MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs trimmed their roster to 53 on Saturday, sending right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks to minor league camp. He’s expected to start the season at Triple-A Iowa but could be an in-season call-up as he was the Cubs minor league pitcher of the year last season, going 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA between Double and Triple-A.
Hendricks threw eight innings over three starts in spring games, giving up five hits and three runs while walking six and striking out 10. The walks and strikeouts were a bit of surprise as Hendricks isn’t overpowering but usually has good control.
Friday was his best outing as he struck out four in three innings of shutout work against the Los Angeles Dodgers -- without giving up a hard hit ball. The way he pitched Friday is the way he’ll have success if he can maintain it: by fooling hitters with off-speed pitches like his changeup and painting the corners.
Hendricks was acquired in 2012 from Texas in a deal that sent Ryan Dempster to the Rangers. Various prospect rankings don’t rate him high due to his less than overpowering stuff but he’s defied those expectations, becoming the “next up” Cubs prospect among starting pitchers.
With James McDonald off to a slow start and Jake Arrieta hurting, the Cubs’ depth might be tested early. Lefty Chris Rusin is ahead of Hendricks as he’s been an in-season call-up the last two years, but he hasn’t grabbed a starting spot in the rotation. He could be the fifth starter once the season begins but with the Cubs penchant for trading veteran players, there could be openings on the mound as the season progresses.
Right now, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are likely candidates to be moved by the trade deadline and there’s always a chance a team comes calling for Edwin Jackson and the two-plus years that will be remaining on his deal. So there’s a good chance Hendricks -- if he performs well in Iowa -- will see Wrigley Field before season’s end. Then he’ll get the chance to prove he’s part of the young, core group the Cubs hope to turn the corner with in the coming years. His major league education this spring is over, but Hendricks is bound to be heard from again very soon.