PHOENIX – The ascension into the upper echelon of Perfect Game’s class of 2020 national prospect rankings happened so quickly for Oakdale, Pa., top outfielder Austin Hendrick that it really wasn’t much of an ascension at all.
He’s been considered a front-line prospect ever since the first 2020 “high follow” rankings were released four years ago and he’s never slipped, usually finding a comfortable seat somewhere in the top-five. Rankings can fluctuate like the Pennsylvania weather, but Austin Hendrick’s standing in his class has never wavered.
So here he is at last, making his Perfect Game showcase debut at the PG National Showcase, which is being held this week at Chase Field, the home of the National League’s Arizona Diamondbacks. He arrived in the desert as the No. 3-ranked overall prospect in his class and also as the No. 3-ranked outfield prospect behind California’s 1/1 Pete Crow-Armstrong and Florida’s 2/2 Dylan Crews.
Hendrick has never spent a lot of time worrying about the rankings, choosing to embrace them and use them as somewhat of a measuring stick alongside his peers. He also embraced his invitation to the PG National and all the opportunity that comes with that invite.
“100 percent,” Hendrick told PG, uttering the two words he uses frequently when he’s trying to convey the sense that’s he’s all-in on something. “When you surround yourself with good people and good players like this, it makes you want to play harder and do better. It’s good to surround yourself with that; you can always learn something from all the other kids.
“You come out here to this beautiful ballpark with the best kids in the country, and it’s fun,” he added. “You can go out and showcase your skills, and just go out and have a good time.”
There are a lot of elements surrounding the game of baseball that Hendrick pursues with vigor and passion, but none more than the pursuit of having a good time. It’s heard in his words; it’s seen in the expression on his face and it’s felt when he speaks with the utmost sincerity about what he’s up to these days.
“The way I look at it is that I already have my life mapped out and now I’m just kind of living it,” Hendrick said. “This is the best time of my life, so I’m just going to have fun.”
Hendrick is a toolsy, 6-foot-1, 205-pound athlete who is heading into his senior year at West Allegheny High School in Imperial, Pa., and who established his credentials with PG by playing in more than 20 tournament events since his 12u playing days in the spring of 2014.
He has been named to 10 all-tournament teams through that stretch playing with programs like the Go Wags, the West Hills Show and, for the last two summers, Georgia-based powerhouse Team Elite. Those experiences led him here and did nothing to disappoint.
A kid from up north who has committed to Mississippi State, Hendrick let it all hang-out during his team’s workout session at the National on Thursday. His swing produced an exit velo of 105 mph (tied for the second best effort from anyone on the first four teams to report. He threw 93 mph from the outfield (t-3rd) and ran the 60 in 6.80-seconds, another top effort.
A PG scout filed this blog:
“(Hendrick is) one of the best players in the class. Hendrick’s bat speed is at the top of the scale and he showed tremendous power here, driving several way out to the pull-side with loud jump and carry.”
Hendrick, who is about a month shy of his 18th birthday, told PG that he developed a love for the game of baseball when he was around 4 or 5 years old and it’s a love that he not only never outgrew, but one that intensified through the years.
He would take BP every chance he could, watch as many games as possible on TV or in person and would basically try to soak in everything associated with the game. He gives his Dad, Dan Hendrick, a lot of credit for nurturing his love of the game.
“Me and my dad have always been really close and he was always there to help,” he said.
His path here has, indeed, been mostly a smooth one as he’s shown the ability to adjust to any situation, fouling off pitches that aren’t quite to his liking and going the other way when that’s the thing to do. But just over a year ago he was thrown a curve unlike any he had seen before.
It was in April 2018 when Dan Hendrick suffered a debilitating stroke. Surgery was required to relieve swelling on Dan’s brain and he still has difficulty with his speech and mobility; it’s been a difficult year.
“He’s definitely made a lot of progress from when it all started,” Hendrick told PG. “His speech isn’t going to be 100 percent … but he understands everything. He’s doing good and he’s made some progress, and it’s been fine. It has been a lot of work going to the therapist and those things.”
Dan Hendrick was at Chase Field Tuesday and Wednesday to watch his son perform, and the father-son relationship remains a strong one.
“It’s not the same because we’d go to the field together and he’d throw to me and stuff,” Hendrick said. “But he’s still there to help, he’s still reading my swing and everything, so it’s good. It’s a nice relationship; he’s still out here supporting me, no doubt.”
The West Allegheny HS baseball program is a strong one, having won several West Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championships in the last decade-plus. When asked about his high school experiences, Hendrick said that the competition isn’t nearly as stout as what he sees during the summer, but was quick to add, “It’s good playing with my teammates – we’re a brotherhood – and it is a lot of fun.”
Hendrick played with USA Baseball last year and will take part in the 17u National Team Development Program this weekend; the NTDP will be held here in the Valley of the Sun at MLB spring training complexes in Glendale, Goodyear and Peoria.
“Those have been some of the best experiences of my life,” Hendrick said. “Being able to wear USA across my chest and playing with the best of the best. You’re playing against great competition and you’re playing with great (competitors), it’s really a lot of fun.”
And Hendrick also really enjoys the summer ball circuit. He said playing with Team Elite is “a blast” and he’s developed all kinds of new friendships with the players, most of whom reside in Georgia. In addition to the 10 all-tournament selections, he was named the Most Valuable Player at the 2017 15u Perfect Game World Series while playing with Team Elite.
“There’s no doubt that it brings out the competitor in me,” Hendrick said of those big PG tournament stages. “You’re trying to win and I’m just out there pulling with the boys.” He went on to say that when playing alongside the other elite athletes in the Team Elite program, it seems like each new practice, each new game is a learning process.
“100 percent; you’re always looking to get better,” he said. “Even if it’s the littlest things, you just kind of go out there and have fun and learn as much as you can.”
The Mississippi State commitment is important to Hendrick, and he told PG that he can’t wait to get to Starkville in another year, although the 2020 MLB June Amateur Draft might change those plans. And remember, Hendrick has his life mapped out and now he’s just living it.
Wednesday was day-two of the PG National Showcase’s five-day run and when it concludes the 2019 PG summer tournament season will go full throttle for the next six weeks at venues all across the country. Hendrick considered the National an important part of what is an ongoing process where “You’re going out there and competing to the best of your abilities, and most importantly having fun.”
And then he added: “There’s no doubt this is a pretty important summer. Every year is fun, but I’m getting older every year and it gets more and more important.”
So, what’s left for the kid who has always been both highly ranked and highly regarded within the burgeoning PG baseball community? How about a spot on one of the rosters at the PG All-American Classic in San Diego in August?
“That would definitely be something I’d like to put on my calendar,” Hendrick said. “I’m 100 percent familiar with it” and would love to be a part of it, he added. 100 percent …