Friday, June 17, 2011

Liam Hendriks: A flaming prospect

Liam Hendriks is a name that creates questions, excitement, pessimism, optimism, and flat out intrigue every time his name is called. Not much was known from the Australian born Hendriks when the Twins signed him from Perth, Australia on February, 25th 2007 at the age of eighteen. When he was signed right away you could tell that he was mighty raw, but also mighty talented. At the time the Twins were one of the few teams that scouted in Australia so they had a leg up which would also lead to them to guys such as Brad Tippett and James Beresford. However, it is becoming clear that Hendriks was the crown jewel out of Australia so far and why many other teams are going into Australia with a renewed vigor as they feel the Twins have had success so why can’t we. After signing with the Twins, Hendriks spent the 2007 season in the Gulf Coast League and put up solid numbers.

10 starts 4-2 2.05 era 44innings 41 hits 11bb 52 strikeouts 1.18WHIP

The thought from that season was that they had something in this guy as the low ERA, low walk total and more than a strikeout an inning would attest to. It was almost like they had found a diamond in the rough. Then came the news that Hendriks would have to miss the 2008 campaign due to a spinal cord injury. When that happened those that saw such potential in the 6 foot 1 inch 190lb righty wondered if he would be just another guy that had his career derailed due to injuries. However, Hendriks would not have anything to do with I can’t and came back in 2009 and split the season between rookie league Elizabethton and Class A Beloit. Where he put up the following numbers.

Elizabethton: 3 starts 2-0 3.71 era 17 innings 19 hits 1bb 13k

Beloit: 11 starts 3-5 3.51 era 66.2 innings 73 hits 15 walks 62 strikeouts

Those were solid numbers and something to build upon. However, those were not the type of numbers that he was putting up in the GCL a couple of years earlier. It can be said after his injury it was a miracle that he was even back on the pitcher’s mound. Those that saw him pitch came to the conclusion that he was better than his numbers would indicate. They claimed that the further out he was from his injury the better he would get. Man were they right as he started the season in Beloit before getting up to Fort Myers.

Beloit: 6 starts 2-1 1.32 era 34 innings 16 hits 4 walks 39 strikeouts

Fort Myers: 12 starts 6-3 1.93 era 74.2 innings 63 hits 8 walks 66 strikeouts

With the performance in 2010 Liam Hendriks was back on the map in prospect status as he rose up prospect charts. His numbers in Beloit were off the chart before quickly earning a promotion up to Fort Myers. There he was better yet until the injury bug hit him once again, but this one was not an injury so much as an illness. When it seemed like things could not go any better for Hendriks he came down with Appendicitis and missed over a month before coming back to start a couple games in September. However, you really need to put his 2010 season in perspective as he went 8-4 with a combined 1.74 era. The stat that just makes you go wow though was 12 walks and 105 strikeouts. Stop and think about that and realize just how impressive those numbers were and how much better they would have been if not for the illness. Being back healthy going into 2011 the Twins decided to challenge him and move him up to AA New Britain and he hasn’t disappointed so far.

New Britain: 12 starts 6-2 2.96 era 70 innings 66 hits 15 walks 64 strikeouts

Hendriks has not struggled one iota in the tougher league and has flourished as he has gotten a little bit better every month. In a five start stretch from May 19th to June 9th Hendriks only gave up six earned runs with five walks and 31 strikeouts. He has gotten his fastball into the 93-94 range and has really good off-speed pitches to get guys out. With the performances that he has had this season I started to wonder how high would he be in my prospect list because I had him in the top five and wondered if it was just me or if others saw the same things as I did. So I went to one of the most well respected prospect guys out there and that is Roger Dehring from Twinkie Town who puts a wonderful minor league column every Saturday morning.

I started out asking Roger what he considered Liam Hendriks strengths and weaknesses were and this was his response. “I see Liam's strengths as being a complete pitcher without any glaring weakness. The two weaknesses I see are: 1) a history of injuries, missing all of 2008 (although his injuries may be behind him as you cannot consider last year's appendectomy a baseball injury...just bad luck); and 2) coming from Australia, he doesn't have the experience US and Latin kids have; again not a knock against him just that he needs more work;”

The next thing I asked him was if he was surprised by Hendriks quick rise through the Twins system that is usually slow on promotions. His response surprised me a bit, “No, he was very good in the GCL in 2007 and is performing as well as one could have hoped for.”

Then I asked What does Liam Hendriks need to do from here on out in order to make it to the big leagues and his response, “Stay healthy and continue pitching like he has, ie, he just needs more work at the AA and AAA levels, then should be ready for the Twins.

Next, I asked him something that I knew I would get an informative and intelligent response from being a loyal reader of Roger’s blog. I asked Roger how high he would rank him in the Twins as I had my opinion, but wanted Rogers, “Considering that I am amongst a small group that needs to see Gibson dominate more at AAA as well as pitching deeper in the games, I would put Hendriks right up with Gibson as the top pitching prospects in the upper levels of the organization. Which means I would rank them as co-#1. Just plugged both players into my formula to see what type of seasons they are having. It is a rough look as I need league averages at the end of the year to be 100% accurate (also didn't adjust a couple numbers for roughly half the season). In any case, Hendriks scored 140.114 with Gibson at 124.665. If they continue playing as they have, Hendriks just may grade out as the top pitcher in the organization.” As much as I respect Hendriks opinion I still have Gibson rated a little bit higher. I do believe that Hendriks can be a very good major league pitcher while I think Gibson can be special. Not that I am right or Roger is right just two different opinions.

Next, I asked Roger the question that everybody related to minor league baseball wants to know and that is how high of a ceiling does Hendriks have and this was Rogers response, “Does he have what it takes to be a true Ace, we will see, maybe! I don't see him having Liriano like stuff, but I see him as potentially an Ace, but more likely a #2/#3 starter.” I agree with Roger in that I see Hendriks as a really good 3 and maybe even a two if things go right for him.

The final thing I asked Roger was whether he thought he thinks that Hendriks would keep improving and his response, “ Look at the progress he made this year. Most pitchers hit a wall at AA, and if they finally succeed there it may take longer than a year. With only half a season, twelve starts, at Hi-A, Hendriks moved up to AA and has been dominant. Some pitchers can come straight to the big leagues from AA after pitching like he has...although not likely with the Twins. So yes, I see him continuing to improve and expect he will dominate at AAA next year before being called up...probably as a September, 2012 call up.” I again agree with Roger in that he has the chance to get better and better.

Liam Hendriks should be someone that is a lesson for guys that have dealt with injuries as he was a guy that would not give up on the game he loves. He went from a guy that who knew if he would ever pitch again to a guy that is a top prospect and someone that has to be thought of in the Twins plans. Liam Hendriks is probably the most talked about prospect in all the Twins organization because he went from the lows to the highs in just a couple years. If Liam Hendriks can maintain his health and stay on the pitcher’s mound there is no reason why in a couple years he can’t be a part of the Twins rotation. With guys like Kyle Gibson and Liam Hendriks the Twins future is in good hands.

My Apologys to Roger for not double checking what I put out there it was an honest mistake on my part. I appreciate his help on this article and i hope the readers don't use that against myself or Roger as he is a great minor league guy and a better person so thank you for the help Roger.