The New Balance Baseball Future Stars Series powered by Program 15 Sports was proud to help send four players to the big leagues over the last two seasons, starting with Bo Naylor debuting late in the 2022 season, who was joined by Tyler Soderstrom, Grayson Rodriguez and Kyren Paris last year.
The ball is rolling, and the next wave of FSS alumni set to make their major-league debuts are making their case.
Over the next few days, we’ll be taking a look at some of those players who would seem to be at the front of the line, and the path they took through the Future Stars Series to get there.
RHP Tink Hence, St. Louis Cardinals (Highest Level: AA)
Hence appeared at three events for the New Balance Baseball Future Stars Series over the course of two years, starting with a Sticks Scout Day back in 2018.
But it was with the Sticks at the following year’s National Tournaments where he really gained attention, where he faced a loaded Scorpions team that featured players like future second overall pick Dylan Crews and fellow first-rounders Zac Veen and Drew Romo. At the time, his scouting report after the event was a glowing one, with the FSS staff saying “he does everything easy,” while lauding a fastball that “has sneaky life with a smooth delivery.” It went on to read that “he puts hitters to sleep then ties them up, pitches to both sides of plate and his curveball has good shape with depth 12-6 and late bite…a knee buckler at times.”
It was that type of showing, one that stood out when many already had eyes on Sticks teammate Braylon Bishop, that made him an easy invite to the upcoming International Week event, set to be held for the first time back then at Fenway Park.
Hence worked two innings for the National Team, facing a lineup that featured future pro ball players like Kristin Munroe, Sabin Ceballos and Roque Salinas. He struck out three batters — including Munroe and Ceballos — using a fastball that touched 95 miles per hour at the time, while also mixing in a curveball, slider and changeup. The reports after that event were similarly positive, where he was identified as a “good arm with lots of physical upside” and a pro prospect.
Since then? He’s not just been a pro prospect, he’s emerged as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, currently ranked as the No. 44 prospect in the game in the most recent installment of the FSS Plus Top 100.
The Pine Bluff, Ark. native went No. 63 overall in 2020 in a shortened Draft to the St. Louis Cardinals and had to wait to make his professional debut until the following year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He made nine appearances for the Cardinals Florida Complex League team in 2021, but didn’t really establish himself as one of the game’s top young arms until the following year, one in which he dominated the Low-A Florida State League.
The six-foot-one, 185-pound righty went 0-1 with a 1.38 ERA in 16 abbreviated starts for Palm Beach, recording 81 strikeouts in just 52 1/3 innings of work, which set the stage for his big 2023 campaign. Starting the year in High-A Peoria, Hence picked up where he left off, going 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA in 11 starts, and ultimately earning an invite to the prestigious Futures Game as part of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game Weekend.
Pitching in relief of fellow FSS alum Mick Abel, Hence spun a scoreless second inning, working up to 98.9 miles per hour in a frame in which he struck out Junior Caminero, who ended his year in the big leagues with the Tampa Bay Rays. As for Hence, he finished the year in Double-A Springfield, where a couple tough outings skewed an overall strong showing at his highest level yet; Hence struck out five or more batters in seven of his 12 starts, and continued on a path that will get him to St. Louis sooner rather than later.
At 21 years old, Hence could either return to Double-A Springfield to start the 2024 season — one in which he’ll almost surely get a look as an NRI to big-league spring training — or perhaps even receive an ambitious assignment to Triple-A Memphis. If he can continue on his quick ascension through the Cardinals system, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in the big leagues as soon as the All-Star break, if not as a potential September call-up.
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