In 2015, pitcher Zach Hedges played his first full season as a Cub. The Azusa Pacific product skipped short-season Eugene and was assigned to low-A South Bend, where he experienced an up-and-down campaign as he worked on his arsenal. Hedges had a 3.00 ERA in April, followed a 5.72 in May, 3.23 in June, 3.62 in July, 5.26 in August, and 1.80 in September.
One of the highlights of last summer for me was watching Hedges pitch on a hot and humid June night in Burlington, Iowa. For four innings, Hedges held his own with a no-hitter in the thick, soupy air before giving up three runs in the fifth. When he came off the field, he was drenched and drained from the oppressive Midwest weather. Despite the anticlimactic outcome, there was just something there when I watched him pitch.
Hedges pitches pretty effortlessly. He stays in the same arm slot, 3/4, and it looks like he has a plan every time he takes the mound. Even so, the results varied wildly throughout the season. At times — April, June, September — he was dominant or close to it. Other times — May and August — he was very hittable. Going forward, developing consistency and location with all his pitches will be the key.
Hedges, who stands at 6’4″ and weighs 195 pounds, is still a work in progress physically and on the mound. He throws his fastball around 89-91 and has a plus slider. He does have a curve but it is not a pitch he can rely on at this point. To me, his slider is his ticket up the system. He could be a starter, but would be one of many back-end rotation guys currently in the system.
If he goes the reliever route later in the minors (AA or AAA), he might have a better chance of making it as a pro just because he does have one plus pitch. He could also gain some velocity on his fastball by converting to a reliever. It could be a win-win for him and the Cubs too, as the benefit of letting him stay a starter for now is that he’ll continue to work on his three-pitch repertoire in earnest.
Hedges was a workhorse for the South Bend Cubs in 2015, taking ball every sixth day and and pitching 132.0 innings without injury. While he worked on his fastball command and breaking in his curve, his slider was always there. I think he might be better suited to working on a changeup, which would give him a variant pitch when it comes to speed. His curve, unfortunately, comes close to the same speed as his slider. He has to change that.
We’re not looking at a big-time strikeout pitcher here, as Hedges only trimmed down 80 hitters (5.45 K/9) last season. The more important stat, however, is that he walked only 36 (2.45 BB/9), illustrating relatively good command. And though he doesn’t miss a lot of bats, Hedges gets a lot of ground balls off the slider.
I think in 2016, he will be more accustomed to the grind of a season and will maintain a more consistent performance. Hedges told the South Bend Cubs’ website how is getting ready:
I try to stick to a good routine of lifting and running for the first few months. Having a set schedule always helps me stay focused while I’m at home, so I know what I have coming my way. My goals for this off-season were to work on gaining strength and flexibility.
One of the first things many young prospects, specifically pitchers, learn early in their professional careers is that they need to develop year round. For Hedges, that doesn’t just mean fine-tuning his pitches or working on arm strength. He mentioned that he’s incorporated hiking as an activity that helps develop his lower half.
At only 195 pounds, Hedges could gain a couple of ticks on his fastball by adding maybe 10-15 pounds to his gangly frame. He looks to be all arms and legs, which probably helps his deception at times, and could easily carry just a little more bulk. Because he has a pretty quiet delivery, he should still be able to hide the ball well at 200+ pounds.
2016 should find Hedges in the rotation at Myrtle Beach, where he’ll compete in a pitcher-friendly park that’s part of a pitcher-friendly league. The Pelicans begin play April 7.