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Draft Report: Dion Henderson

Author’s Note: Throughout the spring, Baseball America will take a closer look at some of the top prospects in the 2016 draft class. Today, we look at lefthanded pitcher Dion Henderson.

On the high school showcase circuit, scouts have to keep their eyes constantly peeled. Regardless of which event it is, prospects are likely to emerge, to rise to the occasion in front of the swarm of scouts sitting behind home plate. So, when a lanky, wide-shouldered, high-waisted lefthander jogs out to the mound, scouts know that its time to go to work. Last June, when Dion Henderson trotted out to the rubber at the Perfect Game National Showcase, evaluators peered into their roster booklets, sat up and began to bear down.

The first objective when a pitcher starts warming up is to conceptualize the delivery. Where does he set up on the rubber? What kind of motion does his front leg make, and where and how does it land? When do his hands break, and what direction his pitching arm go? Are his hips and shoulders coiled? How does his arm come through his arm slot? What happens after he lets go of the ball? All of these questions can start to be answered when a pitcher starts to warm up, though there are often differences between a warmup delivery and an in-game delivery.

Henderson sets up near the middle of the rubber. He takes a step back with his right foot, then lifts his leg high, with his right knee tucking upward, reaching the height of his chest. His front leg comes down and he drives forward, landing online. He spins off his heel to keep himself balanced after release. Meanwhile, his hands break just as he starts to drive forward with his lower half. His throwing arm goes back and up, like he’s loading a slingshot. A righthanded hitter can see the ball behind Henderson’s head, but just for a split second, because he unleashes quickly, driving his arm through a slightly high three-quarters arm slot. There’s some length to his arm action, and his back elbow is high early, but this allows him to create deep plane on the ball. He finishes with deep extension towards home plate, thanks to his long arms and the way his torso lands over his front knee. There’s a little bit of recoil as his arm comes across his body, but it isn’t quite violent and his head stays still.

So, before Henderson had even thrown a pitch, it was clear that he was some kind of prospect. Then he struck out the side in his first inning of work, and retired the side in order in his second inning. He pounded the bottom of the strike zone with his fastball, pitching at 89-91 and touching 92. His breaking ball was inconsistent, but it showed potential, with late 1-to-7 dive and sharp spin. He also flashed some feel for a changeup. The ingredients were there for Henderson to develop into a starting pitching prospect.

A couple months later, Henderson attended the East Coast Pro event in Tampa, this time with a different crowd of scouts paying attention to him. Henderson had decided to transfer from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., to DH Conley High in Greenville, N.C. At East Coast Pro, Henderson’s performance wasn’t as electric, but his fastball still bumped 92 and he showed some semblance of a changeup and curveball, both of which needed improvement.

Henderson has taken feedback from evaluators well.

“Whenever I hear I’m projectable, I ask scouts what they want to see from me,” Henderson said. “My curveball is a little slow, kind of loopy. I need to add some harder break to it. My fastball can get wild. My changeup needs work too.”

Going forward this spring, it isn’t clear where Henderson fits with respect to the draft. He has plenty of hurdles to overcome, and it isn’t clear where he’ll be as challenges arise. While he enrolled at DH Conley in the fall, family circumstances have made it unclear where Henderson will play this spring, if he plays at all. He attempted to transfer to Calvary Christian in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but was not admitted. So, Henderson’s future is uncertain in more ways than one.

Henderson understands what he needs to achieve in order to be the best player he can be. Only time will tell if he can reach his ceiling.

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