamilton? I have no recollection of him.
    It shows you that prospects lists are only
    that. So we know some of our prospects
    arent going to make it. Thats why quality
    depth is so important, it just gives you flexability.
    So if prospect #5 fails maybe prospects #12
    will be successful.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Carlton Hamilton was an excellent prospect for a while. He had a fastball in the mid 90s, which was outstanding for a lefty at that time. He also had a good slider. Unfortunately, he couldn't get the ball over the plate consistantly, and when injury destroyed his fastball, he dropped out of sight.

    He was a local boy from the far south suburbs (Chicago Heights, if I remember right), and used to send letters to Baseball America, a couple of which they printed. That was the days before the internet.

    He left the system a couple of years before the Cubs got Vance Lovelace, a lefty with a faster fastball and even less command.

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    In reply to Break The Curse:

    How the heck can anybody argue with the Mighty Carl Hamilton on that list. lol

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    I remember the Kentucky Rifle, Drew Hall, who threw 99mph and had an unhittable slider. I believe he threw 2 or 3 no-hitters in the minors. He should have been our ace for a long time, but he hurt his arm and lost velocity down to 90 or so and wasn't the same pitcher.

  • In reply to krn99:

    I think you are thinking of Lance Dickson. Drew Hall never even had much success in the minors.

    He was remembered for one thing, however. There was a young catcher in the draft that was from the Chicago area that the Cubs were so intent upon signing that they had him and his family in the draft room so they could meet the press upon signing his contract, (which was already agreed to by both sides) They had the third pick that year, and Drew Hall was expected to be taken as the second pick. When he actually fell to #3, the Cubs picked him, and left the young catcher high and dry.

    A couple of years later, the Cubs did make a minor league deal and bring the kid into the system (don't remember his name), but neither he nor Hall ever did much.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    Just looked it up. The catcher was Eric Pappas

  • John, if Hendricks doesn't make it as a starter, would he be useful as a reliever or is his value a total zero at that point?

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    I wouldn't say useless, but his command/approach/pitchabiilty work best as a starter.

  • Great stuff, John. I hope he forces his way in and is able to make 15-20 starts in Chicago. For this dynasty thing to work out, we're going to need a couple of the prospects to beat the odds and actually over-achieve. Hendy is my pick to click on that one. Have a funny feeling about Rubi Silva as well.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Thanks. Would like to see that too. I want to see what he can do this year before they start making plans for 2015.

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