Yankees Prospect Jeff Hendrix Hitting the Right Notes

A save situation is commonly attributed to a closer with a three run lead or less in the 9th inning. Assuming he completes the frame with the lead, he is credited with saving the game, despite typically holding a comfortable margin, facing the bottom half of the lineup. In in the eyes of opposing general managers, his value become attached to the quantity of saves his records. The role suddenly becomes inflated in importance, often ignoring the run saving plays made by defensive players and the jams escaped in middle relief.

During his brief time with the Staten Island Yankees, Jeff Hendrix continues to prove his value with stellar defensive plays in center field, saving runs and securing victories, solidifying his status as a fourth round draft pick and a potential prospect.

Athleticism is an attribute cultivated from both genetics and development. These attributes are affixed to multiples sports and become interspersed between them, while discovering a future calling. From the backdrop of the Pacific Northwest, Hendrix’s art came as a three sport athlete at Division III Santiam Christian Academy in Corvallis Oregon, starring in baseball, basketball, and football. Hendrix first gained notoriety as the placekicker on the football team, with a leg capable of making kicks from as a deep as 52 yards. His 47 yard field goal against Dayton secured a championship during his senior year.

Despite widespread success in all facets of athletic competition, Hendrix would not receive a scholarship from a Division I school. Hendrix settled for being a baseball walk-on at Oregon State, coached by Pat Casey. His son Joe had played with Hendrix’s younger brother in Little League, establishing a family connection.

After playing just 32 games in his freshman season, Hendrix established himself a year later, patrolling centerfield, flanked by future New York Mets rookie Michael Conforto and two-time Pac-12 first team selection Dylan Davis. The trio would prove to be formidable in their only season together, combining for a .350 batting average and a .400 on base percentage, while leading Oregon State to a third place finish in the College World Series.

The Kansas City Royals took a flier on Hendrix in the 39th round of the 2014 draft off the heels of his sophomore season, but chose to return to the Beavers to improve his draft stock and refine his game on the field entering his junior season.

In his second full collegiate season, Hendrix produced a .324/.440/.518 slash line and earned a spot on the All-Pac 12 team. Hendrix slowly developed in a second round talent in the eyes of scouts, but was selected in the 4th round by the New York Yankees in this year’s draft. Hendrix opened his professional career with the Staten Island Yankees, where game saving, highlight reel catches became his specialty, primarily against the rival Brooklyn Cyclones. In a locally televised game in the New York area during the All-Star break, Hendrix robbed Cyclones outfielder Michael Bernal of extra bases with a diving catch into the left center field gap to save an eventual shutout. Hendrix recently caught up with Baseball Essential as he enters his second month with the Staten Island Yankees, preparing to develop into a top prospect.

BASEBALL ESSENTIAL: In 2012, you arrived at Oregon State as a walk-on from Division III Santiam Christian. What sports did you play there and was it difficult for you to break through coming from a small private school?

JEFF HENDRIX: “It was pretty difficult. I played basketball, football, and baseball in high school, so I was always bounced around between sports and it was definitely a challenge going from a smaller school to a big Division I university. It took a little adjusting. The speed of the game sped up a little bit, but once I got my bearings, I really enjoyed it”.

BBE: As a senior at Santiam Christian you hit a 47 yard field goal to beat Dayton in the Division III championship game. Did you get any scholarship offers as a placekicker?

JH: “No, I did not get any offers for football. I was always pretty interested in football. I enjoyed any sport I was playing. I committed to baseball the summer after my junior year. I did all of the kicking after I committed. Most of the attention was on baseball by then”.

BBE: You were drafted in the 39th round last year by the Kansas City Royals but chose to remain at Oregon State. How beneficial was it for you to remain with the Beavers for an extra season?

JH: “Yeah, it was big. I was always telling myself that I was going to wait until junior year before I wanted to pursue professional baseball. So I think it was a very beneficial year for me to develop more as a player and just getting a year of baseball before I took it professional”.

BBE: Yankees CF Jacoby Ellsbury is also a former Oregon State Beaver. Did you have a chance to speak with him after you were drafted and what does it mean for you to be drafted in the same organization?

JH: “It’s always nice to have a role model that came from the same place as you that you can look up to. I haven’t really spoken to him recently. I met him once back at Oregon State. We talked for a couple of minutes, but he is an awesome guy and I would love to meet him again and pick his brain a little more.”

BBE: At Oregon State you played in the same outfield as Michael Conforto. Was was like for you play with him for two seasons and did he prepare you at all when it was announced that you would play in the New York-Penn League?

JH: “I got to be around him for a couple of years. Just how he goes about his business and prepares each day and gets after it. It’s big. I think I can learn a lot from just the time I spent with him. Now watching him already play in the major leagues, it’s pretty cool”.

BBE: Your coach at Oregon State, Pat Casey has been a mentor to you and a friend of your family since your brother and his son played Little League together. What kind of impact has Casey had on your career?

JH: “Huge. He instilled a lot of confidence in me. Taught me at Oregon State to believe in myself and really instilled a work ethic in me that is really going to benefit me throughout my baseball career and just in life in general”.

BBE: You were a member of the All-Pac 12 team for two years. What did you mean for you receive those accolades coming out of a Division III school?

JH: “It’s been cool to see just how much more comfortable I became with baseball the more I played. It’s fun to see that I came from a small school and it can be done and it is a process”.

BBE: This season you made two game saving catches on consecutive days against the Brooklyn Cyclones and Michael Bernal. What type of scouting reports do you get on players at this level and how important is positioning for a center fielder?

JH: “I think it is a big thing. Positioning. We obviously know where players intend to hit it, so we can adjust accordingly and I think that is a big help any time you can have a little data on someone, just to give yourself any upper hand you can get, which is always a big thing”.

BBE: What has been the biggest adjustment for you playing professional baseball and what measures did the Yankees organization take to ease the transition?

JH: “The pitching is obviously really good now. I am not saying it wasn’t good in college, but there are people commanding all of their pitches and so any time you have good pitching, there are times you are going to struggle at the plate, so I am going to continue work hard, get better every day and stay with the process”.

The ability to repeatedly square up a baseball at the precise millisecond is perhaps the most difficult thing to accomplish in professional sports.  Dexterity, finesse, and elite hand eye coordination are required for this task. Making consistent contact in the batter’s box separates a player from being a fringe minor league player and a legitimate piece for a team to build their future around.

Like any first year player, the challenges mount for Jeff Hendrix, who similar to his teammate Kyle Holder is playing baseball for twelve months, spending two of those in one of the more auspicious leagues for pitchers. The overall package of speed, defense, and plate discipline in centerfield evoke comparisons to Brett Gardner and Slade Heathcott at the same stage in their minor league careers. A .291 average in road games breeds promise as Hendrix searches for consistency after adjusting to professional baseball.

“It’s going to come,” Staten Island Yankees manager Pat Osborn said. “It is a situation where he is so opposite field dominant right now. A lot of college hitters are with the wooden bat. They let the ball travel. Adjustment is going to come with reps and at bats.”

Presently, Hendrix’s defense is his calling card. Strong speed and excellent routes to the baseball justify an appearance of a potential prospect after being drafted in the 4th round. If Hendrix can continue to make inroads at the plate in his first professional season, his ceiling will continue to expand and gain notice within the Yankees organization in the coming years.

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