Name: Kevin Cyle Hankerd
Draft: 3rd Round, 2006
Weight: 180 lbs
History: 2006 was truly a special year for Cyle Hankerd. He was selected 87th overall in that June's draft and got compensated with a signing bonus of nearly half a million dollars. The outfielder combined for 195 hits, 36 doubles, 22 homers, 116 RBI, and a .382 batting average between USC, Yakima, and Lancaster, which was then the Arizona Diamondbacks' Hi-A affiliate.
He began the 2007 season once again at Hi-A, but this time with the Visalia Oaks. Though he put together good numbers, the expectations had been so high that the .285 batting average and eight homers would have qualified as a disappointment had he not been playing through a wrist injury for most of the season.
*Hawaiian League stats are not included in career minor league totals
Hankerd began crowding the plate to compensate for the loss of bat speed that a wrist injury entails. The results were a scary 19 hit-by-pitches that year. This summer, Hankerd reduced his HBP totals to nine, but unfortunately, all of his other offensive numbers went down as well.
"My wrist was healthy all year," Hankerd insisted. "I don't blame anything that happened this year on my wrist."
The regular season was marked by inconsistency, as Hankerd's batting averages by month confirm: .261, .313, .138, .211, and .307. The Arizona Diamondbacks organization gave Hankerd an opportunity to iron out some of the bad habits that he had developed at the plate by sending him to the Hawaiian Winter League, which is usually comprised of the top Hi-A ballplayers from around the league.
"I would say, day in and day out, obviously Mobile was a little bit better," Hankerd admitted when asked to compare the quality of pitching between the Southern League and the Hawaiian League. "But my hat's off to the Hawaiian League; there's a lot of prospects in that league, and the pitching was actually better than I thought it might be."
Most of the pitching wasn't good enough to handle Hankerd, however. The former Trojan hit as many homers in 88 Hawaiian League at-bats as he did in 436 Southern League at-bats. His 30 RBI paced the island, culminating in a division-clinching grand slam and Offensive Player of the Year honors.
"The pitcher we were facing that night was a Japanese pitcher [Mitsuo Yoshikawa]," Hankerd began. "He was really, really good; he had beaten us pretty good in two games before that. He got ahead of me early in the count, I battled back to 2-2, and he hung a splitter or a change. I stayed through it and hit it to left-center."
Batting and Power: That opposite-field stroke is normally a natural occurrence for Hankerd, whose trademark had been a balanced swing that sprayed the ball to all fields. He got into trouble this summer when he began pulling off the ball rather than driving through it. Plate patience also posed a bit of a problem. He would often get into hitters counts, then swing at pitcher's pitches anyway.
Hankerd feels as though he corrected those problems in Hawaii with the aid of the coaches there. He is very intelligent and very coachable, so he should be able to continue making adjustments down the road.
He should also improve in the power department. Right now, he is mostly a line drive power hitter who can take advantage of favorable conditions to hit some homers. As he adds muscle to his slender frame and gets his swing more consistent, 20-25 homer per season power is quite realistic.
Base Running and Speed: This is not one of Hankerd's strong suits. He has never stolen many bases, but nevertheless tried eight times this year, with less-than-satisfying results. Perhaps he wanted to try to make something happen with his legs while he was struggling with his bat. He has below average speed, and his instincts on the base paths are nothing special. He should hit lower in the order to maximize his run-producing capability and minimize his clogging up the bases.
Defense: In the case of his fielding, Hankerd really did contribute to his team even when he wasn't hitting well. He cut his error total from 2007 in half, increasing his fielding percentage from .957 to .987. He also positioned himself better and got better jumps on the ball. Hankerd even spent time in right field this year. While he doesn't have a plus-arm, he is able to make accurate throws to his cutoff man, and feels as comfortable in right field as he does in left.
"I was particularly proud of my defense this year," Hankerd told us. "I'm lucky to be taught by people like Turner Ward and Brett Butler and Joel Youngblood. I learned some tricks as far as reading the catcher setting up, turning and running for fly balls."
This improvement is a very good omen. Perhaps his biggest question mark coming out of USC was his defensive skill. Now it appears that Hankerd could develop into an above average left fielder who could fill in at right from time to time.
"I just think that the more you play, you've got to get better," he continued. "I feel a lot more comfortable on defense."
Major League Clone: Matt Murton
Prediction: While Hankerd was indeed facing a slightly lower level of competition in Hawaii than his experience would warrant, he still dominated and made sound fundamental corrections to his hitting approach. 2009 could have some peaks and valleys, but he will likely put up numbers similar to what he did in 2007, although He is still young enough to make further strides, and should develop into a productive player at the major league level.
ETA: Hankerd played under new Triple-A manager Brett Butler in 2006. Should he once again blossom under Butler's tutelage, there's a decent chance that Hankerd could be a September callup in 2009 and have a chance to make the 2010 squad as a role player.
"I'm just really excited to hopefully take what I've learned into spring training this year," said Hankerd.
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