Results tagged ‘ Kyle Hendricks ’

From the Pages of Vine Line: Hendricks is always in control

hendricksPhoto by Stephen Green


At the season’s outset, many thought starter Kyle Hendricks wouldn’t last in the Cubs rotation. Now he might be the best pitcher in the National League. We break down the Cy Young contender’s rise from fifth starter to ERA leader. The following story can be found in the October issue of Vine Line.

By Gary Cohen

Baseball fans love fireworks. They pack stadiums to witness majestic moon shots and glove-popping 98-mph heaters; they line dugouts to get autographs from players like Kris Bryant and Jake Arrieta; and they study the stat sheets to divine the latest league leaders.

The numbers have always defined the game. It doesn’t take more than a mention of 755, .406 or 511 for most fans to know exactly who and what you’re talking about.

Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks is unlikely to excite this set. In many ways, he’s a Bizarro superstar—a hero hidden behind a mild-mannered exterior.

Hendricks is far from an intimidating physical presence on the mound. His fastball averages just 87.6 mph, 71st out of 78 qualified pitchers—and two of the guys behind him are knuckleballers. He was drafted in the 39th round by the Angels out of high school and in the eighth round by the Rangers out of college. On paper, not much about him is eye-popping. But, as the old saying goes, games are not played on paper.

Though the unflappable 26-year-old has quietly put up one of the best statistical seasons of any starting pitcher in baseball—orbiting the same stratosphere as names like Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard and Arrieta—many expected he would eventually get squeezed out of the Cubs rotation by new acquisition Adam Warren at the season’s outset, and few even recognized his efforts until the dog days of August. But consistently flying under the radar is nothing new for Hendricks.

“It’s something I’ve been dealing with my whole career, probably my whole life, growing up, being one of those guys who didn’t throw hard,” Hendricks said. “I don’t think it bothered me as much as maybe it would someone else, just because I’ve had that all the way coming up. I’ve always had the critics. ‘He didn’t throw hard enough, this and that.’ At the end of the day, I’ve always learned you just have to have confidence in yourself.”

And why wouldn’t Hendricks be brimming with confidence? The California native wrapped up the season leading Major League Baseball with both his 2.13 ERA and 188 ERA+, which takes standard ERA and normalizes it across the league, accounting for external factors like ballparks and opponents. A 100 ERA+ is league average. Hendricks’ 188 is 88 percent better than league average. His 0.98 WHIP ranked second in the NL, and his .207 batting average against ranked third.

So the big question is why do many around the game still view Hendricks as the Cubs’ fifth starter or talk about him as nothing more than a fringe Cy Young candidate? The answer—as unsatisfying as it is—is simple: He doesn’t look the part. He doesn’t snarl and glower on the mound like John Lackey. He doesn’t throw the kind of gas that makes fans swoon when the number appears on the left-field video board like Aroldis Chapman. Though he is 6-foot-3, he’s not a physical paragon like fellow Cy Young contender Arrieta. In fact, he looks every bit the Dartmouth-educated economics major he actually is.

But game by game, the cerebral hurler is proving you don’t need to bring the heat to put a chill into opposing offenses. You just need to be able to execute pitches and place them exactly where hitters least expect them to be.

It’s always darkest before the dawn. Though 2015 was an ascendant season for the Cubs organization, with the club notching its first postseason appearance since 2008 and winning its first playoff series since 2003, things never quite felt right for Hendricks from an individual standpoint. By the time the

Cubs had moved into the postseason, manager Joe Maddon had him on a short leash. In two playoff starts, one in the NLDS and one in the NLCS, the right-hander went 4 and 4.2 innings and put up a 5.19 ERA. But the problems started much earlier than that.

