There are players that slip through the cracks in the First-Year Players Draft. Those players become much better professionals than any of Major League Baseball’s 30 clubs expected, and for various reasons. Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager is one recent example. Seager was a third-round pick six years ago, but has been so solid and reached the majors inside of two years, suggesting any Re-Draft would have him going in the top 10.
Seager outplayed his profile because he didn’t sit and wait for a break or for someone to ask him if he wanted to get better. He went out and carved it out for himself. The class of 2015 may be represented in such a manner by Oregon State centerfielder Jeff Hendrix. Hendrix, a junior, does a little bit of everything; he runs well, has present strength that produces gap power and beyond, is an above-average defender in center and slashes the fat part of the bat to the ball at a high rate. But it’s his approach to the game that may be the difference.
“He’s one of those kids you try really hard not to take for granted,” said an area scout of one National League club. “There is a lot to like there; it’s a package that intrigues because the weaknesses aren’t so weak and he brings a lot to the table.”
Hendrix, who was selected by the Kansas City Royals in Round 39 a year ago as a draft-eligible sophomore, knew this was a big year for him, yet he was able to stay focused, stay within himself and help the Beavers to yet another successful campaign.
“To some extent it’s always in the back of your mind,” Hendrix said of the draft. “You always want to stay focused on helping your team, but the draft is always back there (in your mind.).”
Hendrix’s performance suggests he staved off distraction. The 6-feet, 195-pounder possesses the physical traits of a big-league player. “It seems every look he did something noteworthy,” the scout added. “At one point I started wondering if I was good luck for him.”
Hendrix spoke of those streaks where things are just working at the plate saying “the ball does seem like it grows in size… and when things aren’t going the way you want them to, it seems like it shrinks.”
Apparently the baseball didn’t reduce in size much for Hendrix this year. He batted .339/.446/.534 with six home runs, five triples and 15 doubles in 58 games this season. He struck out 39 times and drew 38 bases on balls.
I saw Hendrix in Phoenix versus the Arizona State Sun Devils. It was my very first full look at him, and despite my plans for the day — make sure I pay attention to 2016 prospect and Beavers shortstop Trever Morrison and note the performance of ASU closer Ryan Burr — Hendrix changed my focus a little bit.
He plays at one speed from first pitch until the final out of the game. His 55-grade speed plays up because he gets to top speed quickly, and defensively the routes are clean and the jumps are crisp and decisive. When things do get tough — a high-leverage situation or perhaps one of very few mini slumps — Hendrix never appears to press, to try to do what he’s not capable of doing. A crosschecker of the American League club said Hendrix reminds him of two current big leaguers in that way; Reds first baseman Joey Votto and Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury happens to be a former Beavers star and Hendrix took note.
“I grew up in Corvallis and had the privilege of watching him play. I’ve tried to pattern myself after him.”
While the two players boast different skill sets, the most critical one may be something the two share: the mental capacity to deal with adversity without letting the situation negatively impact their performance on the field.
“That’s not an easy thing to pin a grade on,” the crosschecker said. “But that is why we spend so much time gathering as much information as we can on every player. The more we know the better we can determine if he has those traits. Watching him play is a big part of it, but there is no statistic for it. There’s no formula to tell us about his brain.”
Hendrix’s plate skills suggest he could fit nicely anywhere in a lineup. He can work counts, draw a walk, use the whole field and despite a swing not naturally engineered for power, he’ll occasionally leave the yard. Hendrix’s coaches at OSU are big on avoiding the out.
“They always preach any way to get on base is good,” Hendrix said. “They want your OBP to be significantly higher than your batting average.”
That is not as common as one might think. Numerous D-1 staffs specifically teach their hitters to attack, all the time, every at-bat, no matter the situation. Many others simply want their hitters to hit the fastball as soon as they see one. The Beavers want their players to be hitters. That could entail working a count, or perhaps swinging at the first pitch. Hendrix impressively walks the fine line between being patient and being overly passive.
“Yeah, it’s a little bit of a battle sometimes,” he said. Hendrix also added that there are times he sees the opportunity to dial it up and put a more aggressive swing on a pitch. But the 22-year-old uses an advanced approach to it all.
“I think you do, yes, (but) I always think home runs are produced by putting a good swing on the ball.”
Hendrix, who has focused on baseball full-time for just two years now, spent some time in the Seattle area at a young age and attended his first Mariners game at six weeks old. He doesn’t necessarily have a favorite big-league club, however. That will change this week when his name is called by one of the 30 clubs, likely sometime late Monday or very early on Tuesday.
Does Hendrix have draft plans, maybe including a party with friends, teammates and family to sit around the television and wait for the phone to ring?
“We’re still in school, so I’ll probably be studying for finals,” Hendrix said. “Or I might go fishing. I’m not a sit-around kind of guy.”
Scouting Jeff Hendrix: Now/Future
Hendrix’s swing may need some work if he’s to profile better offensively in left field where some scouts prefer him. He possesses good hand-eye coordination and average bat speed, and his string wrists and forearms combined with good hip rotation and a solid base suggest consistent production.
He runs well but isn’t a burner; he swiped just five bases in 2015, though OSU didn’t run much as a team this season. Hendrix handles the bat well, hits well situationally and showed the ability to hit the ball up the middle and to left-center field, a skill that bodes well for the wood bat world that is pro ball. If he learns to create consistent leverage there may be average power in the bat.
Hendrix displays leadership qualities and no major weakness in his game. If he’s cast properly at the top of the order and as a table setter, he could sign and move fairly quickly through for someone projected to come off the board as late as round five. He could be taken as early as Round 2, however, especially to a club that believes he can stick in center.
Jason A. Churchill
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