By Meghan Montemurro
With the minor league baseball season over, Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks could have chosen rest and relaxation or perhaps to go on vacation to kick off his offseason.
However, Hendricks had a different plan in mind. Instead the Cubs’ prospect is spending nine weeks to take four college classes. Hendricks, who is majoring in economics with a minor in mathematics, will graduate from Dartmouth after the fall quarter.
“It’s definitely different being back in the classroom and taking classes,” Hendricks said with a laugh. “It’s not my favorite part, but it’s been a good experience.
“I figured while I have the opportunity I might as well go back.”
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Hendricks had good reason to take a break from his studies this weekend. The Cubs honored him before Saturday’s game against the Braves as the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year.
Saturday also marked the first time Hendricks had ever been to Wrigley Field, and while he got to catch up with a few minor league teammates, he is looking forward to the day he takes the field in a Cubs uniform. When that will happen isn’t clear cut.
“You can’t really think about when you’re going to get here, what upper management is thinking about you,” Hendricks said. “All you can do is focus on your game. There’s a few things I need to work on — there’s always things you need to work on as a pitcher — but I felt real comfortable this year. I got into a groove into the middle of the year, and things fell into place.”
Hendricks, acquired from the Texas Rangers as part of last year’s trade involving Ryan Dempster, started this season at Double-A Tennessee and posted a 1.85 ERA in 126 1/3 innings prompting a promotion to Triple-A Iowa. The 23-year-old right-hander handled the transition, and against more experienced hitters, Hendricks went 3-1 in six starts with a 2.48 ERA.
When the minor league season ended, Hendricks finished with a 13-4 record and 2.00 ERA in 27 starts (166 1/3 innings pitched). Hendricks admitted he was a little bit surprised by his performance this season.
“Obviously Javy (Baez) gets all the publicity, but from a pitching standpoint Hendricks kind of had the year (Baez) had as a hitter,” manager Dale Sveum said. “He pitched extremely well at both levels, very pitch-efficient.”
Hendricks' repertoire consists of a fastball, changeup, sinker, cutter and curveball, the latter being a pitch he especially worked on during the last month at Iowa. The changeup is his go-to secondary pitch, and he usually throws it 10-15 mph slower than his fastball. Hendricks’ development this year puts him in position to be an option next year. Continuing to develop his secondary pitches will be important as Hendricks’ goal is to be a starting pitcher in the majors.
“We’ve talked about things I need to work on going into next year,” Hendricks said of his conversations with the Cubs’ front office. “One of the things we’ve talked about is getting left-handed hitters out. You would think I’d get lefties out better with my changeup, but I have more trouble with lefties than I do with righties and a big part of that has been throwing my curveball to lefties.”
At this point, Hendricks hasn’t set any goals for next season. His focus at the moment is finishing his coursework at Dartmouth to earn his degrees and making sure to stay in shape so he’s ready for spring training.
While the Cubs have player-development plans for every player, the front office has shown a willingness to advance players if they force the issue with their performance on the field. Outfielder Junior Lake earned a call up in July given his performance at Iowa and the need the Cubs had on their big league roster. Left-hander Chris Rusin also has thrived since late July when he got an opportunity to be in the rotation. It bodes well for Hendricks, who just wants a chance to earn a spot in the spring.
“This is a special guy,” director of player development Brandon Hyde said. “He was absolutely opening our eyes from the very beginning. He’s a strike zone filler with his different pitches, and he’s obviously unbelievably intelligent.”