The 2016 model of Hendricks has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt you don’t need to throw 95 miles per hour to get batters out. But if you are one of the dying breed of non-knuckleballers who throws under 90, you certainly don’t have as much leeway to make mistakes. Hendricks admitted his mechanics didn’t feel right from Day 1 in 2015, and that created a ripple effect of problems that undercut his performance.
“Last year when I was out of it, I didn’t feel confident,” he said. “I didn’t feel I could put the ball where I wanted to, and as a command guy, that’s the No. 1 problem. My stuff isn’t going to beat you, so I have to have command. I have to be able to put the ball where I want to. When I’m not doing that, confidence is tough to come by. So when I was in those situations, I was going to my sinker and change-up, things I could rely more heavily on.”

Pitchers like Hendricks count on keeping hitters off balance, and, as he said, opposing offenses could comfortably sit on the sinker or change-piece in key spots. Because he was working harder to get batters out and his rhythm was predictable, Hendricks seldom went deep into ballgames. His first time through an order, hitters posted a .228/.296/.355 line against him. By his third time facing the same hitters, they pounded Hendricks to a .329/.374/.520 mark, which explains why he lasted only 5.6 innings per start.
“Last year, I think he was a little bit too predictable,” said catcher Miguel Montero. “We talk about a lot last year, and I give him some advice here and there, but I don’t think he was ready. Actually, we talk about the same thing this year, and I say, ‘What you’re doing now, that’s what I was trying to tell you to do last year.’ We had talked about it, and he gave me the right answer. He said, ‘You know what? I don’t think I was ready last year to try it.’

“I wanted him to use his whole repertoire. I don’t want him to fall into a pattern using the same pitches over and over and over and over. You can see the first time through [the order], he was on cruise control last year. The second time through, he had a little bit of a tough time. And then when the third time through came up, he was out of the game.”

Even with all this working against him, Hendricks was still able to make 32 starts, strike out 167 hitters versus only 43 walks and post a 3.95 ERA. There are plenty of pitchers who would happily take that line in their first full professional season. But Hendricks definitely isn’t among that number.

“I think the standards of what we’re trying to do here [are very high],” he said. “Even with all the games we won last year, coming into this year, with what we’re trying to accomplish, there’s a very heightened sense of what you need to do.”

To say things have been different for Hendricks this season would be a vast understatement. He used his frustrating 2015 campaign as fodder to spur the next major step forward in his development, and his darting pitches have been baffling opponents since the spring.

“I kind of got out of my mechanics a little bit in the middle of last year,” Hendricks said. “When you go into those kinds of slumps, it helps you learn more about yourself coming out of it. So I had better cues, better checkpoints in my delivery, basically. I was able to kind of work those in at the end of the season last year, so going into the offseason, spring training, they just kind of followed from there.”

This year, Hendricks has quite simply been one of the best pitchers in baseball, he made organizational history for his efforts. He won the ERA title—his 2.13 mark was more than 30 points ahead of teammate Jon Lester, who took second in the National League. No Cubs pitcher has led the NL in ERA since “Big” Bill Lee in 1938 (2.66), and that includes Arrieta, who won the Cy Young Award in 2016 but still finished second in the ERA chase to Zack Greinke.

“He’s one of the most fun guys to watch pitch because he can dominate a lineup with 88-90 and a change-up,” Arrieta said. “A guy like myself can learn a lot from that, knowing we don’t have to try blowing 96 by guys or throw an amazing breaking ball to get a swing and miss. You’ve got to be good about changing speeds and changing eye level. He does that extremely well.”

Because Hendricks has been so much better this year, there’s a tendency to assume there was some dramatic change he made. The bottom line is: There really isn’t one. It all comes down to small adjustments and execution.

He used to throw a cutter, which he gave up on early last year, and he’s using his change-up, always his best pitch, a little more. Perhaps the biggest differences are that he’s frequently mixing in his four-seam fastball, with which he can touch 90 mph, and his curveball has become a plus offering. He’s not necessarily using it more, but it’s a much bigger weapon.

“That’s become a big pitch for him,” said Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode. “Last year, it was more of a strike pitch. This year, he’s able to get guys out with it.”

