Rangers righthander Kyle Hendricks snuck onto the Northwest League top prospect list last fall, coming in at No. 20 after going 2-2, 1.93 with 36 strikeouts and four walks over 33 innings.
Since then, he’s made two changes and he’s again one of the best performers in his league, having spent the entire season with high Class A Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League.
“I changed my mechanics a little bit at the very beginning of the year, trying to get more directional and trying to get everything going towards home plate,” Hendricks said. “And then other than that, I’ve been working with the pitching coach just on pitch sequences, learning the hitters and just watching and learning from the swings they take on certain pitches so that I can make adjustments on the mound as you go and really thinking while you’re out there instead of just throwing.”
He also added a new pitch.
“I just started throwing a cutter and it’s been a big part of the repertoire lately,” Hendricks said. “If I fall behind in the count or something, I use it as a contact pitch to get out of the count and go to the next hitter.”
Hendricks doesn’t overpower with his stuff. His fastball sits in the 87-89 mph range, but he pounds the strike zone and the cutter gives hitters one more thing to think about when it comes to his deep arsenal: He throws a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a changeup, a curveball and a slider.
“I have a pretty good feel for the baseball, so it was actually a pretty easy pitch to learn,” Hendricks said. “And pretty easy to command, which is why I put it into my repertoire so quick. I’ve been pretty pleased with it and Brad (Holman), our pitching coach, has worked with me on it a lot—different grips and stuff like that in the beginning, and I found one that really works for me, so I’m happy with it.”
Thought his first 20 starts and 131 innings this season, Hendricks is 5-8, 2.82 with 112 strikeouts and just 15 walks.
He went to Capistrano Valley High in Mission Viejo, Calif., where he graduated one year ahead of Rockies lefthander Tyler Matzek, before heading to Dartmouth and becoming an eighth-round pick last year.
The last player to be drafted out of Dartmouth and make the big leagues is lefthander Mark Johnson, who spent parts of seven years in the big leagues after being drafted in the 20th round by the Pirates in 1990.
“It’s been a little bit of a learning curve, obviously,” Hendricks said. “But the pitching coaches we’ve had and the managers have been trying to help me out. I’m just trying to learn as I go along and just get better every day, but playing college ball anywhere is a lot different than pro ball. So, any college you’re coming from is going to be a lot different, but it’s been a great time so far.”
As an economics major at an Ivy League school, other players might be tempted to quiz Hendricks on the team’s long bus rides, but he insists he’s just one of the guys.
“I tell them not to even start on that stuff,” Hendricks said with a laugh. “I know they’re thinking about it, but I tell them, ‘I’m not as smart as you think I am. I got in for baseball, don’t worry!’ “