By Todd Johnson
Simply put, in 2016, Zach Hedges raised his stock more than any other Cubs prospect. Heading into 2017, Hedges is now on the verge of making it to Chicago. The 24-year-old right-handed pitcher put on 10 pounds of muscle and gained 3-4 mph on his fastball to go along with his plus slider. Between two levels in 2016, he made 24 starts with a 2.75 ERA in 144 IP with 95 Ks. Primarily a ground ball pitcher, his stint at AA Tennessee was even more impressive as he got 3.33 ground balls to every fly ball.
Works hard year round to improve body and repertoire
Works deep into games
Excellent command and control
Pitches to contact
Areas of Concern
Needs a third plus pitch
Pitches to contact
Next Up in 2017
I would like to see him begin the year at Iowa.
He won’t turn 25 until after the season.
What I would like to see
What Hedges does best is to keep hitters off balance. His control of his fastball and the ability to throw low in the zone creates a lot of ground balls. He needs to continue to do that at the next level in the Pacific Coast League; that will be essential. It is known as a hitter’s league and some of the environs are known for enhancing the ball’s ability to travel through the air at high altitude.
To be honest, an ERA under 3.50 would be quite excellent as long is his peripherals remain the same. I think he really needs to put in about 170 innings this year at AAA. If he has any kind of success this year, I think the Cubs are going to take a look at him in September (or earlier) as a preview for 2018. The Cubs are going to need some starting pitching then and Hedges is just one competitor of many trying to stake a claim to just one spot.
I think right now, I am more concerned about how he does this year. His frame, work ethic, mental toughness, and slider make him a unique starting candidate. He is going to have competition, and he is also going to be the competition, for a starting spot in the near future.
I don’t think anybody expected him to make it this far this fast. And I don’t think last year was any aberration. I think that’s who he is. He’s driven, he takes constructive criticism extremely well, and I think he also has a pretty good idea of what he’s doing with what he has. He almost sounds like another Kyle Hendricks but with some more power.
I hope that the ultimate goal this offseason is that he is working on developing a third plus pitch. If he shows up in spring training with his fastball that he can command, his plus slider, and a third plus pitch, he won’t be in Iowa too much longer. As much as he improved from 2015 to 2016, I hope he can do the same in 2016 to 2017. It’s strange talking about how close he is.
I still remember seeing him in Burlington, Iowa in 2015 on a hot summer night with 90% humidity just baffling hitters with that slider. As long as he has that slider, Hedges has a chance.