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2023 D50: Prospect #4 - But Also 2.c

Updated: Feb 14, 2023


Each post will feature these words, so feel free to skip accordingly. I offer the same always-standing apologies for the lackluster quality of my writing, as well as the stream of consciousness nature that I write with. I sincerely wish that I was better at writing than I am but, alas, here we are. Also, I'm very good at this as compared to most, but I am still VERY bad at it. Just think about that for a second, for context purposes.

I want to start off by reminding everyone that these posts are aided and enhanced by the works of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball America, and Prospects Live. Each embedded link will take you to their subscription pages and you should absolutely do that. Shout out to Geoff Pontes and Matt Thompson from Baseball America and Prospects Live, respectfully, because they're awesome. FanGraphs stats are OBVIOUSLY clutch and awesome, and that's why they are used in nearly every "Dirty" post. LOVE that FanGraphs.

Accordingly, @Cardinalsgifs provides his artistic touch to the pictures in each article, and I wouldn't do this at all if he wasn't a part of it. Special shoutout to @KareemSSN who is a must follow for Cardinals prospects stuff. His partner in crime is @Cardinalsreek and they have their own prospect list coming out soon!! Shoutout to Blake Newberry (@BT_Newberry) and Mr. Brian Walton (@B_Walton) for their work on their list over at The Cardinal Nation, too.

I also want to remind everyone that my list is different in that I don't include players with rookie eligibility that have made a Major League debut. So, you'll have to look elsewhere for Matthew Liberatore, Ivan Herrera, Alec Burleson, Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan, Jake Walsh, Andre Pallante, and ZacK Thompson. Some of these guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway. I'm just trying to get ahead of this because I will 100% be asked about each. I did almost add 32-year-old Rule 5 draft selection Wilking Rodriguez to the list, but decided against it because he's 32-years-old, entering his age 33 season, and the coverage of him will surely be overly saturated by the time that Spring Training gets going. Also, I didn't add recently acquired Jose Fermín because I just don't care at all. I'm sure he'll make a Major League debut at some point in 2023 which will be cool but I just can't find it in me to care about it at all.

The last thing that I'd like to do is remind everyone that this is just a snap shot of THIS moment. I'm not 100% sure what every player on the list has worked on or has been doing this offseason. So, when I'm a little more conservative with a player like, say, Michael McGreevy, it's without the knowledge of what he's worked on this offseason, along with the gains that he's made in the areas that I'm concerned about. You never know when/if things are going to click for a player, and there's more reason now than ever before - with the advancements in modern baseball technologies - for a prospect to catapult themselves from out of nowhere. Vice versa, it's easier than ever for a prospect to fall off into obscurity.

Finally, I'd like to provide links to other sites that rank Cardinals' prospects. The Cardinal Nation, Prospects Live, and Baseball America all have their 2023 lists published, and MLB and FanGraphs will link to their most recent rankings from 2022:

THE CARDINAL NATION (Subscribe to the damn site, dummies) MLB


RHP Markevian "Tink" Hence

Age 20, Turns 21 in August

Drafted in the 3rd Round of the 2020 Draft

Listed at 6'1, 175.


Editor's Note: Take a minute to watch Hence's Winter Warm Up presser in the above video. Afterwards, he told the media room that it was his first real press conference. I just wanted to mention that because the kid did terrific. It's worth a watch!!

We certainly say it enough, but man-oh-man is that 2020 draft the gift that keeps on giving for the Cardinals.

As we countdown to Jordan Walker as the #1 prospect in the org, the hottest name with the most helium is easily that of Markevian "Tink" Hence. Tink does everything that every national outlet and Major League organization wants in a pitcher, and he has the desired age, frame, and understanding of pitching that makes it easy to dream about his potential. Markevian is also incredibly athletic on the mound. Like Michael McGreevy, Hence is an incredible athlete. Unlike McGreevy, Hence does a great job of getting to that athleticism on the mound with his throwing motions.

The short of the long is in this write-up is that Tink could easily be one year away from seeing his name on a lot of top ten prospect lists. As we enter the 2023 season, The question is "how does he get there?"

