Q&A with Jim Henderson
Drafted as a 26th-round pick by the Montreal Expos in 2003, the 24-year-old right-hander was acquired by the Cubs last December in the minor league phase of the Rule Five Draft. He spent most of 2006 at Class High-A Potomac in the Carolina League, appearing in 25 games and logging 52 innings. Having spent his 2004 and 2005 season as a starter in the Washington Nationals farm system, Henderson spent 2006 in the bullpen. A noted sinkerballer, he began to see more life on his fastball as the season wore on. (More on Henderson here.) We caught up with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies reliever recently and got his thoughts on moving to the bullpen, his increase in velocity, his journey from Canada to the minor leagues, and more. * * * Growing up in Calgary, what can you tell us about your journey so far? We always hear so much about hockey players from Canada, but what is it like for someone just trying to make it in baseball? There's not much support so I was very fortunate. Some of the kids I played with, I guess we all had a bunch of wealthy fathers, so they decided to put together a travel team and spend some money on that because they knew we couldn't really make it with where we were at. They took us into the States and we got to show off in front of some of the college scouts. I was really fortunate because if it weren't for that, I don't know where I'd be. There's not much scouting up there and it's all about hockey. Baseball is probably the fourth or fifth sport as far as priority goes up there. What are your impressions of the Cubs so far? It's a first-class organization with a lot of tradition. Coming from the Nationals, they were doing a lot of rebuilding, so there wasn't much of a foundation. With the Cubs, they have that foundation already in place. It was easy to come in and fit in with this team. Growing up in Canada, did you get to see any Cubs games on TV? No, we don't get WGN there. Most of the games we watched were Blue Jays and Expos games on Canadian television. Not much Cubs action. Were you a fan of one of those two teams over the other? Probably the Blue Jays. They were televised more and won a couple of World Series. You've done both some starting and relieving in your career to this point and now you're back in the bullpen with the Double-A club. Do you see yourself staying in that role? It doesn't really matter to me. A couple of years ago, I was starting and last year I was in long relief. I was a little skeptical going into last season as a reliever, but it actually turned out all right. It's fun to be in late in the game when it's close. The game is a little more on your shoulders. Charlie Corbell, the Potomac pitching coach last season, told us after you were acquired by the Cubs that you had added about 5-6 mph on your fastball last season. What do you attribute the increased velocity to? I guess I attribute it to relieving and going in knowing I was only going to go two or three innings at most. From there, it was just giving it all I could. I think the harder you throw and the more you practice throwing hard, the more your velocity will jump up. That's what happened in my case. I started the season 90-91 (mph) and by the end of the season I was in the mid-90s. What pitches do you feature in your arsenal? I'm a sinkerball pitcher with a slider and a changeup. My slider is usually pretty good, but I live off of my sinker mostly. The Cubs think there's some room for you to fill out your body. Did you do anything this offseason to try and do that? I tried as hard as I could. I'm a lanky guy – 6-foot-5, 190 pounds – and I try to put on as much weight as I can. I've started to fill up around my waste and my legs a little more; now I'm just trying to get my shoulder and arms a little bigger. I'm sure it will happen eventually, but I'm still a lanky guy. When you try to put on weight per se, do you do it by eating more or working out more and building muscle? I think what needs to happen is just eat more. In the offseason, I worked out almost every day. If I don't work out, I lose the weight really quickly. What has been your No. 1 target this season and throughout Spring Training? Since I was new to the organization, I just wanted to make a good impression and make myself noticed. Now that I'm on this Double-A squad, I think they're looking for someone to go to; someone to be the go-to guy. I'm trying to get that role. I don't think they have a closer set up here or any roles set up, so I just want to grab one of those roles and make an impression that way, too. We understand that you and some of your teammates came down with the flu this past week. How are you feeling? Yeah, Justin Berg had it and I think he passed it on to a couple of other guys. Carmen Pignatiello went down and I'm getting a little sick. Greg Reinhard is a little sick, too, so I think we're just passing it on to each other now. It'll be good to get out of each others faces at home since we're always in each others faces while we're on the road. But our first road trip was good for me because it gave me a chance to get to know some of my teammates a little more.