Prospect Interview: Liam Hendriks of the Minnesota Twins
I had an opportunity to ask pitcher Liam Hendriks of the Minnesota Twins some questions yesterday. Hendriks was signed by the Twins out of Australia in 2007, and entered 2012 as one of their best prospects, ranked third on my pre-season Top 20 2012 Twins prospects list.
John: 2012 has been an up-and-down season for you. You have been brilliant in Triple-A (9-2, 1.99 ERA, 76/25 K/BB in 99 innings for Rochester, 69 hits), but the going has been more difficult in the majors with the Twins (0-5, 7.04 ERA in eight starts, 23/10 K/BB in 38 innings, 57 hits). What is the biggest difference between facing major league hitters and facing Triple-A hitters?
Liam: With the Twins this year I started out the season well, but then started getting away from my game plan. I was throwing more off-speed pitches and throwing a lot of balls with them. It's always hard to be behind in the count and be successful.
The biggest difference for me was attitude towards the hitters. I was giving guys too much credit and not trusting what I could do enough. I was getting away from what got me to the Twins and what makes me successful in the minor leagues.
John: Tell us about your arsenal.
Liam: I throw five pitches, starting with a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball. I have a changeup which I use to both right and left-handed hitters. My slider is my main breaking ball at the moment. I have the best feel for that pitch and it's been moving well also. My curveball is my fifth pitch and comes and goes from being a useful pitch. I like using it against left-handers mainly but will use it against righties in certain situations.
John: What is your best pitch, the one you trust most in a critical situation?
Liam: Depending on the batter, it changes, but I always trust my fastball in any situation. If a guy has fouled off some pitches I will look into throwing something else, but mainly the fastball is my go-to pitch.
John: Which pitch needs the most improvement?
Liam: My curveball needs the most improvement. It just lacks consistency but when I feel good with it, I will throw it a lot for strikes and can also put it in the dirt for a two-strike pitch.
John: Is there anything specific that you are working on this year, or is it just a matter of building innings and experience?
Liam: I'm trying to get back to what I was doing in spring training. Attacking the hitters, being aggressive and making them feel uncomfortable in the box. I have changed my mechanics several times this year so currently I'm getting back to my original motion where I feel the best and strongest out of.
John: Who is the toughest hitter you've faced in the minor leagues this year?
Liam: There are a lot of quality hitters in the International league and I usually seem to have a better track record against guys who have had some time in the MLB, but I would have to say one of the toughest outs I have had this year is Dan Johnson with Charlotte. He is a very smart hitter and no matter the count is always a threat to hit the ball hard somewhere. (Note from John: Johnson is hitting .267/.395/.509 with 27 homers and 90 walks)
John: Your minor league track record is excellent, but you had some problems with injuries earlier in your career (two knee injuries and an appendectomy). Did you ever get discouraged because of the health issues?
Liam: Not at all. I had to learn at a young age to adapt and move forward. My first knee injury was a week before the U/17 World Championship.I was unable to go but I never lost sight of my goals and I have come back stronger from every setback I have had. I was part of the WAIS baseball squad (Western Australia Institute of Sport) and they had me see a sports psychologist. He said I was one of the happiest kids he had ever seen. I guess I just handle it well and strive to come back better.
John: What are the biggest differences between living in North America and living in Australia?
Liam: The lifestyle is definitely different. It's more laid back in Australia. No one is really in a rush where I live. I love how in America everything is always open late into the night. The malls in Australia close at 5 and aren't even open on Sundays. Me and my fiancé currently spend a decent part of the off season in Florida as well so it's almost a shock for me going back to Australia every year, haha.
John: How popular is baseball in Australia? How did you get into baseball?
Liam: It's definitely gaining some coverage in Australia with guys like Luke Hughes, Travis Blackley and Grant Balfour, the game has gained a lot of popularity. The new Australian baseball league is definitely helping as well with my home town team winning both years since its return.
Hopefully I can be as much of an icon as some of the guys have been for Australia. Anything to improve the game in Australia is a plus.
Special thanks to Liam for answering all my questions!