Trade Analysis: Villanueva, Hendricks to Cubs

The Texas Rangers made a move for a starting pitcher just minutes before this year's non-waiver trade deadline, sending prospects Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Ryan Dempster. Lone Star Dugout takes an in-depth look at the deal.

The Deal: The Texas Rangers acquired RHP Ryan Dempster from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for RHP Kyle Hendricks and 3B Christian Villanueva.

Rangers Acquire: Ryan Dempster, RHP

Position: Pitcher
Date of Birth: May 3, 1977 (35)
Birthplace: Sechelt, BC
Height: 6'2" Weight: 215
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Drafted: 1995 – 3rd round by Rangers

Texas acquired the 35-year-old Dempster to bolster its starting rotation just minutes before Tuesday's non-waiver trade deadline. Although Dempster was selected by the Rangers in the third round of the 1995 MLB Draft, he never played for the club in the major leagues. The veteran spent five seasons with the Florida Marlins, one full year in Cincinnati, and he's played the last nine seasons with the Chicago Cubs.

At the time of the deal, Dempster had a 2.25 earned-run average through 16 starts this season. In 104 innings, he allowed 81 hits, walked 27, and struck out 83. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound hurler attacks hitters with a three-pitch repertoire that includes a steady diet of upper-80s, low-90s fastballs and mid-80s sliders. He also mixes in a low-80s splitter.

Shortly after the trade, one National League pro scout commented that Dempster is "at best a number three starter in the playoffs but an upgrade over Roy Oswalt."

As the trade deadline approached, uncertainty surrounding the Rangers' starting rotation made it increasingly likely that the club would pick up a starting pitcher. The Rangers recently learned that right-handers Colby Lewis (flexor tendon surgery) and Neftali Feliz (Tommy John surgery) will both miss the remainder of the 2012 season. Roy Oswalt has also struggled while Derek Holland has been inconsistent.

Cubs Acquire: Kyle Hendricks, RHP

Position: Pitcher
Date of Birth: December 7, 1989 (22)
Birthplace: San Juan Capistrano, CA
Height: 6'3" Weight: 190
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Drafted: 2011 – 8th round by Rangers

The abbreviated scouting report on Hendricks is that he's a potential back-of-the-rotation starter (4/5) or long reliever. Although he attacks hitters with relatively pedestrian stuff, it plays up because he's an extreme strike thrower with fantastic pitchability.

In 20 starts at High-A Myrtle Beach this season––Hendricks' first full year in professional ball––he had a 2.82 earned-run average. Over 130.2 innings, he yielded 123 hits while walking just 15 and striking out 112.

The Rangers' eighth-round pick in last year's MLB Draft, Hendricks works with a deep repertoire––four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter, slider, curveball, and changeup. His ability to mix and locate his arsenal has played a big role in this season's success.

"He does a good job of mixing––uses in and out, not just with the fastball but also with his secondary pitches," Myrtle Beach pitching coach Brad Holman said during an interview in May. "He commands them to both sides of the plate, and not just for strikes. And he knows how to expand the zone. He'll pitch inside."

Hendricks does a good job of changing speeds with his fastball, as well. While he most often pitches with an 87-89 mph two-seam fastball that has a little armside run and sink, he also mixes in a 90-94 mph four-seamer––typically using it late in counts to put hitters away or late in games to give a different look from his two-seamer.

"He has got a sense of how to get hitters out in terms of disrupting timing," Holman said. "He uses the count. Sometimes, if it's in the hitter's favor, he might subtract a little bit. And when it comes time to bury one in on a guy or put a guy away, you might see him add three or four miles per hour."

While the 22-year-old prospect doesn't have a standout secondary pitch, as Holman said, he does a good job of locating all of them and covering any velocity between the low-70s and mid-80s. His 75-78 mph changeup––a unique pitch with lots of velocity separation from his fastball––draws mixed reviews from scouts. Some see it as a potential plus offering due to the excellent deception while others worry about its lack of movement. His primary breaking ball is a 77-82 mph slider that's almost like a harder curveball, and he'll use a big-breaking low-70s curve as a get-me-over pitch to steal a strike.

Hendricks also began throwing a low-to-mid 80s cutter around mid-season, giving him a wrinkle that comes in between his slider and fastball on the radar gun––another weapon to disrupt timing.

At the end of the day, the Dartmouth product may not have a plus pitch, but he has a handful of solid offerings in his arsenal. His plus control/command and pitchability enables the stuff to play up, leading to his back-of-the-rotation ceiling.

