Griffin: Pat Hentgen compares Jays prospects to Carpenter and Halladay
The Jays have been by nature a very conservative developmental organization under third-year GM Alex Anthopoulos. As such the new Jays tend to downplay their own prospects, keeping them secured at levels they can handle, easing them into elevated pitch counts and innings totals that will demonstrate a slow but steady learning curve.
Pat Hentgen, on the other hand, is a Cy Young winner, an old school hard-nosed competitor who would just as soon drill you between the shoulder blades for throwing near one of his teammates than look at you, but was smart enough never to admit it was on purpose. Hentgen is not prone to exaggeration and sugar-coating what he encounters.
Hentgen gave up the Jays' bullpen coaching job this season after one year at it when he realized the fulltime travel is something he was not quite ready for, with family and all the other real-life responsibilities that mature adults have. But he wanted to stay active in the organization and it's a two-way street.
This season, Hentgen has more of a manageable schedule. On Monday he reported for duty with the Jays at Tropicana Field, taking over as bullpen coach for a week on this road trip for Pete Walker who returned to his home in Connecticut for a scheduled surgery for his daughter who has been suffering from a form of bone cancer. Walker will be back.
Hentgen is listed in the media guide as special assistant to the organization and as part of his duties, he will assume the pitching coach duties for a week at every level of the organization. That serves the dual purpose of giving the fulltime coach a break and allowing Hentgen, a solid and tough talent evaluator, to see all the young prospects in the Jays' farm system. As the first leg of that program, earlier in the month of May he was at A-Lansing in the Midwest League, where the pitching staff has been dominating, led by several of the young arms that have received national attention from scouting experts.
Hentgen came away more than a little impressed by what he saw, led by righthanders Aaron Sanchez, 19; Noah Syndergaard, 19 and lefthander Justin Nicolino, 20. The rest of the Lugnuts staff is not bad either.
“The whole staff," Hentgen said. "Sanchez was electric the day I saw him. Syndergaard was great. Nicolino fell behind a little bit, but he's got such a good breaking ball. He can throw it for strikes at any time. He's so confident. Those three kids were above that league for sure when I was there."
Hentgen tried to reach for comparisons of what he had observed drawing on his own experience as a minor-league player competing for a job, a major-leaguer with a nice career, including the '96 Cy and post-career as a guest instructor, fan and a coach.
“I thought that when I saw Syndergaard first, I came back and said, 'Wow, that's the best pitching prospect I've seen here since '04-'05,'" Hentgen recalled calmly. "Then when I saw Sanchez from behind the rubber, I thought, 'Wow, now we've got 1 and 1-A. You know, they're (Chris) Carpenter and (Roy) Halladay. That's my best analogy. That's what I'm thinking right there, if they develop. They're both hard workers. They just remind me a lot of Carp and Doc. They're big-bodied kids that haven't even filled out yet."
Anthopoulos and his assistant GM Tony LaCava are clearly much more cautious than Hentgen, but Pat has done enough in his own career that his opinion and the willingness to express it, need to be respected by the organization.
"I mean Sanchez is 95-98 with a hammer that's a 90 mile-an-hour fish," Hentgen said, warming to the topic. "He's the closest thing to (Justin) Verlander. Syndergaard reminds me of Roy when Roy was here in the minor leagues. Six-foot-five, straight downhill, 95-96, a good changeup. He's got a better changeup than Roy had when he was 19.
"Nicolino is a polished kid pitching in A-ball. He could throw his fish 3-4 times in a row for strikes and that's not an easy thing to do. What kid in A-ball's going to be able to stay back on that? Then all of a sudden he pops one 90. Definitely above their league."
Hentgen feels the depth of the organization in talented young starting pitching is a good thing, even in terms of sparking internal competition and putting others on edge.
“There's no question," he said. "It's just like if you're loaded at Triple-A and you're a big leaguer struggling. You can feel the heat. It's a competitive business. There's no question that kids in A-ball and Dunedin and Double-A feel that heat. They have to.”
After this, fans have to be looking forward to seeing Hentgen's pitching reports from A-Dunedin, A-Vancouver and other levels that have been stocked skillfully using the past two Jays' June drafts. Sure, it's not quite as dramatic as Rolling Stone's Jon Landau declaring: "I have seen rock and roll's future and his name is Bruce Springsteen," but for long-suffering Jays' fans it's enough to get the juices of future competition flowing again.