If you don’t remember the 2012 Ryan Dempster saga, you’re probably better off. But in case you do, it’s probably playing like a crappy soap opera in your head. There was the respect being paid to an effective veteran from an optimistic fanbase – and then, it happened. There was lying, there was deceit, there was blindsiding, and murder! Well, maybe not the murder part (But you could make the argument that our hopes of landing a young, MLB-ready starter like Randall Delgado were killed) but it was dramatic!
And in the midst of all that drama, Dempster was finally traded a few minutes before the trade deadline on July 31st, 2012. On the other side of that deal came two Texas High-A players, 3B Christian Villanueva and SP Kyle Hendricks. Villanueva is already one of the Cubs’ top ten prospects and we’ve heard a lot about him, but what about Hendricks?
When the Cubs traded for Hendricks, he had already experienced some success in the lower levels of the minors. The then-22-year-old 6’3” RHP is known for his pinpoint control. This resulted in only 21 walks over the course of 166.1 innings pitched in his time as a Texas prospect.
In the time that I’ve been tracking prospects, I’ve preferred to use rates instead of counting stats to evaluate a player. When we convert that to BB/9 (walks per 9 innings pitched), Hendricks was only handing out 1.14 free passes per complete game. Do you think that’s good or should I put it into context for you? I don’t? Good. It seems like the Cubs were getting a pretty solid prospect in return.
When Hendricks came to the Cubs, he was sent to High-A Daytona where he continued being stingy in the walks department. Hendricks threw strike after strike and it either resulted in a hit, an out, a strikeout, but only 6 times a walk. Hendricks finished the year at Daytona and is now in AA Tennessee.
Now, at 23, Hendricks has been pitching well there, too. In his fifth start, he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. However, in his following start he was shelled for 9 hits in only 5 innings (But that is almost to be expected from a strike-thrower). He’s seen an uptick in strikeouts but it’s nothing major. Really he’s been the same guy he’s been his whole career – and that’s a good thing.
Over the course of his minor league career, Hendricks has been the same pitcher everywhere: He gets his fair share of strikeouts since he throws strikes (7.9 K/9), but he also gives up his fair share of hits since he throws strikes (8.2 H/9). Luckily, Hendricks gets his share of ground balls too, so not many of those runners end up scoring (2.86 ERA).
I can see Hendricks debuting in early 2014 if the Cubs trade away a majority of their current rotation, but late 2014 is a better estimate. Hendricks is one of the only starters in the Cubs’ system who doesn’t carry a major question mark. Let’s hope he continues to develop.