Any answer to that question will have to start with the Cardinals making the decision to take the kid gloves off of him. They were right for doing it, but the Cardinals were incredibly careful with Hence's innings in 2022. Only six of his sixteen starts during the 2022 season went into the 4th inning. The good news there is, Hence did pitch at least into the 4th inning in six of his last eight starts, and he completed the fourth inning in five of those six outings.

I'm often asked if this was a smart move, to throttle back Hence's innings and treat him with extra care. A lot of the time, I'm also asked if this will make it difficult for Hence to ramp up in the coming years. I spend a lot of time thinking about answer to these types of questions. I think that my position is that I actually love it for the prep-drafted pitchers or teenaged pitchers. There used to be a time when the Minor Leagues had the short season affiliates to help with development, but those days are gone. There was also a time when the "Piggyback" MiLB start was considered to be a smart treatment method in developing pitchers. With this context in mind, this is why I'm on board with the way that they treated Hence during the 2022 season. I hope they give Alec Willis the same treatment during the 2023 season. More and more, it really feels like organizations are rushing players within a level of the Majors because of the cost-controlled nature of prospects. This method of throttling innings almost forces the Cardinals to show patience, and I 100% believe that's the right way to handle this.

So, I would say that the biggest things to keep an eye on come July is how many innings Hence has pitched, how many of those innings are happening per start, and how quickly he gets beyond the 52.1 innings that he pitched during the 2022 season. More than likely, the Cardinals won't just throw Hence into the fire of six and seven inning starts. There will be a ramp up again in 2023, I'd almost guarantee it. What that looks like will be fascinating to watch. How Hence holds up over an entire season will largely dictate how quickly he rises up national rankings, I would imagine. Because, honestly, that's the only real question about Markevian Hence.

Now, at this point I'm going to say something that I don't think that I've ever said about such a young pitching prospect: there isn't much that Hence needs to do to be MLB ready from a pure pitching standpoint. He's going to have to prove it at tougher levels than Low-A, naturally, but his arsenal is ready-made for success as he climbs the ladder. The same goes for his pitch design, tunneling, competitive spirit on the mound, and work ethic.

We've seen the slight-framed Hence get his fastball all of the way up near 100 MPH, but it lives about 96 MPH. It's an explosive pitch that spins about 2300 RPM with good movement that makes it very hard to square up. It's a plus pitch because of velocity and movement and command and usage, and that is the kind of foundation that you want to build an off-speed arsenal off of. All of this, of course, says nothing for how extraordinarily well the rest of his arsenal plays off of it. It's a pitch that is almost impossible for a hitter to get on top of because of where he releases it from and how it jumps out of his hand. This makes it a pitch that is incredibly easy to pop directly up in the air, which we saw a lot when he wasn't striking hitters out. It's my understanding that Tink has messed with a sinker here and there, and that sometimes his heater will ride arm-side and almost horizontally which can give it a sinker-type profile. In a lot of ways, it's the same principle that we talked about with Graceffo and his slider sometimes moving like a cutter. As you'll see below, I actually think that there are two different pitches sometimes between the sinker and the fastball, but I'm also drunk most of the time.

The complimentary pieces in Hence arsenal are at least average, as well, with the curveball being an above average pitch right now. There's nothing about it that is particularly special, exactly, but it's made a little better because of how he releases it and how it works off of his fastball. It'll be fascinating to see how he uses it at High-A this year and what kind of results it yields. It's the off-speed offering that Hence uses the most, but I can't help but wonder how much the frequency of usage will change as he moves up the MiLB ladder regardless of how good of a pitch it is for him.

During the season, Hence didn't throw either his changeup or his slider much, mostly because he didn't need to. That's how good Hence was as compare to the Low-A talent level. As you'd suspect, we'll definitely see increased usage of both of these pitches as he continues to progress through the system. My hope is that we end up seeing the changeup at a much higher rate because it just might be the best pitch in his arsenal. It's a late-fading pitch that mimics the fastball extremely well. It gets a ton of swing and miss, and it gets chased all over the zone when he throws it. We saw Hence use it up in the zone a lot to great results, and I believe that gives you some idea of how good of a pitch it's capable of being. I don't think it's fair to really grade the changeup out just yet because he hasn't thrown it enough, but it flashes plus, at least. His command of the pitch along with when he throws it play heavily into how I perceive it's potential.