He also feels much stronger heading into the most important games of the Cubs campaign. He’s worked hard to keep his body in shape and has even started practicing yoga. Unlike many pitchers, Hendricks likes to throw off the mound twice between starts, and he’s been doing a lot more long toss, a preferred workout of his, all season.

“I basically throw two shorter bullpens,” Hendricks said. “I’ve noticed it just helps me touching the mound more and getting more reps. I think because I’m that command-type guy. It just helps me stay sharper, and I don’t really fatigue too much from it.”

And the results bear that out. From June to September, Hendricks went 13-4 with a 1.80 ERA in 134.2 innings pitched. Besides his season finale on Oct. 2, he hadn’t given up more than three earned runs in a game since May 17, his seventh start of the season.

While his velocity dropped as last year wore on, it has actually increased this year. After starting the 2015 season throwing his fastball at 89.2 mph, according to Brooks Baseball, he was at his lowest velocity of 87.1 in October. This season, he was averaging 87.4 in April but had jumped to 89.2 by August.

When Hendricks came up to the big leagues with the Cubs in 2014, not much was expected of him, but he opened eyes around the league by putting up a 7-2 record and a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts for an improving team. He threw five pitches, all with movement, and had excellent command. His most effective weapon was probably his change-up, but he also had a sinking fastball that helped limit hard contact and keep the ball on the ground.

At first, the comparisons were inevitable, if not grandly premature. In the modern era, Hendricks is a far cry from flame-throwing behemoths like Syndergaard, Max Scherzer and Arrieta. Immediately, people started comparing him—though often a bit sheepishly—to Hall of Famer and four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux. The two even share a nickname: The Professor.

These days, that comparison is looking a bit more apt. Hendricks has become a true pitcher, someone who methodically studies, game plans and breaks down hitters’ tendencies. He knows what works for him, and understands how to exploit an opposing offense’s weaknesses.

“I was sitting in the bullpen the other day, and I was watching Kyle pitch, and one guy popped in my mind right away, and that’s Greg Maddux,” Strode said. “I said, ‘This guy is pitching just like Greg Maddux did.’ He’s not trying to overpower anybody. He’s making his pitches, locating pitches, changing speeds when he needs to change speeds on guys. He’s doing the exact same thing Greg did.”

Plus, Hendricks has the pitch mix and command to hit every quadrant of the zone. In other words, if you have a weakness, he can attack it. With his newfound confidence this year, he’s doing just that.

“Every time he’s pitching and we go over the scouting report, he’s locked in on it,” Montero said. “On every hitter, every pitch, he’s pretty locked in. You can see other pitchers, you go over the scouting report, and they got a little doubt here and there. He’s a guy who doesn’t have any doubts. He tell you what he wants to do and what the hitters’ weaknesses are and strengths. It’s pretty good. Obviously, you need to execute regardless, but he knows if he’s going to go fastball in, he’s got fastball in on this guy. He knows he can execute it, and he knows he’s got that pitch.”

In 2016, Hendricks has generated soft contact 25.1 percent of the time, more than any other pitcher in the game. Plus, he’s getting ground balls at a nearly 50 percent rate and limiting home runs, a problem for him last season. That’s a lethal combination that’s left even his more seasoned Cubs teammates awestruck.

“It’s kind of hard to believe now, realistically, you have a guy who throws 88, 89, touches 90, dominating the way he’s dominating,” Montero said. “But that’s the art of pitching. Pitching is not just throwing as hard as you can. Pitching is just having the art to actually change the speeds, change eye levels, move the batter, things like that. And he’s pitching. He’s not just throwing the ball. He’s actually pitching, and he’s a full-package pitcher.”

The unassuming Hendricks finds the comparisons flattering, obviously, but understands that Maddux became Maddux only by delivering consistent excellence over a 23-year career. You don’t win 355 games if you can’t sustain your stuff and deliver clean, repeatable mechanics.

