When the Cubs look into their crystal ball and dream of future stars, most of the players they see are positional prospects, the likes of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora or Kris Bryant.
The Cubs came into the season with a dearth of impact pitching prospects, and while they have acquired some solid prospects this year, one unheralded arm is turning heads.
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Right-hander Kyle Hendricks was recently promoted to Triple-A Iowa and is slated to start for the I-Cubs Thursday.
The Cubs acquired Hendricks, 23, along with third baseman Christian Villanueva from the Rangers in the deadline deal that sent veteran Ryan Dempster to Texas last season.
With the trade deadline last week, Hendricks discussed his "whirlwind" experience at last year's deadline with Mick Gillispie of Smokies on the Radio.
The Dartmouth College product only made a handful of starts in the Cubs system in 2012, but has been phenomenal this season in his first go-round at Double-A, sporting a 10-3 record, 1.85 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 21 starts for the Tennessee Smokies. In his last 43 innings before the promotion to Triple-A, Hendricks allowed just four earned runs to go along with a 36:6 strikeout to walk ratio.
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His stellar season earned him a bid to start the midseason All-Star game and prior to his promotion, his ERA was tops in the Southern League, 21 points ahead of the Diamondbacks' Archie Bradley, who was rated as the game's top pitching prospect in Baseball America's Midseason Top 50.
"I've had a good year so far," Hendricks told Gillispie. "Coming here at the beginning of the year, I had a few bad starts, but [we] worked out a couple mechanical things.
"From then, it's just been my five-day routine, sticking to it and doing the same thing every five days. I've had a great feel every time out on the mound and just kinda been in a groove and trying to keep it going."
Hendricks attributed part of his success to a new slurve he adopted this season. Last year, he threw a slider and a curveball, but neither had much success, so he combined them this year and has a lot of confidence in the pitch, effectively keeping hitters off balance.
Ever since he was selected in the eighth round of the 2011 draft, Hendricks has never been considered among the game's elite prospects, but his numbers have put the baseball world on notice.
In three minor-league seasons totaling 67 games (46 starts), Hendricks is 18-13 with a 2.41 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Thanks to a sparkling walk rate (1.5 free passes per nine innings), he sports a 5.24 strikeout to walk ratio and has given up just 14 homers in more than 309.2 career innings.
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As the Cubs continue to pinpoint pieces for the future and Hendricks continues to ascend through the system, the young righty knows he is getting close to realizing his professional dream. But he won't let that distract him from his development.
"You hope [to get the call]," he said. "That's what we play for -- to make it to the big leagues one day. You can't really waste your time worrying when you're going to make it or what's going to happen.
"You just have to come to the ballpark every day and focus on what you have to do."