Cardinals prospects: Evaluating Tink Hence's development

Tink Hence is ranked as the top pitching prospect in the Cardinals farm system. He was recently moved up to AA Springfield. How has he fared there thus far in his minor league career?

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The 2020 draft went swimmingly for the St. Louis Cardinals. Randy Flores was able to snag Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn, Tink Hence, Alec Burleson, and Ian Bedell, among others. Walker and Burleson are contributing at the major league level already, Winn is knocking at the door, and Hence is showing serious upside as a starting pitcher.

Tink Hence was drafted 63rd overall in the shortened 2020 MLB Draft. He was sent to the Florida Complex League in 2021 and was immediately put on a strict workload due to injury concerns. Hence features a fastball that can touch 99 MPH, a changeup that drops down to the upper-70s and has good fade to it, a curveball that can create whiffs, and a slider that can have some upside. His fastball and curveball are his highest-rated pitches at 65 and 60 (on an 80-based scale), respectively. Across three seasons in the minors, he has struck out batters at a 33.5% rate and has walked batters at a 7.5% rate. He has also done a good job at limiting hits and home runs per nine innings, especially in recent years.

Upon his arrival at Springfield, Mason Keith wrote a piece detailing Hence's placement on national prospect lists. Keith presents strong insight into the organization's plan for Hence and how his game has changed during his minor league tenure. Give it a read here.

Hence started the 2022 season at Low-A Palm Beach. He had innings and pitch restrictions on him from the start, keeping him around 50 pitches and 3 innings per outing. His short arm delivery lends him to potentially getting hurt, but his per-pitch stats are ridiculous. In just 52.1 innings in 2022, he struck out 81 batters, walked only 15, had a WHIP of 0.88, an ERA of 1.38, and an opponents' batting average of just .174; however, the most pitches he threw in any of his 16 outings were 60 pitches. He did not go more than 4 innings in any of his starts. His 2022 K-rate in Palm Beach was a ridiculous 41.5%!! His K/BB rate was 5.4. Keep in mind, he did all of this as a 19-year-old playing against batters on average 3 years older than he was.

In 2023, Hence started the season at High-A Peoria. He pitched in 11 games and threw a total of 41.2 innings across those games. While in Peoria, Hence struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings, had a WHIP of 1.104, an ERA of 2.81, and batters had a .224 average against him. These numbers justified an early July call-up. In Springfield, Tink has continued to pitch well. He has pitched in 5 games (24.1 innings) to the tune of a 3.33 ERA, a .207 batting average against, and 1.11 WHIP, and has struck out just over 9 batters per nine innings. His strikeouts aren't quite what they were in the lower levels, but that is expected as he starts seeing more experienced hitters.

Hence never threw more than 60 pitches in 2022, but the reigns have loosened slightly on him this year. He has topped out at 82 pitches and has thrown 5 innings in 7 of his 16 starts. In one of his recent starts against the Tulsa Drillers, he struck out 9 batters over 5 innings using only 76 pitches. He gave up a two-run home run in the fourth, but otherwise Hence had a very strong outing. Perhaps the most important aspect of his play in Double-A is that he has exceeded 75 pitches in each of his 5 starts. This shows that the organization is willing to let him build up and see how his stuff holds up later in games.


Perhaps the most concerning thing about Hence's future projections would be his stamina and durability. The stuff and talent are clearly there. However, he has only thrown 122 total innings over a three-year career. Most prospects surpass that in one season. It may be time to let him loose a little more, possibly to the 6-inning, 90-pitch range. He is probably a year and a half away from the majors as a starter, and maybe a year away as a reliever next season. The Cardinals don't need a 5-and-dive pitcher; they need an ace. Tink Hence is that type of prospect if the Cardinals give him some more freedom between now and the end of the season.

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