“Sometimes I don’t think a lot of it, and sometimes it’s humbling,” Hendricks said. “Just to have it over and over, to hear it multiple times, I guess makes it the humbling part. But on the other hand, the things he’s done in this game are just unbelievable. So the comparisons as far as pitcher type, that kind of thing, maybe I’ll take. Beyond that, there’s not much I can really accept from that. He’s one of the best in the game, one of the best of all time, and I’ve got a long way to go.”

Because Hendricks looks like a regular human specimen on the mound and seldom breaks 90 on the radar gun, it’s easy to assume he’s the classic “comfortable 0-for-4” pitcher. In other words, hitters see him well, but somehow still can’t make hard contact. Cubs teammates dispute that theory.

“I don’t think it’s a comfortable at-bat just because you don’t know what you’re going to get,” said Lester, a fellow Cy Young contender. “That change-up, I think, is in the back of everybody’s mind, and now he’s started throwing his curveball a little bit more. A lot of guys who throw sinkers can’t throw four-seamers, and he throws that four-seamer. I think guys go up there with six different pitches in six different locations in mind, so I wouldn’t think it would be a comfortable at-bat.”

Given Hendricks’ inscrutable mien, it’s ironic his favorite pitchers growing up were Pedro Martinez and Jake Peavy, notorious bulldogs who were unafraid to wear their emotions on their sleeve. Though he’s extremely well-liked in the clubhouse, Hendricks is notably quiet and generally keeps to himself. His teammates joke that they never know he’s arrived until they look over and actually see him sitting at his locker.

But don’t take Hendricks’ calm disposition to mean he’s not competitive. He’s a black belt in karate, and he’s determined to excel at whatever he sets his mind to.

“Everybody goes out there in a different mindset,” Lester said. “Some guys have to calm themselves down. Some guys have to act like nothing bothers them. Other guys pitch with their emotions on their sleeve. No one way is right. I don’t think you can dog a person because they don’t show emotion. That doesn’t mean they don’t care. I think when you’re around him, and you see every day what he does to prepare—for me that’s when you know somebody cares is the prep work and how much that day means to them.”

As a young pitcher, Hendricks has leaned on veteran catchers Montero and David Ross to help him understand how to execute a game plan, and he watches his fellow starting pitchers—by far the best unit in the game this season—to see how they attack hitters and keep their bodies healthy over the 162-plus-game haul.

“I have my own routine, I’m my own pitcher, I do my own type of things,” Hendricks said. “But watching the consistency and the dedication they put into their craft each and every five days, you know just how hard they work to get ready for the next start. There’s never a day off. They’ve never taken it easy. They know how to get their body ready to endure this long season and the playoffs. I take a lot of tips about those kinds of things.”

Despite all the Cy Young chatter this year, Hendricks said his life hasn’t changed all that much. The team is certainly more high profile, but he tries not to be. He lives close to Wrigley Field and occasionally still walks to games. Surprisingly, he said he seldom gets recognized.

“It’s once in a blue moon almost,” he said. “I just keep my head down. With my body type, people aren’t really going to recognize me. Which, the way my personality is, I’m fine with that.”

Hendricks admitted he’s humbled by being in the awards mix, but his 4.1 WAR, eighth in the NL, certainly justifies his inclusion. Still, the Cubs have their sights set on much bigger goals this season. Personal accolades, though nice, are nothing compared to what they’re shooting for.

“At the end of the day, those are just individual honors,” Hendricks said. “We have such higher hopes here of what we’re trying to do, so there’s a lot more to it. Trying to keep your body healthy. Do what you need to do to get through the end of the year and really make sure you’re hot and ready to go for the playoffs.”

In just his third professional season, Hendricks has become one of the elite arms in the game—whether fans and pundits realize it or not. Even on a team of aces, he’s far from a fifth starter anymore. He’s been the steadiest, most consistent performer all season long, and has had a unique knack for giving the team exactly what it needs.

He may look like more like Clark Kent on the mound, but he’s been a genuine Superman for the 2016 Cubs.

Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, The best clubhouse prank I’ve ever seen

One of the best things about hanging around the Cubs is you get to know the players off the field. While the team is serious and focused about 2015, there are also some great personalities, and they like to cut loose. During Spring Training, we asked the guys to recall the best prank they have ever pulled—or seen—during their careers.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Sloan Park all spring, so make sure you’re watching the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I weren’t a ballplayer …
Cubscast Mesa: Checking in with the 2015 Cubs coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I could have one talent or superpower
Cubscast Mesa: The Cubs are setting a positive tone in camp
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, What the Cubs are watching on TV
Cubscast Mesa: The next wave of Cubs talent
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, The best thing I did this offseason
Cubscast Mesa: Goals for the 2015 season

Cubscast Mesa: Goals for the 2015 season

Success can be defined in many ways by Major League Baseball players. Some set personal goals, while others just want to stay healthy for the duration of the season. But when we sat down with Cubs personnel to find out their goals for the 2015 season, one thing became abundantly clear: This club expects to win.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Sloan Park all spring, so make sure you’re watching the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I weren’t a ballplayer …
Cubscast Mesa: Checking in with the 2015 Cubs coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I could have one talent or superpower
Cubscast Mesa: The Cubs are setting a positive tone in camp
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, What the Cubs are watching on TV
Cubscast Mesa: The next wave of Cubs talent
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, The best thing I did this offseason

The Best of 2014: No. 9, Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment each day.

No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer

No. 9: Kyle Hendricks makes six straight starts with at least 6.1 inings pitched and no more than one earned run, July 22 – Aug. 18

Among the many vaunted prospects in the Cubs system, right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks tended to get overlooked. It’s not as if people necessarily doubted the 24-year-old, whose fastball averaged merely 87.9 mph last year, but few expected him to dominate the way he did.

Hendricks’ accuracy, combined with his meticulous pregame preparation and countless hours of video work, took him to another level once he reached the major leagues in July. In 13 big league starts, the Dartmouth grad put up a 7-2 record with a 2.46 ERA, went 5.1 innings in 12 of 13 starts and gave up more than two runs in just three of those efforts.

Hendricks’ finest work of his nascent major league career came during a six-game stretch from July 22-Aug. 18, in which he surrendered no more than one run in any game and twice recorded no earned runs.

“When guys get on base, they’re saying he’s tough, he’s sneaky, he has good pitches, he commands them,” Anthony Rizzo said of Hendricks to the Chicago Tribune. “The best part is, it seems he can induce a double-play ball whenever [he wants to].”

From the Pages of Vine Line: Strength in Numbers


Javier Baez got his first taste of major league action this summer. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

When Theo Epstein sat in front of the assembled media last October and announced, “The story [around the league] is that the Cubs are coming fast, and the Cubs are coming strong,” many had trouble stifling laughter. How could Epstein suggest a team fresh off its third-consecutive 90-loss season was on the rise—especially during a press conference announcing the firing of the club’s manager, Dale Sveum?

It seemed preposterous at the time, but Epstein was hardly joking. He knew what he and his staff had built over the previous two seasons, and he believed it wouldn’t be long before that lofty statement was accepted as fact—even by those not paying close attention to what’s been happening in the Cubs system.
Sure enough, while the 2014 season didn’t produce a dramatic increase in wins, the media and fans finally got a chance to see what the Cubs have been building, as the first wave of prospects finally funneled into Wrigley Field.

It all began with Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks, two somewhat under-the-radar prospects, but intriguing players nonetheless. Next, one of the best power hitters in the minors, Javier Baez, arrived in the big leagues—along with the corresponding media maelstrom. Finally, the Cubs called up Cuban slugger Jorge Soler toward the end of August.

Not every one of these young players immediately took the National League by storm. There have been ups and downs. But each has provided a spark and shown the potential to be a big contributor to the next Cubs playoff run—which is exactly how the front office drew it up.