With any pitch that's as good as the changeup has been, it should definitely be used more than about 8% of the time. That said, I always have my hesitation with a large increase in usage of a pitch when it's already having a ton of success, specifically when a pitcher's more primary offerings are having the success that they are having. There's a medium ground between the two - between 13% and 18% usage - where the usage of the change will only aid the rest of his arsenal in the long run. If either of Hence's fastball or curve gets hit as he moves up the ladder then this pitch will help to aid both pitches.

Hence's slider is the real wild card in all of this. It's a pitch that he barely threw during the 2022 season, but it was an effective pitch when he did throw it. It's profile within his arsenal makes it kind of an outlier and that's probably why he didn't throw it as often. As I tend to do, I'm going to be somewhat dismissive of the pitch until he uses it enough to really evaluate. Smarter evaluators than myself will tell you that it needs work to be a viable option moving forward. I really liked what I saw of it, but I'm also fucking stupid.

The thing about both the slider and the changeup is that Hence has demonstrated a great feel for when to throw these pitches. This plays heavily into the success that he's had with each pitch. All of the batted ball data against the slider says that he should be using it more but the truth is that he's using it exactly how he is supposed to be using it as it's currently constructed.

The other thing worth getting excited about with Hence within the small sample of the 2022 season against inferior talent is how well he dominated both righties and lefties. It's almost expected when a pitcher is as polished as Hence is, but he held lefties to a hitting line of 120/193/160 in 83 plate appearances against and righties to 214/277/291 in 112 plate appearances against. The sample is too small to go all "reverse splits" here, but the movement profile of his entire arsenal lends itself to future success against lefties as a right-handed pitcher. The slugging against numbers are always a little misleading at this level because of the tough hitting environments in the Florida State League, but Hence's ability to limit slug the way that he limited slug during the 2022 season transcends that league.

Markevian struck out 41.5% of the 195 batters that he faced during season while throwing strikes 64% of the time. This number is laughably dominant. That he did it while getting hitters to chase 32.2% of the time and getting them to whiff 38% of the time across his entire arsenal and 811 pitches that he threw during the 2022 season tells us that the swing and miss is definitely going to stick around. It won't stick around above that 40% mark once he gets to AA, but there's reason to believe that it won't fall of that far at High-A, either. I'm taking a huge guess here, but knowing what I know about the difference in talent at the levels, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he was right near Graceffo's 34% K rate at Peoria when he gets there. His vast arsenal and command of it would make a less realistic appraiser say that 37-38% is realistic at High-A. There's a chance of it in my book, but it's not realistic. Certainly, Tink is talented and gifted enough to prove me wrong.

Just as a quick throw away line, I'm sure there is some concern about Hence's svelte frame and how it will hold up over the course of an entire season. Sure, I'd love for Tink to continue to put on weight and muscle and strength, and it's probably fair to say that will help his long-term health and sustainability. Personally, I'm not so worried about it because we've seen Tristan McKenzie hold up for awhile now as a svelte-framed young man. The work that Hence does to keep his mechanics clean and his arm strong make me less concerned than most others are. In addition, we know more now about biometrics and the way that the body works and uses/releases energy than ever before. I believe this science will only continue to grow in baseball, and this will help "smaller" pitchers stay healthier and for longer. Still, all pitchers breakdown eventually. So, it's whatever.

Markevian Hence is a stud that the national scouting outlets can't wait to have rise up their ranks. Hence has shown a natural ability to spin and command the ball at high velocities. Tink throws the ball with such ease and polish for a teenager, and that has this young man on a path that few other teenaged pitching prospects within the organization have ever been on at this stage in their career. Markevian is also incredibly athletic, and he throws the ball on the mound with the athleticism that I wish McGreevy could tap into. His stamina build up is the biggest issue as we sit here in February in anticipation of the 2023 season.

Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis


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