Scouting Padres' Prospect #10: Clay Hensley

The 2005 season got off to a miserable start for right-handed pitcher Clay Hensley. He was suspended under the minor league steroid policy and rumors swirled about his impending release. The Padres quickly squashed those rumors with then player development director Tye Waller telling that Hensley would be an integral part of the 2005 season. Not even he realized how prophetic that statement would be.

An eighth-round draft pick by the Giants in 2002, Clay Hensley was acquired by the Padres in the Matt Herges deal as the 2003 trade deadline approached.

At the time of the trade, Hensley had already racked up the first perfect game in Hagertown Suns history, and had an impressive 183 strikeouts in 179 innings. But, Hensley struggled when the Giants promoted him to the California League and decided he was expendable.

After a decent finish to the year in Lake Elsinore, Hensley had a non-descript season with Mobile in 2004 where he went 11-10 with a 4.30 ERA. Although his strikeout totals dropped off at Double-A and his walk totals increased, he earned a promotion to Portland to start the 2005 season and thrived there.

While he managed only a 2-2 record in fifteen Triple-A games, the truth behind the numbers is that he dominated a hitters' league. His 2.99 ERA was better than anyone else who threw at least 90 innings in the PCL.

The Texas native allowed two runs or fewer in ten of his 14 starts and ended up with a .197 average against on the year, allowing only 63 hits in 90.1 frames with the Beavers.

As improbable as it was, Hensley had even bigger success after joining the big club in July. During his stint with the Padres, Hensley boasted a 1.70 ERA in 47.2 innings, allowing 33 hits and holding righties to a miniscule .103 average against him.

Asked about the biggest success in the system during the 2005 season, Jeff Kingston, the Padres' director of baseball operations was quick to name Hensley:

"Hensley came up and has really done a good job for us out of the bullpen," he acknowledged. "He can also start."

The sudden change in his game is something Hensley attributes to Portland pitching coach Gary Lance.

"We had to hone my pitching," said Hensley, who also benefited from Lance being with him in Double-A the year before. "My whole career while pitching, prior to Double-A, I didn't really pitch I just kind of threw the ball and it was more of a straight over the top action as opposed to now where I have a three-quarter arm and a little more take on the ball."

Hensley sports a fastball that sits comfortably in the 88-91 range and tops out at 94, complimenting it with a sinker that has late movement and a average changeup. The sinker is especially tough on right-handed hitters who end up smashing it into the dirt. His changeup, effective against lefties in Triple-A was hittable for major league competition.

His poise on the mound pushed him to greater heights as a rookie and now the off-season brings forth another challenge – staving off the competition. There are a number of arms competing for bullpen and starting spots with the team and Hensley will not be handed a position despite gaudy numbers last year. He will certainly have some leeway but he can't stumble through camp thinking he has a job; he must still earn it.

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