Tennessee right-hander Kyle Hendricks was considered the lesser of the two prospects received by the Chicago Cubs from Texas in the trade of veteran starter Ryan Dempster. Nearly one year later, though, it is Hendricks -- not Smokies third baseman Christian Villanueva -- who's had the most success with his new organization.
Hendricks was named the Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May and has been even better in June as he continues to have his way with Southern League hitters. After winning his last four May decisions, Hendricks is 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in three June starts while recording 16 strikeouts to three walks in 20 innings.
Winner of his last six decisions, the streak gives the 23-year-old California native a tie for the second-most victories in the Southern League with a 7-2 record, and his 2.07 ERA is bettered only by Mississippi's Alex Wood, now with the Atlanta Braves.
"The trade came as a shock, but everything has worked out really well," Hendricks said. "It has been great with the Cubs."
The 6-foot-3 Hendricks doesn't light up radar guns, his fastball usually sitting in the high 80s. But he makes up in finesse what he lacks in power.
"The changeup is my go-to pitch," said Texas' eighth-round pick in the 2011 Draft out of Dartmouth College.
Hendricks sets it up with a four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter and curve. He had been throwing six pitches before getting away from the slider this season.
The key, though, is being able to put the ball where he wants it. In 78 1/3 innings, he has walked just 16 compared to 64 strikeouts.
That is all part of Hendricks not beating himself. So is the fact that he has allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in just 12 innings.
Hendricks' well-thought-out approach to pitching is what you'd expect from an Ivy Leaguer.
Dartmouth has produced a number of Major Leaguers, including pitchers Pete Broberg and Mike Remlinger. But going from Southern California to New Hampshire isn't exactly the most direct route to baseball success.
"My goal has always been to pitch in the Majors, so it was a tough decision to go to Dartmouth," said Hendricks, a graduate of Capistrano Valley High in Orange County. "But I couldn't pass up the chance for an Ivy League education."
Drafted after his junior season, Hendricks still needs to complete a few courses for his degree in economics, with a minor in math. But he has already learned one baseball lesson.
Before heading to the field while with Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League last July, Hendricks noticed on the TV that the Rangers had traded for Dempster. Soon he and Villanueva were summoned to manager Jason Wood's office.
Since Hendricks had already worked 130 2/3 innings while compiling a 2.82 ERA for the Pelicans, the Cubs limited him to just 17 innings with Daytona of the Florida State League in August.
That meant the Cubs couldn't really see what they had until this year. Now Hendricks has had a chance to make a very good belated first impression.
Homer happy: Jacksonville right fielder Kyle Jensen took over the home run lead in the Southern League with 15, closing the first half with three homers in five games. He homered in consecutive games against Montgomery on Thursday and Friday, then connected again Monday against the Biscuits for his eighth blast in June. Jensen, 25, slugged 24 homers with Jacksonville last season but batted .234. He was hitting .229 this season.
Sidelined: Pensacola right-handed pitcher Chad Rogers, third in the Southern League with a 2.08 ERA, was placed on the disabled list because of a sprained right wrist. He hasn't pitched since June 2, when he exited in the fourth inning at Montgomery. Rogers, 23, is 4-3 in 11 starts and opponents are batting .199 against him. His WHIP is 1.05.
Shut down: Mississippi right-handed pitcher J.R. Graham, Atlanta's top prospect and No. 91 on MLB.com's Top 100 list, was not yet back throwing off the mound after leaving a May 13 start because of shoulder discomfort. The injury was diagnosed as a strain, and the 23-year-old was put on a rehab program in Florida. The Braves are being cautious with Graham, their Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2012. He is 1-3 with a 4.04 ERA in eight starts this season.