The CCO’s post-season minor league awards continue today with the Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Kris Bryant, along with James Pugliese, Corbin Hoffner, and Michael Hamann were named Short-Season Player and Pitchers of the Year on Monday.
Although there was some very good pitching at all levels in the Cubs’ system this past season, we only needed to look as far as the Tennessee Smokies for a majority of the candidates. While there were several excellent individual performances by the Smokies’ pitchers to consider, one pitcher stood out from the rest.
The CCO Minor League Pitcher of the Year – Kyle Hendricks, RHP
When the Cubs traded veteran RHP Ryan Dempster to the Rangers at the end of last July, most of the focus was on the hard-hitting, slick-fielding prospect they received in third baseman Christian Villanueva. Kyle Hendricks seemed almost like a throw-in since he did not appear on any prospect lists. Hendricks was sporting an underwhelming 5-8 record in 20 starts for High-A Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League at the time. But a deeper look at the numbers revealed that the Cubs might have landed a very good starter for two months of Ryan Dempster.
Kyle Hendricks struck out 112 batters with only 15 walks in 130.2 innings for Myrtle Beach with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP that included less hits (123) than innings pitched. Hendricks made five appearances, four starts, for Daytona after the trade and put up pedestrian numbers. In his first 17 innings in the Cubs’ system, Hendricks surrendered 17 hits with three walks and 11 strikeouts (4.24 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP). But his performance at Daytona was hardly an omen of things to come.
The Texas Rangers selected Kyle Hendricks in the eighth round of the 2011 draft. As a high school player, Hendricks’ team went 86-21 over four his years and he was 8-2 in his senior season with a 0.93 ERA that included 65 strikeouts. The Los Angeles Angels selected Hendricks in the 39th round of the 2008 draft but he chose not to sign with the Halos and enrolled in Dartmouth University. As a junior for the Big Green, Hendricks was 5-3 in nine starts, with a 2.47 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP that included 70 strikeouts in 82 innings.
Starting his professional career with the Short Season-A Spokane Indians, Kyle Hendricks pitched 20 games in relief and was 2-2 with a 1.93 ERA and a 0.74 WHIP that included 36 strikeouts in 32.2 innings. He also received a late season start for Double-A Frisco and gave up an earned run in three innings. Moving into a starting role in 2012, Hendricks was assigned to High-A Myrtle Beach. Hendricks was 5-8 with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP (112 strikeouts) in 20 starts. The Cubs placed him at High-A Daytona following the trade. In 25 games, 24 starts, in the Rangers and Cubs’ system last year, Hendricks gave up 140 hits with 18 walks and 123 strikeouts in 147.2 innings (2.99 ERA, 1.07 WHIP).
Prior to the 2013 season, the CCO profiled Hendricks as one of the “Five Players to Watch” for the upcoming campaign, but it was not clear at the time whether the organization would have him start again at Daytona or move him up to Double-A Tennessee. The front office decided to assign him to the Smokies and Hendricks took the Southern League by storm.
Kyle Hendricks won the Southern League ERA crown (1.85 ERA) despite making his last six starts of the season at the Triple-A level. Hendricks went 10-3 in 21 starts for the Smokies with a 1.85 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. Hendricks allowed less hits (107) than innings pitched (126.1 IP) while managing nearly a 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio (101 strikeouts, 26 walks). Hendricks’ 101 strikeouts were good for 17th in the league. Hendricks was promoted to Triple-A Iowa on August 8, and he went 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP with 27 strikeouts, eight walks and 35 hits allowed in 40 innings.
According to scouting reports, Hendricks has a fastball that touches just above 90 mph, to go along with a curve, cutter, and change-up. He has above average command and control, and is able to use his fastball to set up hitters for his change and cutter. He has a repeatable delivery with good mechanics that give him the appearance of being effort free.
As amazing as his numbers were, Hendricks did have some competition this season, mostly among his own teammates. Fellow Tennessee starter Alberto Cabrera was leading the Southern League with 107 strikeouts when he was promoted to Iowa in mid-July. Cabrera had a 9-3 record for the Smokies and his ERA of 3.20 (1.25 WHIP) was good for eighth in the Southern League. Another Tennessee pitcher, lefty Eric Jokisch, ended up second in the Southern League with 137 strikeouts, and his 137 strikeouts was tops among all Cubs’ prospects. Jokisch had an 11-13 record with a 3.42 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP, plus he pitched a no-hitter on August 6. Pierce Johnson flew under the radar for the most part this year and put together a tremendous first full season in pro ball. Johnson was 5-5 in 13 starts with Kane County that included a 3.10 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP before being promoted to Daytona. Johnson was 6-1 in 10 games, eight starts, with a 2.22 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. In 118.1 innings between Kane County and Daytona, Johnson allowed 109 hits with 43 walks and 124 strikeouts. Iowa’s Brian Schlitter led the entire system with 22 saves, and 20 of those were with the I-Cubs. Schlitter posted overall ERA of 2.42 with a 1.22 WHIP that included 58 strikeouts in 63.1 innings.
Monday: The CCO’s Minor League Player of the Year