“It’s a lot of fun, and there’s definitely a lot of energy,” Hendricks said. “I’m just glad a lot of us have been able to perform well. I think that’s a testament to the coaching we have in the minor leagues. The guys got us ready for this level.”

Epstein understands that this process, which has included many losses, has been tough for both the players and the fans. That’s why finally being able to display the fruits of the front office’s labor has been so rewarding.

“These are players who have been part of our plan, part of our vision, for a while now,” Epstein said. “Now that they’re up here, people can get excited about it. It creates a little bit of momentum, which is nice to have around the organization.”

So what exactly is the Cubs’ vision, and what has the organization been doing to realize it?

When Epstein was first introduced as president of baseball operations in late October 2011, he laid out his plan for how he wanted to rebuild an organization that had gone from being the toast of the National League to 91 losses in just three years.

“Our goal will be to build the best scouting department in the game—one that makes an annual impact in the draft and internationally,” Epstein said at the time. “As far as player development goes, we will define and implement a Cubs Way of playing the game, and we won’t rest until there is a steady stream of talent coming through the minor league system trained in that Cubs Way making an impact out here at Wrigley Field.”

Epstein didn’t waste much time in following through with those promises. A week after his introduction, he sat in front of the media yet again, this time introducing Jed Hoyer as his new executive vice president and general manager and Jason McLeod, a man Epstein referred to as the “rarest commodity in the industry—an impact evaluator of baseball talent,” as his senior vice president of scouting and player development.

The three men spent the next year evaluating what they were working with from the bottom of the organization all the way to the top. After a year, they made a few tweaks to the scouting department, and completely revamped the player development side. Brandon Hyde was brought in as the farm director, but has since moved on to become manager Rick Renteria’s bench coach, while Jaron Madison has transitioned from amateur scouting director to Hyde’s old position.

Under Hyde, the Cubs hired four new minor league coordinators and had one of their better developmental seasons throughout the system in 2013.

Of course, it certainly helped that so much talent had been added to the mix—and continues to be added to this day—through astute trades, the amateur draft and international signings.

“In order to have success in this game, the foundation has to be through scouting and player development,” Hoyer said when he was introduced as general manager. “There’s no shortcut. There’s no magic bullet. All three of us believe in the philosophy wholeheartedly.”

Hoyer acknowledged the ultimate goal is to win a championship, so the baseball operations department first had to build a team that went into Spring Training every season with a realistic shot at making the playoffs. Less than three years later, it appears the Cubs are on the verge of achieving that goal.

And it’s not just the players who have reached the majors this year that have so many people both inside and outside the game optimistic about the Cubs’ immediate future. While the influx of top-notch talent is undeniable, it’s quite likely the best is yet to come.

Last year’s top draft pick, Kris Bryant, dominated every level of the minor leagues, making it all the way to Triple-A Iowa in his first full professional season. His otherworldly stat line of .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 43 home runs and 110 RBI has pushed the third baseman to the top of the national prospect rankings. Shortly after the season, he was named both USA Today’s and Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. Addison Russell, a consensus top 10 prospect in the game, was acquired in early July via trade and has continued to excel, hitting for both power and average while playing strong defense at shortstop.

Kyle Schwarber was the fourth pick in June’s amateur draft and has already shot up two levels in the Cubs system. So far, he has displayed an impressive combination of power and patience at the plate and appears to be on the fast track to the majors.

And that’s not all. The regime’s first draft pick from 2012, Albert Almora, made it to Double-A at the tender age of 20, and the international scouts flexed their muscles in 2013, as the Cubs spent more money than any other organization. Thanks to those efforts, they added big-time prospects like Jen-Ho Tseng, Eloy Jimenez, Gleybar Torres and Jefferson Mejia, all of whom are proving advanced for their age and are ranked as top 20 organizational prospects by

The system is not only loaded with talent, it’s also deep, ensuring that as the Cubs continue to graduate players to the big leagues, the cupboard won’t suddenly be left bare. It looks like Epstein and Hoyer have built the scouting and player development “machine” they promised to work toward when they were first brought into the organization.

