Hentges has all the tools, he just needs the experience
Youth always brings excitement, especially when that youth happens to be a 6-feet-6 245-pound lefty who just turned 18-years old in July. On size and youth alone, that’s a pretty interesting physical specimen.
That’s what the Indians have in Sam Hentges who was their fourth round pick in this year’s draft out of Mounds View High School (MN).
After signing a little late and helping his high school team win a state baseball championship, Hentges officially signed on the dotted line in late June and joined the rookie level Arizona roster in mid-July. He made just eight appearances there and went 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA, and in 13.0 innings allowed 4 hits, no homers, 5 walks and had 10 strikeouts.
Not a bad debut for the promising big lefty.
“I had a good first year and had a lot of fun professionally on and off the field,” Hentges said. “As far as on the field I think I did well and made big strides. I am not really new to pitching, but am newer than most guys to it, so I made a lot of adjustments and learned a lot in my first year.”
Hentges is very raw on the mound as he made a full-time conversion to the mound over the past year for his senior season. That inexperience along with him coming from a cold weather state limited his chances on the mound and probably lowered his status a little in the eyes of scouts around the league.
“I was a two-way guy in high school as I played first base too,” Hentges noted. “I was going to get an opportunity to be a two-way player at the University of Arkansas where I was going to go to school. I have been a first baseman my whole life, but just over a year ago I really started to focus in on pitching. I pitched when I was younger but I did not really pitch much my freshman, sophomore and junior year in high school. But then my senior year I decided that is going to be my ticket and I worked hard in the offseason before it and it paid off.”
Not only does Hentges have all the physical traits that make scouts and player development people drool, he also has some pretty promising stuff to boot. He throws in the low-90s and can get his fastball up to 94 MPH and has a curveball that is coming along and shows plus potential.
The advancement of his fastball-curveball combination, his command and developing a changeup will be keys for him moving forward.
“I didn’t really use my changeup much in high school as I was mostly fastball and curveball, but the Indians emphasized the changeup and I have been working really hard on that and it is coming along,” Hentges said. “I have a curveball and I think for the most part it has been pretty good so far. It is not superb or anything so I have to still keep working on that. My fastball command has been better since I have been here. For my size I have to gain some arm strength for next year and the coming seasons.”
Strength and durability will also be a key for Hentges as he needs to stay on the mound and avoid injury in order to develop his command, delivery and pitches. It will also give him the needed experience with different game situations and with learning all the nuances that come with pitching such as reading swings, controlling the running game, fielding his position, knowing situations and so on.
At the heart of all that is Hentges’ commitment to getting stronger mentally and working hard physically on his body and arm.
“There is a lot with needing to get stronger mentally, and there is not really a capacity for that,” Hentges said. “Physically, I am going to really work this offseason on getting more arm strength and throwing a lot of long toss and taking care of my arm. Arm strength is something that I think for next year and the coming years I think I need to build up.”
Offseason workouts can be tough for players at this time of the year who are located in cold weather parts of the country. In states like Minnesota where he lives the snow is already falling and the temperatures have dropped below freezing. He lives about 15 minutes north of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and about 20 minutes from the University of Minnesota where he plans to work out this offseason.
“I am going to be throwing with a couple of other pro guys from my high school and around the state of Minnesota,” Hentges said. “We are going to be throwing at the University of Minnesota’s indoor football field so that will be nice to have that and to be able to throw long toss and stuff in there. You can’t play catch outside in the winter, so it is nice to have that as an option during the offseason.”
The offseason also gives some time for players to digest their previous season. With games being played every day during the season and countless workouts and meetings, players don’t have a lot of time to take in what they did until the season ends. Even though he pitched in just a handful of games, Hentges believes he made some strides in the mental part of pitching during his time in Arizona for the Arizona Summer League and Fall Instructional League.
“I think the biggest part where I grew was mentally,” Hentges said. “Our pitching coach in the summer league Mark Allen really emphasized that a lot. The meetings during Instructional League definitely stressed the mental part of the game and that is a huge part of it, especially with pitching. You can always grow mentally and since the beginning of the year I felt like I came far.”
Overall, Hentges has handled the transition well to date going from high school to pro ball and everything has been as expected for him.
“I think as far as the players and stuff, it was as I expected. I came in expecting that the players were going to be a lot better than high school players and they were,” Hentges said. “I think I adjusted to that well. As far as the lifestyle, off the field it was kind of unexpected as all the guys were nice and genuine and the coaches were genuine too. That was really cool for me to see that in my first year. As far as the game goes, it was as I expected. It is faster and you have to be a lot more mentally tough.”
That said, the transition from high school to pro ball can be tougher than initially perceived in that first year in the organization. That first year is introductory by nature and it is only a half a season, so it is easier to settle in and make that adjustment.
The true adjustment will come next season in Hentges’ first full season in the organization where he will once again probably be in the isolated confines of the Goodyear complex all year for spring training, extended spring training and a repeat player in the summer league. That second year can be tough for high school players as they often feel left out and like they are not progressing as players. No one comes to the games and there is almost no following whatsoever.
“With my high school in Minnesota baseball was not a huge sport so there was not a ton of people out there watching,” Hentges said. “It is a job and you have to treat it like one regardless of whether there are ten people or 10,000 people. It is still the game of baseball and a fun time. But yeah it was different to have no one [in Arizona] because when you think of professional baseball you think of thousands of fans. As you move up the ladder the crowds get bigger and bigger.”
The Indians can only hope that as Hentges continues to move up the ladder he gets better and better.
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
Nice story on this kid.. He's a keeper.. With good health, Lake Country should be seeing him this season..