Hendricks made his first appearance in the Cubs' organization at High-A Daytona. Because he's already north of 130 innings on the season and has shown some signs of fatigue lately––finding it more difficult to repeat his delivery while losing some velocity––he could finish the year in the bullpen before joining the Double-A rotation in 2013.

The following video is from Hendricks' start at Wilmington on May 20, when he struck out a season-high 11 batters over eight innings.

Kyle Hendricks vs. Wilmington: 5/20/2012 (best viewed in full screen and HD).

Year Team W-L IP H BB SO ERA
2011 Spokane (SSA) 2-2 32.2 20 4 36 1.93
Frisco (AA) 0-0 3.0 4 2 2 3.00
2012 Myrtle Beach (A+) 5-8 130.2 123 15 112 2.82

Cubs Acquire: Christian Villanueva, 3B

Position: Third Base
Date of Birth: June 19, 1991 (21)
Birthplace: Guadalajara, Mexico
Height: 5'11" Weight: 204
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Signed: 2008 – International free agent

Of the three minor leaguers sent to Chicago in the two deadline deals, Villanueva is the top prospect, and he has the highest ceiling. But he was also traded from the Rangers' best position of depth in the minors. The organization has Adrian Beltre in the major leagues, elite prospect Mike Olt at Double-A Frisco, Drew Robinson with Single-A Hickory, and slugging 2012 draft pick Joey Gallo in the rookie Arizona League.

Villanueva, who hails from Guadalajara––an area of Mexico where little baseball is played––signed with the Rangers as an international free agent in the fall of 2008. While his debut '09 season in the Dominican Summer League was cut short after only eight games due to a knee injury, he's been completely healthy ever since.

The third baseman made his state-side debut in the Arizona League two summers ago before spending the entire 2011 campaign at Single-A Hickory and progressing forward to Myrtle Beach this year.

In 100 games with the Pelicans, Villanueva had a .285/.356/.421 slash line that included 19 doubles and 10 home runs. He'd caught fire of late, hitting .333/.440/.479 in 27 games this month. Because Myrtle Beach plays its home games in the extreme pitcher-friendly environment of Field, stats don't always tell the full story. Though he scuffled at home, he was hitting a strong .310/.383/.446 on the road.

Villanueva's glove is the standout aspect of his game. He's a borderline plus-plus defender at third base with the full package of tools and skills. In addition to his excellent instincts and overall feel for the position, he plays with smooth actions and sure hands. While his range isn't quite elite, his first-step quickness enables him to cover plenty of ground. He also has a strong 60-grade (plus) arm.

The only potential issue with Villanueva's defense stems from the fact that his body (and the mid-section in particular) could get slightly thick as he matures, which would detract from his range. He'll have to stay in shape, but his instincts and reflexes are so good that he likely won't have any trouble sticking at third base regardless.

Scouts have a few more questions about whether or not Villanueva will ultimately hit enough to be an everyday big league third baseman. At the plate, the right-handed hitter shows some good present strength and bat speed out of a line-drive stroke. He's not a particularly patient hitter but also not quite a free swinger. He projects to have about an average hit tool (.260-.270 range) with potentially average power (20-ish home runs).

There isn't much consensus from scouts about Villanueva's power potential, though. Some see it as a potential solid-average tool while some believe it'll be more gap-to-gap and fringe-average.

Villanueva's 32 stolen bases in 38 attempts with Single-A Hickory last season was a testament to his first-step quickness––both in the field and on the base paths––and feel for the game, as he's a fringe-average runner at best. The Rangers have praised his work ethic and competitive nature since he arrived in the U.S. in 2010.

If the 21-year-old prospect lives up to the projection of average hit tool with average power and an elite glove, he could make a fine everyday player. Regardless, Villanueva is likely to be a big leaguer in some fashion.

The following video is from Myrtle Beach's series at Wilmington between May 18 and 20. Villanueva's at-bats begin at the 36 second mark and end at 1:32.

Myrtle Beach hitters: 5/18-20/2012 (best viewed in full screen and HD).

2009 DSL Rangers (DSL) .208 24 1 0 3 2 1/1 6 5 .375 .250
2010 AZL Rangers (RK) .314 188 14 2 35 30 6/8 13 42 .365 .431
2011 Hickory (A) .278 467 30 17 84 78 32/38 37 86 .338 .465
2012 Myrtle Beach (A+) .285 375 19 10 59 45 9/18 24 83 .356 .421

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