Of course, since the majority of the Cubs’ young players grabbing headlines are bats, there are still questions about where the organization is going to find the right combination of arms to lead the charge. But even on that front, the team is better off than most people realize.

The front office has now divested the organization of the many onerous contracts from the Hendry regime—meaning there is money to spend—and has proven quite adept at identifying and acquiring undervalued pitching talent. Names like Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, who all excelled under the tutelage of pitching coach Chris Bosio, have been used to acquire players who fit into both the short- and long-term plans.

Feldman, in particular, netted a huge piece in pitcher Jake Arrieta. A former top prospect, the 28-year-old underwhelmed during parts of four years in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles. Though Arrieta was perhaps at his lowest value at the time, the Cubs were bullish about the struggling righty. After missing the first month of the 2014 season with shoulder soreness, Arrieta went on to make the move look like a stroke of genius, putting together a season that rivals those of some of the best pitchers in the game.

Hendricks, acquired from the Rangers in the 2012 Ryan Dempster deal, also opened eyes with a strong run of starts to begin his major league career. Though many had the 24-year-old pegged as a fringe major leaguer and back-end starter at best, his poise and control are making some wonder whether he can exceed expectations and become a big part of the rotation’s future.

“He’s doing exactly what he did in the minor leagues,” Epstein said. “He’s as polished and prepared as you’ll see with any rookie. We speculated that he might even take it to another level when he got to the big leagues because he uses all the tools available to him as well as anybody.

“We have video in the minor leagues, but we don’t have this much video. We have scouting reports in the minor leagues, but we don’t have scouting reports this extensive. He just attacks the video and attacks scouting reports. They’re a huge weapon for him. You see the confidence he has. No matter how good a hitter he’s facing, he’s likely to have identified one area he can attack and put [himself] in a good position to have a chance to get him out. I think that’s been big for him. We’re awfully proud of how he’s adjusted.”

Epstein has acknowledged that while he doesn’t think the Cubs’ position player group is a finished product, he certainly feels great about the nucleus the organization has built. Even with Arrieta, Hendricks and the surprisingly impressive Tsuyoshi Wada (who will be 34 next season, but could still find himself competing for a spot in the Cubs rotation), the obvious focus becomes how to build up the front five.

“I like some of the pitchers we have coming along in the minor leagues, and I think our big league staff has done sort of an underrated job this year,” Epstein said. “There are some bright spots. But we’ve been open about the fact that it would be nice to add an impact pitcher or two. When you look over the next 18 months or so, that’s certainly a priority for us. Whether we develop one from an unlikely spot like might be happening with Arrieta or acquire someone who’s already at those heights remains to be seen.”

Surprise success stories like Arrieta and Hendricks, coupled with bounce-back years from Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, have certainly boosted the optimism around the team as the prospects are rising to the big leagues.

“It’s good for the fans,” Hendricks said. “They’ve needed some winning the last few years, and unfortunately we haven’t been able to give it to them. I think with a lot of us young guys coming up—a lot of young hitters especially—they’re doing an unbelievable job. And there’s more to come.”
While the narrative may have recently changed as far as the media and average fans are concerned, nobody within the Cubs organization considers the work done.

“Our fans deserve to get excited. I’m happy for them,” Epstein said. “Ultimately, the only thing that matters is winning. That’s what’s on our mind, and we’re working hard to get there. Having young players that are worth following and at-bats you can’t miss, we’re human and that makes us feel good that our fans have something like that in their lives at this point, because certainly there’s been some tough times that they’ve had to endure.”

Epstein and company know they’ve still got work to do. They’re aware that pitching is a need, as is a veteran presence in the clubhouse to lead by example. But they strongly believe they’re on the right path and have felt that way for some time now. Still, the ultimate goal has yet to be accomplished.

