While the coronavirus pandemic has thoroughly altered the world as we know it, let alone the baseball world as we know it, there are signs that a return to play is in the cards for later this summer. The 2020 regular season, though, is far from the only thing impacted in the game, as the lack of fans and significant revenue loss has helped transform the MLB Draft, too, for better or worse.
With college and high school seasons also having ceased and the ability of scouts to track players being nonexistent, how this draft plays out is as up in the air as it has been in years. Add in that the draft itself has been reduced to a comically small 5 rounds and that some teams - looking at you, Los Angeles Angels - have already announced the furlough of their amateur scouting staffs, and June 10-11 are going to be rather damn strange to watch.
That’s not to say there aren’t still incredibly talented prospects out there set to be drafted, of course. And with the #12 pick in the 1st round, the Cincinnati Reds look set to still have multiple solid options from which to make their first selection. While there’s been no consensus as to whom they are making their primary target, that’s to be expected with the 12th pick, as so many other scenarios could play out - that said, both Kiley McDaniel of ESPN and Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline have hinted that the idea of taking one of the very talented crop of high school OFs is on the table for the Reds at 12.
Today, we’ll take a look at one of those they’ve alluded to in particular: Austin Hendrick, a lefty-swinging RF by trade from the Pittsburgh area who is currently committed to play next year at Mississippi State University.
There have been several elite hitters who have emerged from Starkville through the years, so it’s easy to see why that was his initial college choice. Sweet-swinging lefties Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro come to mind, of course, as well as Reds legend Hughie Critz and current big leaguers Mitch Moreland, Hunter Renfroe, and Adam Frazier. If selected in the 1st round as expected, though, Hendrick’s not going to join them in Bulldog lore.
Mayo, for reference, said “he has as much bat speed and raw power as any prep hitter in the class,” which is a pretty concrete way of saying he’s absolutely a 1st round pick, one who might not even be around for the Reds at #12. Mayo is hardly the only one who has touted Hendrick’s elite swing, either - Gregg Ritchie, Hendrick’s hitting coach last year with USA Baseball’s 18U team, described his bat speed to Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo as “utterly elite.”
The 6’1” 205 lb lefty is described by Perfect Game as having a “very athletic build, long and strong with room to get stronger,” and that paired with a fastball that can touch 90 mph pretty well describes the prototypical RF prospect, with PG even pondering if he could cut it as a CF thanks to those tools. And while he’s still young on the prospect spectrum, he will turn 19 just four days after the end of the 2020 Draft, making him one of the older high school players on the board this year.
While scouts have been limited in their ability to profile players in the weeks/months running up to the draft, Hendrick has long been a pretty known quantity on the circuit (unlike, say, former Reds 1st rounder Jonathan India, whose explosive junior season at the University of Florida sent him rapidly rocketing up draft boards late). Collazo’s BA article from October details a pretty extensive swing overhaul he went through during one of his two summers spent with Team USA, one that was specifically designed to contest the best of the best pitchers he’ll continue to face as he progresses, something he didn’t always have to contend with merely playing high school ball in Pennsylvania.
That elite circuit in which Hendrick routinely played included the 2019 Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) at IMG Academy in Florida, where Hendrick absolutely raked. Of particular note there is that the 80 participants were broken out into four teams, each named after their captains - Ryan Howard, Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, and Reds legend Barry Larkin, who has served as a roving hitting instructor with the organization for the last handful of years. And while Hendrick wasn’t on Larkin’s team (he was on Team Howard), each of the four ‘captains’ were on-site instructors with all players, as USA Baseball noted in its press release, so there have long been Reds-y eyes on Hendrick’s elite ability.
A sweet-swinging lefty who idolized Ken Griffey, Jr., loved Bryce Harper’s game, and who has a high-arm swing akin to Cody Bellinger, all paired with the kind of elite athleticism to be a plus corner OF defender, too? That would certainly, certainly do.
For more on Hendrick, check out the below videos of his work to date:
[via Prospects Live]