I recently got the chance to chat with Jeff Hendrix, the Yankees' fourth round draft pick from 2015 out of Oregon State and played last year in Staten Island. Hendrix is an outfielder who started this season in Charleston but was promoted to High-A Tampa, where he is hitting .302 in 23 games. Although a lot of readers may not know his name yet, Hendrix has been performing well at every level in the Yankees system so far. We talked about his decision to return to college in 2014, the challenges of being a minor league player, and what life without baseball would be like.
What was your thought process behind opting to not sign in 2014?
It was actually an interesting situation because I didn't even know I was eligible. Around a month before, I found out that I was, but I was set on returning so I never gave it much thought.
What was the decision like in 2015 when the Yankees drafted you?
It was an easy decision because I was ready to pursue the professional side of baseball and devote all my attention to baseball.
Before you got drafted, did you have any idea who might take you?
None. You meet a lot of different area scouts as you play from almost all of the teams. By the time that it's draft day, you just sit around and wait.
What's the toughest challenge of being a minor league player that the average fan probably doesn't know about?
I would say the amount of traveling and just the day-to-day wear down on your body. Because, I mean you're playing just about every day for five months or whatever it is, and it just kind of breaks down your body slowly. By the end of the season, you've got all kinds of hurting muscles—you're just kind of fatigued, I'd say. So I would say, definitely the amount of wear and tear on your body throughout the season. And also, to add to that, if you're in a league where there are long, long bus rides, like twelve hours, when you get off you have to get ready for a game. That adds to the difficulty of getting your body ready.
So being in Tampa, you don't have to travel to far?
No, Tampa is actually pretty easy as far as travelling goes. I think the longest we've had to go is 2-3 hours. I know in Charleston we had a couple long drives. One was 13-14 hours. It was an off day, but it's tough to spend your off day traveling.
From all the teams you've played for so far, which teammates and coaches have left the strongest impressions on you?
I don't know if I can single out a single one but working with all of the different hitting coaches at the different levels, it's good to get different perspectives. They all have a lot of good stuff to say. You have to take what works for you and start to apply it to games. I think it's been a really big help.
That leads me to a follow up question. How have you felt challenged so far in your approach as a hitter?
Anyone's goal is to always make hard contact. It's not always about getting hits. Hits are a by-product of putting good swings on the baseball. Throughout all the levels, they teach you to find a good contact spot where you can drive the ball. If you can do that, you're going to be successful. I think they're all challenging you to, when you get a good pitch, put a good swing on it and the rest takes care of itself. You can't worry about where you're hitting it or if you're hitting it at certain players because that's just baseball. You just have to put a good swing on it.
What stood out to you the most when you transitioned from college to pro?
I would definitely say the quality of pitching day-to-day. You're seeing guys who know how to throw a lot of pitches, who throw them hard, and throw them all for strikes. That took me some time to get used to in Staten Island. Overall, at every position, everyone really knows how to play the game. You know that you're starting to play against some of the best players in the world, as you start to move through the different levels. Also, just playing every day is different. Like I said before, it starts to wear down your body, but that's also part of the fun, to go out and play every day. Especially after a shaky day, whether it's hitting or playing in the field, you get to go back out the next game and compete. I think that's a lot of fun.
Does it feel like less pressure, knowing that you'll be playing again the next day?
I don't know about less pressure, but I guess it can be kind of nice to know that if you‘ve had a rough day, you can go out and start fresh. Even if you'd had a good game, the next day is totally different. You have to move your mind forward pretty quickly.
Is there a noticeable different in talent between the three levels that you've played in?
Yeah, I guess you can say that. As you move up, the pitching starts to get harder. As far as velocity, people start to throw harder on a more consistent basis. I think that's the main difference. Hitting a baseball is never going to change, wherever you play. It's always going to have four bases, and you've got to try to get to home plate again.
Last question, a personal one, what would you be doing today if you weren't a baseball player?
I was going to school as nutrition major, so I'd probably be doing a job related to that. I'd be graduated by now, but it's hard to think about, because baseball has always been the objective and priority for so long. Your mind doesn't really think about too much past baseball. That's a tough one to answer. I played baseball, basketball, and football growing up. Sports have been a big part of my life since I was young, so I'd probably be doing something to help other athletes.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffHendro