Chicago Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks is a special pitcher. He was also nowhere to be found on top prospect lists when he was in the minors. Let's explore how he looked as a prospect.
The Rangers drafted Hendricks out of Dartmouth in 2011 as an eighth rounder. He was immediately successful in the bullpen in the Northwest League (1.93 ERA in 33 innings) and made a late start in Double-A. I put him in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book with the following comment:
Hendricks was drafted in the eighth round last year, out of Dartmouth. He looked good in the bullpen at short-season Spokane, then got the call to Double-A when Frisco needed someone to start the last game of the season. He acquitted himself fairly well in that outing. Hendricks runs his fastball up to 94 MPH, mixing in a slider, curve, and changeup. He throws strikes and has a sense on how to pitch, and looks like a sleeper prospect to me. The main criticism is that his fastball lacks movement, but his other pitches help make up for that. Grade C but keep an eye on him.
Texas moved him into a starting role in 2012 and he was excellent, posting a 2.82 ERA in 131 innings in High-A with a ridiculous 112/15 K/BB. He went to Chicago in the Ryan Dempster deal. Here's the report entering 2013:
The Texas Rangers drafted Hendricks in the eighth round in 2011, out of Dartmouth. He was having an excellent season for High-A Myrtle Beach, and then was traded to the Cubs in the Ryan Dempster deal. Were the Rangers selling high, or do the Cubs have something special here? Hendricks threw up to 94 MPH when used in the bullpen in 2011, but as a starter he’s more in the 88-92 range. His command is excellent and he has a full assortment of secondary pitches, using a curveball, traditional slider, cutter, and changeup. None of his pitches are plus offerings, but hell, he’s got five of them, and he throws strikes. That’s enough to make short work of A-ball. We need to see him at higher levels, but Hendricks could end up being a useful four/five starter. He could also return to the bullpen, where his diverse arsenal and superior command could give hitters fits in short doses. Grade C+.
Hendricks continued dominating hitters in Double-A (1.85 ERA in 126 innings) and Triple-A (2.48 in 40 innings), posting a combined 128/33 K/BB. Here's the report entering 2014:
An eighth round pick out of Dartmouth by the Texas Rangers in 2011, Hendricks was traded to the Cubs in the 2012 Ryan Dempster deal. As you can see, he has been extremely effective in the minors and finished ’13 with a strong run of pitching for Triple-A Iowa, positioning himself for a major league trial some time in 2014. Despite his statistical success, he doesn’t show up on top prospect lists due to a nonfast fastball: he works at 87-92 MPH. His command is obviously strong, and he mixes the fastball with a cutter/slider, curveball, and changeup. He’s quite deceptive, changes speeds well, and keeps the ball down, generating grounders. While he’s more of a fourth/fifth starter type than a future ace, I like his feel for pitching enough to go with a Grade B-.
ASSESSMENT: As you can see Hendricks showed up on the sleeper radar early and continued to improve at every level. The Grade B- entering 2014 was higher than most other sources rated him, though I certainly didn’t expect him to turn into a Cy Young candidate. He's a master at his craft, making hitters look silly with a fastball that tops out at 91.
His peak velocity has actually declined a little since he was drafted, but the tradeoff is better movement: it is interesting to read the early concern about his fastball being too straight. Combine the sinker with his mix of secondary pitches and his ability to work the zone and you have an elite pitcher.