“We’ve felt really good about it for a period now, and we also feel like there’s so much more work to do that we don’t deserve any kudos or pats on the back,” Epstein said. “On the other hand, we’re all human, and we feel the optimism of our fans and our players. It only makes us want to work harder and finish it off. We’ll feel like it’s finished when we win the last game in October.”

—Sahadev Sharma, Baseball Prospectus

I-Cubs’ Hendricks named PCL Pitcher of the Week


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs prospect Kyle Hendricks was named Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week for his efforts from May 12-18.

The 24-year-old had one of his finest performances as a member of the Cubs on May 15, when he fanned a career-high 11 batters and walked none over eight innings in a 2-0 I-Cubs win. On the season, he is 4-3 with a 3.06 ERA and 54 strikeouts, the third-best strikeout total in the league. His 9.72 K/9 ratio ranks fourth.

Hendricks was acquired by the Cubs on July 31, 2012, as part of the Ryan Dempster deal. He is currently the Cubs 15th-ranked prospect.

This is the second-straight week an Iowa pitcher has nabbed the honor. Hendricks is the third I-Cubs pitcher to get the award this season, joining last week’s winner Chris Rusin and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Now Playing: Cubscast Mesa, The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Five

Playing professional baseball is a dream job, but it’s not the most likely career choice. So what would your favorite players be doing if their big league dreams hadn’t come true? We talked to Cubs personnel about some other possible career choices.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park throughout the spring, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Positive Energy in Cubs Camp
Cubscast Mesa: Inside Cubs Park
Cubscast Mesa with Rick Renteria and the 2014 coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa with the top prospects
Cubscast Mesa: Meet the new guys
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part One
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Two
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Three
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Four

Now Playing: Cubscast Mesa, The Lighter Side of the Cubs, Part Four

Professional baseball players live an odd life. They work late hours, face enormous pressures and spend half their year on the road—which means they have a lot of down time before they have to be at the park.

In Part Four of our Lighter Side video series, we ask Kris Bryant, Carlos Villanueva, Edwin Jackson and others about their favorite movies.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park throughout the spring, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa, Inside Cubs Park
Cubscast Mesa with Rick Renteria and the 2014 coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa with the top prospects
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part One
Cubscast Mesa: Meet the new guys
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Two
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Three

Cubs prospect Hendricks gets nod for top command in minors


Kyle Hendricks is a bright guy. The Dartmouth graduate with a degree in economics understands his route to the majors isn’t by trying to blow guys away, but rather with his accuracy and plus change-up. The 2013 Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year dominated opposing batters last year, finishing 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and just 34 walks in 166.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

Baseball Prospectus continued its Top Tools series Wednesday, naming Hendricks the pitcher with the best command in the minors. Here’s what they had to say about Hendricks:

It’s difficult to find minor-league pitchers with true command, a skill that comes with experience and polish, but Hendricks has it in spades. Hendricks displays exceptional command of his entire arsenal, particularly his fastball, which he moves around the zone with ease. His knack for hitting spots and even moving the ball outside of the strike zone at will has enabled him to become a more highly regarded prospect than his raw stuff would suggest, and it might be enough to carry him to the big leagues.

The site views Yankee Hiroki Kuroda the staple for current major league control while—unsurprisingly—former Cub and 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Greg Maddux is seen as the pitcher with the best command all time.

Now Playing: The Lighter Side of the Cubs, Part Two

Think you know everything about your favorite Cubs players?

While you may be able to talk OBP, WHIP and VORP with the best of them, did you know Jeff Samardzija is a big fan of birds or that Travis Wood might be trying to read your mind? Every spring, we get personal with Cubs personnel to dig up some facts that you can’t find anywhere else. In the second part of our Lighter Side series, we ask Cubs players which talent or superpower they wish they had.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park throughout the spring, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa with Rick Renteria and the 2014 coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa with the top prospects
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part One
Cubscast Mesa: Meet the New Guys