Name: Liam Hendriks
Notable 2011 Stats: 2.70 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 5 HRA, 18 BB, 81 K, 45% GB% in 90 IP with New Britain (AA);
4.56 ERA, 2.29 FIP, 0 HRA, 3 BB, 30 K, 48% GB% in 49 1/3 IP with Rochester (AAA);
3.36 ERA, 2.63 FIP, 5 HRA, 21 BB, 111 K, 46% GB% in 139 1/3 IP total in minors;
6.17 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 3 HRA, 6 BB, 16 K, 46.2% GB% in 23 1/3 IP with Twins
Why He’s This High: Hendriks is basically ready for the majors now, as he held his own in the big leagues in September as a 22-year-old. His downside is thus quite low, as he immediately showed all of the skills–good command, some strikeout and groundball ability–that got him to the majors less than two years after he started a season (2010) in the Midwest League.
Hendriks’ command is what sets him apart; in Triple-A, he walked 0.55 batters per nine innings, for example. While many pitchers with very low low-minors walk rates tend to start nibbling in the upper minors, Hendriks had none of those issues in 2011, continuing to attack the strike zone. Clearly, he wasn’t burned by that tendency, as he allowed just five home runs in the minors and didn’t morph into a pinata (a la Anthony Vasquez) in the majors.
While it’s easy to look at Hendriks’ low walk rates and conjure up the image of a pure finesse guy, we shouldn’t forget that he’s got some pretty respectable pitches. His fastball averaged 90 mph in the big leagues, and he’s capable of running it up to 92-93 mph when he needs to. The Aussie righthander also throws a slider and curveball that should be at least average pitches and have a chance to be plus. A usable cutter and changeup round out his arsenal.
Hendriks just turns 23 in February, so he has plenty of time to refine his pitches. He’s not especially projectable, so he’s unlikely to suddenly see a velocity spike, but his patterning and offspeed stuff should improve as he settles into the big leagues.
Why He’s This Low: Obviously, Hendriks’ ceiling doesn’t seem to be that high. He often gets lumped in as “the next stereotypical Twins pitcher,” as many expect him to just be Nick Blackburn 2.0, or a groundballing version of Kevin Slowey. He didn’t put up big strikeout numbers in either Triple-A or the majors, and it’s unclear if he’ll ever come up with a true “out pitch.”
In particular, Hendriks isn’t very effective to lefthanders, as he has to rely on his weaker offerings–the curveball and changeup–against them, and his fastball doesn’t work as well as it does to righthanders. In his small sample against major league lefties, that was a big issue and a major driver of his 6.17 ERA in his brief MLB stay.
Conclusions: I’ll get this out of the way–comparing Hendriks to Blackburn is unfair. Blackburn was a full three years older than Hendriks when he got his first MLB action, and he never was anywhere near as dominant in the minor leagues. Comparing him to Slowey might sound negative–Slowey did post a 6.67 ERA in the big leagues this year in what should have been his “prime” age-27 season–but we shouldn’t forget that he boasts a career FIP of 4.24, and most of his problems have stemmed from crazy flyball rates, an issue Hendriks doesn’t have.
As a result, Hendriks could be the next sneaky-good control guy, following Doug Fister and Brandon McCarthy. At the very least, he should be a good bet to post ERAs around 4.00 year in and year out, with the ability to eat lots of innings thanks to his economical approach to pitching. There are much flashier pitching prospects around, but Hendriks has proven his worth throughout the minor leagues and is ready to be a solid contributor to starting rotations for the next decade.
Check out all of the Seedlings To Stars 2012 Top 100 Prospects here!
For more on the Twins, check out Puckett’s Pond!