Kyle Hendricks: ERA champ, Cy Young finalist — and mentor?

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Kyle Hendricks

MESA, Ariz. – For three seasons Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks has grown into one of the top pitchers in the major leagues, on smarts, command, confidence and one of the most effective changeups in the league.

Now, after winning an ERA title, beating Clayton Kershaw to clinch the Cubs’ first National League pennant in 71 years and starting Game 7 of the Cubs’ first World Series title in 108 years, can Hendricks do anything more for the organization?

Even beyond building on all that success during a 2017 with all eyes upon him?

Some believe he can. Hendricks hopes he can. And, in fact, he’s already doing it.

“He’s a great guy to learn from,” rookie left-hander Rob Zastryzny said. “A lot of guys say he doesn’t overpower you, but he really does. He overpowers with location. He overpowers you with outthinking you. That’s something that anyone can learn.

“He’s mastered it, and if you can master what he does, then you can pitch like him, then you can be third in Cy Young voting, or whatever he was – I mean, I’ll take any advantage I can get.”

Between his thinking-man’s pitching game and his good nature and communication skills, Hendricks is already helping groom other young pitchers coming through the system.

“He enjoys doing that, and we’ve sent a couple young pitchers his way to learn some things from him,” team president Theo Epstein said. “Especially with [Alec] Mills and [Eddie] Butler, two right-handers who have good changeups who are learning how to use them in the big leagues, learning how to throw them right-on-right is important. And Kyle’s one of the best in the league at that.”

Certainly, it’s a reach to look at Hendricks as a part of the Cubs’ vaunted pitching infrastructure led by pitching coach Chris Bosio and unsung strategist Mike Borzello.

But for an organization set up to acquire pitching from all directions, and seeking ways to strengthen its prospect pipeline, Hendricks could be an especially useful resource over the next several years.

“I hope so. I would love to do it,” said Hendricks, who went 16-8 with a 2.13 ERA last season. “Even when I was in college, by my junior year, I just loved kind of helping out the freshman guys, making them comfortable, bringing them along. I wasn’t offering much as far as advice on pitching at that point – but just to help them out in any way I could. And I think being up here, it’s more of the same.

“You don’t feel it as a responsibility. I enjoy it.”

He has certainly become a mentor to Zastryzny. A rival scout watching him pitch last year called him a “left-handed Kyle Hendricks” the way he pitched. And even though the left-right translation adds a little nuance to the communication, Zastryzny soaks up what he can from Hendricks daily.

“I talk to him a lot about the way he does a bullpen, the way he prepares for games, because I like the way he goes about it,” Zastryzny said. “The way he throws his bullpen, it’s very precise. He’s not just randomly throwing pitches. Everything has a purpose. That’s kind of how I go about my business now.”

Bosio said he sees Hendricks as a leader by example, if a young pitcher wants to pay attention.

“You have to watch what he does to really appreciate what Kyle Hendricks is,” Bosio said. “The one thing that we’ve worked extremely hard with on Kyle is pitching off previous pitches. That’s where Kyle can really be a mentor with a lot of our young guys.

“A lot of our young guys that we have – yeah, they’re not top draft picks, they’re not top prospects, because we’re a position-player organization. And our infrastructure says that. That’s who we are.”

Bosio said the Cubs look for young pitchers that can throw strikes, are aggressive and are smart.

“Kyle Hendricks is that kind of guy,” he said.

And if Kyle Hendricks can help the club build more of the same kind of guys?

“I think he’s got a lot to offer,” Epstein said.

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