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Prospect Report: Cardinals' Hence Makes Short, Sweet AFL Debut



SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Though it lasted just eight pitches, Tink Hence's Arizona Fall League debut hinted at the massive potential he has and the talent he could one day bring to the Cardinals' rotation.

His last official outing had come nearly a month prior, in the Florida State League Championship Series, so his command was understandably a touch off, especially with his fastball. The heater sat between 96-97 mph and he mixed in a pair of sweepier sliders in the 82-83 mph range. The results were two groundouts to second and a flyout to left field.

Hence, whom the Cardinals selected in the second supplemental round of the 2020 draft, pitched just 52.1 innings this past season, his first full year as a pro. He struck out 81 and walked just 15 in that time. He got swinging strikes at a rate of 16.3%.

"I always set high expectations for myself," Hence said. "I was just taking it outing by outing to see what I could do to be a complete pitcher."

To that end, Hence is working in Arizona on a variety of goals. One of those is to continue working to make his slider and curveball more distinct from one another. They have a tendency to blend at times, and the quality of each isn't always uniform.

"If I throw one bad curveball," Hence said, "the next one should be how I want it. That's where I'm trying to get the consistency ... In the regular season in Low-A, I was really just relying on my fastball. Here, I know I need to have two or three (pitches) in the zone, and I need to be able to control them.

Hence had both breaking balls in high school but was more slider-heavy on game days. He started throwing the curveball more often because the data showed him that the pitch, when it breaks more vertically, played particularly well off of his fastball, which has late life when thrown up in the zone and sinking action when thrown lower.

Hence threw just eight pitches on Thursday, but they provided a brief window into a pitcher with sky-high upside.

Jackson Merrill, SS, Padres: In the first week of the season, Merrill has stood out as part of the Fall League's clear upper echelon of offensive prospects. Just as was the case in spring training and the scant action he saw in the regular season, the 19-year-old has used a picturesque lefthanded swing to produce a tantalizing blend of contact and impact. On Thursday, Merrill collected three singles in five at-bats during Peoria's win over Glendale. He's now 6-for-16 with a triple and more walks (three) than strikeouts (two).

Luisangel Acuña, SS, Rangers: The Rangers have a cachet of intriguing middle-infield prospects, and Acuña, still just 20 years old, is doing his best to vault to the front of that group. Acuña played just 91 games during the regular season because of an injury suffered in his first at-bat of the season. Now healthy, he looks strong, powerful and ready to provide plenty of thump. On Thursday, Acuña went deep for the second straight day. This time, it was a loud blast to left-center at Salt River Fields, where his Surprise club held off the Rafters. He's 5-for-13 to start the AFL with just one strikeout in 13 plate appearances.

Tyler Gentry, OF, Royals: Gentry was a pop-up prospect for Kansas City this season. The 23-year-old Alabama alum showed plate discipline and power while advancing to Double-A Arkansas. By season's end, he'd produced a .964 OPS with 22 doubles and 21 home runs. On Thursday, he swatted his first two home runs of the Fall League, joining Blue Jays prospect Addison Barger as the only players in the AFL with a multi-homer game.

