Heading into the 2017 campaign, the Yankees were blessed with an abundance of outfield depth throughout their decorated system. While Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier entrenched themselves as both present and future cornerstone pieces, the organization dealt away highly touted outfield prospects like Dustin Fowler, Blake Rutherford and Tito Polo in July deals to bolster their postseason aspirations. While some of their outfield talent in the upper levels was compromised as a result of the moves, the emergence of 24-year old Jeff Hendrix has given the franchise another piece that they believe can be a difference maker in the very near future.
Hendrix, a fourth-round draft selection out of Oregon State in 2015, is a developed college bat who figures to move quickly through the system. In just his second full season in the minors, Hendrix slashed .292/.411/.348 and went 18-for-26 in stolen base attempts in 99 games between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton after slashing .293/.381/.379 between Low-A Charleston and Tampa in 2016.
The left-handed hitting Hendrix hit .271 over the first 67 games of the season with Tampa before he was promoted to the Thunder on August 1 following the MLB trade deadline. Like many players who have made the jump from the Florida State League to the Eastern League, Hendrix found better success against a more polished pool of competition. In 32 regular season games for Trenton, the team’s primary leadoff hitter hit .333 and went 10-for-27 with multi-hit efforts in four of the teams seven postseason contests.
Not only does Hendrix project as a high on-base catalyst, but he is silky smooth on defense with the ability to thrive at any of the three outfield positions. The versatile Hendrix played 71 games in center field, 14 in right field and nine in left field and did not commit a single error over the course of the season. Pinstriped Prospects was able to chat with Hendrix via telephone last week to recap his impressive season and gather his thoughts heading into the offseason.
You started the season down in Tampa and then came up to Trenton for the last month and a half of the season and went on a postseason run with them. What was the biggest difference for you, from the Florida State League to the Eastern League that allowed you to pick-up your game offensively once you arrived?
“I would say that I think every level that I have moved up so far, the strike-zones have noticeably gotten more consistent, in my opinion. As a hitter that is a big part of it; knowing what you can and cannot swing at, I think that has been a big thing. I think that has helped me stick with my approach and see as many pitches as possible to get on base, however that might be.”
You came up to Trenton at the beginning of August right after the trade deadline as guys moved around. Do you think that thirty-plus games that you got to spend there along with that nice postseason run will help you heading into next season after seeing what the Eastern League has to offer?
“Yeah, anytime that you get to play at a higher level is a good thing. Just kind of getting your feet wet at the various levels and getting comfortable with everything. Getting to know more people in the organization, getting to know more managers and coaches is all a big thing. As far as progressing and learning goes; it’s about kind of picking-and-choosing what works best for you as an individual player. I think that this experience will be huge in moving on to next year as I keep progressing. That is the name of the game.”
Was it exciting to come up to Trenton at the time you came up to join such a successful team that ran roughshod through the league and pretty went wire-to-wire to win the division?
“Yeah, yeah, it was fun and exciting. Even in High-A, I think we may have set a record for wins, but yeah. It was super exciting, and it was awesome to get to know some of the guys that I hadn’t met yet at Double-A or the upper levels. It was good to familiarize myself with the ballpark, and it was really fun to play in front of a lot of fans again, honestly. It just brings a whole other atmosphere to the game when you have everyone out there screaming.”
You played for Jay Bell in his first year down in Tampa and then came up to play for Bobby Mitchell in Trenton. Both of those guys were Manager of the Year in their respective leagues; what was it like playing for both of those guys?
“I would say that the main similarity between them is that they both love to win. But, besides that, in my opinion, they both manage pretty differently. They were both phenomenal in their own rights, but just so different to play for. It was fun kind of getting a feel, because everywhere you go, you’re going to have different managers that control their game and manage the game differently. I think it is awesome that this year I got to see two different managers and two really successful managers and seeing how they managed their respective games.”
Your second full-season is now in the books since being drafted. Where do you think that you grew the most this season from day one of spring training to the final pitch that you saw in Altoona?
“I would say that just overall as a hitter, I feel that is where I saw the most improvement this year. Just having an approach and sticking with it and being able to adjust the approach to the pitcher you’re facing on a given day. I think that is part of the learning process that every hitter goes through. It was fun because I could definitely see it from start to finish; it started to mold and shape me, and throughout the season it was fun to see that.”
Is there one particular thing that the Yankees have identified or one thing that maybe you have seen that heading into the offseason and spring training next season that you need to improve in?
“Yeah, definitely. For me, I am really going to be focusing on my base running and stealing more bases. That was something that I really wanted to improve on this year. I didn’t have the amount that I was hoping, and that is something that I want to become a big threat in my game. I am definitely going to be working on that over the next few months.”
As a young player in such a talented system with so many young guys getting an opportunity at the big league level, is exciting to know that in maybe a year, year and a half that you could be in a position to contribute and be in a similar position?
“I think that this is the best time after all of the moves that have happened over the last few years. They are giving so many people chances up there to prove themselves and show how much they can help the team. It is pretty cool to see the group of guys up there and how young a lot of them are. There is no doubt that it is an exciting time to be a Yankee. Everyone says this, and I think that it is true, but the future is looking really bright.“