In the midst of what appears to be another non-intriguing season for the Chicago Cubs, most of the focus is being placed on the players in their minor league system. Several of these players – such as Kris Bryant and Javier Baez – garner a lot of publicity because of their superstar-status projections, but it is actually some of the prospects that are not as hyped that can have a big league impact in the nearer future. One of these players is Triple-A starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks.
The Cubs acquired Hendricks and third baseman Christian Villanueva at the trading deadline in 2012 when they traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers. At that time, Hendricks was pitching at the High-A level and posted a 2.82 ERA in 20 games. Since then he has progressed through the minors fairly quickly. After owning the Southern League with Double-A Tennessee with a 1.85 ERA and just 26 walks in 126.1 innings, he earned a late-season call up to Triple-A Iowa last season. His performance also earned him their Minor League Pitcher of the Year honor and an invitation to Spring Training with the big league club.
Hendricks is a guy that relies much more on command and the location of his pitches rather than blowing hitters away. He is also a very good fielder, committing just two errors so far in his 3+ year professional career. Because of these qualities, he has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. That isn’t to say that Hendricks will be the next Maddux, but their pitching approaches are very similar.
Because he relies more on location, sometimes he doesn’t always get the result that he wants. This season his ERA (3.90), H/9 (9.1), and BB/9 rate (2.6) are noticeably higher than his career averages. But despite these numbers, he is one of the best pitchers in their farm system.
If trades or injuries affect Chicago’s starting rotation, Hendricks is one of many guys who could be given an opportunity to step into the rotation. Swing-man Carlos Villanueva can be taken out of the bullpen to start, and fellow Triple-A rotation mates Chris Rusin (who has major league experience) and Dallas Beeler are already on the 40-man roster. But with the team not expected to perform well this season and spots likely opening up in the rotation, why not bring him up this year? I think that regardless of the competition that he faces, Hendricks should be given a chance to start – or at least pitch - in the majors this year. Whether he gets called up after a trade/injury or as part of the roster expansion in September, he needs to face major league hitting and start to get big league experience.
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