ORGCLASSRANKPLAYERABRHRBIAVGNOTES
WIN#0Je'Von Ward, OF41120.2862B (2), BB (2), SB (1),
WIN#0Noelvi Marte, SS41000.200BB (1), SB (1),
WIN#0Austin Martin, SS21110.167BB (2), SB (1),
WIN#0Edouard Julien, 2B31100.2222 BB (5), SB (1),
WIN#0Terrell Tatum, OF50210.357SB (2),
WIN#0Zavier Warren, C40000.333BB (2),
WIN#0Adam Hackenberg, C41120.167BB (3),
WIN#0Rece Hinds, SS52210.3332B (3),
WIN#0Drew Millas, C51340.3332B (1), HR (1),
WIN#0Jackson Merrill, SS51300.375
WIN#0Robert Perez, 1B40110.167BB (1),
WIN#0Tirso Ornelas, LF51200.2222B (1),
WIN#0Luke Ritter, 2B30010.000
WIN#0Kevin Kendall, SS42220.462HR (1), BB (2),
WIN#0Spencer Packard, OF22000.2503 BB (6),
WIN#0Tyler Gentry, OF42230.2502 HR (2),
WIN#0Luisangel Acuna, SS32210.385HR (2), SB (1),
WIN#0Scott Schreiber, LF30010.182
WIN#0John Rave, OF31110.3333B (1), BB (2),
WIN#0Cody Freeman, C31000.333BB (2),
WIN#0Nick Gonzales, 2B21220.4552B (1), 2 BB (2), SB (1),
WIN#0Zach Daniels, LF40100.125
WIN#0Zach Britton, RF30120.500
WIN#0Jordan Lawlar, SS41000.300
WIN#0Jordan Walker, 3B40000.125
WIN#0Grant Lavigne, 1B41210.5562B (3),
WIN#0Tanner Morris, SS30200.333
WIN#0Pedro Pages, C41220.2862B (1), HR (1),
WIN#0Zac Veen, OF21100.6672 BB (4), SB (4),
WIN#0Colt Keith, 3B22100.5002 BB (4), SB (1),
WIN#0Masyn Winn, SS40000.125
WIN#0Mason Auer, OF42100.333SB (3),
WIN#0Zack Gelof, SS40000.091E (1),
WIN#0Blake Hunt, C30100.286E (1),
WIN#0Denzel Clarke, OF30000.000SB (1),
WIN#0Jasson Dominguez, CF20110.200BB (2), SB (1),
WIN#0Jose Salas, SS40100.167CS (1),
WIN#0Owen Caissie, OF40000.125
WIN#0Matt Mervis, 1B40000.143
WIN#0Justyn-Henry Malloy, 1B20000.2502 BB (6),
WIN#0Nick Yorke, IF42200.3572 2B (2), BB (5), E (1),
WIN#0Cal Conley, SS40100.2312B (3), E (2),
WIN#0Stephen Scott, 3B41000.250
WIN#0Wilyer Abreu, RF30130.091
WIN#0Heston Kjerstad, OF40100.368
WIN#0Luis Matos, OF41100.333
WIN#0Cesar Prieto, SS40110.222
WIN#0Niko Kavadas, 1B31110.200BB (4), E (1),
CHCWIN#0BJ Murray, 3B30000.000
HOUWIN#0J.C. Correa, SS30000.000BB (1),
WASWIN#0Darren Baker, 2B51100.200E (1),
Tink Hence (Mike Janes Four Seam Images)

12 Breakout Pitching Prospects For The 2022 Season

A dozen pitchers who broke out during the 2022 season.

ORGCLASSRANKPLAYERIPHRERBBKERANOTES
WIN#0Lane Ramsey, RHP0.12222113.50L (0-1)
WIN#0Ryan Shreve, RHP1.0111133.00
WIN#0Ben Harris, LHP1.01200333.75
WIN#0Ryan Middendorf, RHP2.0122166.75
WIN#0Amos Willingham, RHP0.2100020.00
WIN#0Lucas Knowles, LHP1.0000130.00
WIN#0Alek Jacob, RHP1.0000130.00
WIN#0Cade Smith, RHP2.0100163.38
WIN#0Colin Selby, RHP1.0322139.00
WIN#0Omar Cruz, LHP1.2111252.45
WIN#0Tahnaj Thomas, RHP1.11110412.00
WIN#0Jackson Goddard, RHP2.02222618.00
WIN#0Kyle Leahy, RHP1.23221514.73
WIN#0Riley Martin, LHP2.0332267.71L (0-1)
WIN#0Bailey Horn, LHP1.0000030.00
WIN#0Nick Richmond, RHP1.0211033.00W (1-0)
ARIWIN#0Chad Patrick, RHP2.13444715.43L (0-1)
ATLWIN#0Allan Winans, RHP5.01100150.00
CLEWIN#0Hunter Stanley, RHP3.0411193.00
CWSWIN#0Declan Cronin, RHP1.04220318.00
HOUWIN#0Rhett Kouba, RHP2.0422169.00W (1-0)
MILWIN#0Russell Smith, LHP3.0400290.00
NYMWIN#0Josh Walker, LHP1.02222318.00W (1-0)
OAKWIN#0Colin Peluse, RHP3.0322296.00
SDWIN#0Jordan Guerrero, RHP0.125421108.00
STLWIN#0Tink Hence, RHP1.0000030.00
TBWIN#0Alexander Ayala, LHP2.0200060.00
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