Giants Top 50: #30 - Justin Hedrick

It was a surprise to see him repeating San Jose, but the lack of a move did him some good. He solidified himself as one of the best strikeout threats in the Giants farm relief corps. But will he be able to make the progress to move up the rankings and towards the bigs? #29 is San Jose reliever Justin Hedrick.

Date of Birth: 06/08/1982 Position: P Height: 6'3" Weight: 225 Bats: R Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 6th Round (#190 Overall) in the 2004 Draft
2006 Stats
San Jose - High-A 6 4 2.00 56 0 6 85.2 53 19 19 3 30 110 .182 0.69
Scottsdale - AFL 1 1 4.63 14 0 0 11.2 13 6 6 1 3 8 .283 0.42

It was a bit of surprise to see him back in San Jose.

Justin Hedrick's 2005 season in San Jose wasn't spectacular, but it was hardly bad by any stretch of the imagination.  He had a 3.55 ERA and 75 strikeouts against 23 walks in 58.1 innings, and had picked up 12 saves sharing the game-closing role with Joe Bateman.  But yet, after getting an invite to the big league team's Spring Training, Hedrick stayed in San Jose for 2006.

The result was a much improved season in a lot of respects.  Hedrick's 2.00 ERA showed off his increased effectiveness, and while he only saved 6 games while working as a setup man, the closer role was filled by a record setting closer, Brian Anderson, so Hedrick was able to combine with him to be part of the league's best shutdown bullpen.

They were confirmed as such when both of them were named as part of the California League's All-Star representation in the California-Carolina league All-Star Game.  Hedrick even shone in that outing, and was named the game's Pitcher of the Game despite the California League team's loss.  Hedrick had a fine enough season that he was the Giants lone pick from Single-A to represent the team in the premier Arizona Fall League.

But is this enough for the sixth round pick in 2004 to break out of Single-A and move up the rankings?

The most eye-catching number of Hedrick's are the strikeouts, the 110 that put him among California League leaders despite working in relief.  But that is the most misleading of Hedrick's peripheral numbers.  His strikeout rate was almost exactly what it was in 2005.  He struck out 11.57 batters every 9 innings in 2005, and the rate was 11.56 in 2006.

Where Hedrick improved greatly was allowing baserunners.  His 30 walks in 85.2 innings was a significant improvement over his 2005 walk totals, and Hedrick also allowed significantly less hits per inning from 2005.  Hedrick dropped his WHIP (Walk plus Hits per Innings Pitched) to under 1.00 (0.97 in 2006), after it was 1.11 in 2005.

Hedrick's other big improvement was in his workload.  Despite working only 5 more games in 2006 than 2005, Hedrick worked over 17 more innings, which is a significant percentage.  The change indicates a possibility that the Giants are moving Hedrick towards a role in middle relief, working more than just a single inning every outing.  Hedrick was equally effective against right handed and left handed batters throughout the season, although he showed some vulnerabilities against left handers in the Arizona Fall League.

In 2006, Hedrick found a little more velocity, working mostly in the low 90's on his fastball, which was an important improvement for him.  Hedrick has a versatile arsenal, working with a curveball, a changeup, a slider and a sinker, but in 2006 he simplified his approach on the mound, working mostly with the sinker and change.  His ability to change speeds was what made him so successful in 2006.

Whether or not he will be able to keep it up in 2007 at higher levels is a big question.  His stuff isn't overwhelming, so he needs to continue making the most of what he does throw to stay effective.  Connecticut is a very likely destination for the upcoming season, but unlike the perception, it's not a cakewalk for all pitchers in the Eastern League.  Bateman, Hedrick's 2005 co-closer, struggled at times with the Defenders in 2006.

Hedrick is unlikely to be able to continue his strikeout rate, so his success will be determined by his ability to get outs.  What's intriguing about Hedrick's numbers is that, despite his sinker being his best offspeed pitch, he still got an abnormal number of his outs through fly balls.  Only 3 home runs were hit off of him in 2006, but as he faces better hitters, that won't hold.  If Hedrick can use his sinker to become a ground ball pitcher, and continue to keep his strikeout rate high (at least 8 per 9 innings), Hedrick could breeze straight into Triple-A, and find a way to impact the big leagues soon.

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