St. Louis Cardinals prospect explains his unique name, an aspirational tattoo and a 100 mph fastball
PEORIA — Tink Hence wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his passion for baseball, but he carries a permanent reminder of his life’s mission in a tattoo on his right leg.
“Dream2Reality” is set in ink on his right quad, words to live by for the 20-year-old rising St. Louis Cardinals prospect with a cannon of a right arm that can send pitches to the plate at 100 mph.
“My dad always told me, ‘What do you want to do?’ ” Hence said. “I heard that my whole life from the time I was a tiny kid. ‘What do you want to do?’
“My answer was always baseball. Be a professional baseball player. I’m driven to take that dream and make it a reality. So I got that tattoo after I was drafted by the Cardinals.”
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And all eyes are on his journey. MLB Pipeline ranks the Peoria Chiefs starting pitcher as the No. 3 prospect in the parent club Cardinals system. Baseball America ranks him No. 47 in its Top 100 prospects in all of baseball.
He throws a fastball 94-96 mph, has hit 99 twice at Dozer Park this season and once on the road, and has hit 100 a few times earlier in his career.
And he’s just 20 years old.
Baseball from birth for a boy named Tink
Hence grew up in Pine Bluff, Ark., a city of about 40,000 located 43 miles outside Little Rock. He lives outside Pine Bluff now, in a little burb of 5,000 called White Hall.
His mother, Mekol, and father, Marvin, raised six boys and a girl. The boys — Blake, Kevin, Braelin (an infielder at University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff), Marcel, Blaze and Tink — all played baseball.
“I followed them into it,” Hence said. “My dad has a real love for it. He played high school baseball and was my coach. I didn’t start pitching until I was 14, but coming up he’d have me take at-bats or play an inning with the older teams he was coaching.”
About that name: Tink.
“My mom, when I was about 5, called me ‘Stinker’ and it stuck,” Hence said, laughing. “It eventually evolved into Tinker. Then Tink. I remember my dad told me I had to hit a home run for my name to become Tink. So I did.”
Draft day for the Hence family
Markevian Jervon Hence — Tink, as his family calls him — was at home during the MLB Draft in 2020 when the Cardinals took him 63rd overall with their Competitive Balance Round B pick, talking on the hone with former Chiefs player Masyn Winn, who the Cardinals had just selected. Hence was 17 years old, and the Cardinals signed him for $1.15 million.
“My brothers and sister and parents, my friends and a lot of the kids I played childhood baseball with, they were all there that day,” Hence said. “I wasn’t really watching the TV. No one ever called me beforehand. My name just showed up and I was stunned. Shocked really. It was the most amazing thing.”
That 2020 draft was an amazing haul for St. Louis, which got Winn, and Jordan Walker and Alec Burleson and Hence. Winn, Walker and Hence were all born in 2002 and could have long careers together in St. Louis.
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The ties that bind
Hence, Winn and Walker formed an early bond and are friends. Winn talks to Hence every other week and they watch each other’s progress carefully.
“It’s crazy we have a chance to be on the same roster, stay together,” Hence said. “We started out together, we went to Fall league together, too. We’re all competing for the same dream, to play for the Cardinals.
“If we could do that, all three of us together, it would be incredible. We all have that same journey to make.”
Hence has that howitzer of a fastball, and it rises, making hitters miss under it. He has a curve, slider and changeup, too. The fastball and slider are plus pitches. Control is a work in progress.
Baseball America rates his fastball as the best in the Cardinals organization and seventh among the pitchers in the top 100 prospects. In his first two pro seasons, he posted a 14.1 strikeouts/nine innings rate. He was an all-star and Pitcher of the Year last season in the low-A Florida State League.
His metrics pop. A WHIP of 0.88 led all Cardinals minor-league pitchers in 2022. An ERA of 1.38 was second. Opponent batting average, strikeout/walk ratio, toughest to homer off, all top-five ranked.
No wonder he was invited to Cardinals spring training this year, the second-youngest player in camp.
“It was such an experience,” Hence said. “The one thing that sticks with me is how the veteran pitchers crowded around in the bullpen, watched everything you did, talked to you, helped you.
“It was so reassuring and they saw I could pitch and I felt like I belonged.”
An ace in the making?
The metrics are certainly strong for the 6-foot-1, 185-pound righty Hence. So is his history. The graduate of Watson Chapel High School signed a letter of intent with University of Arkansas, where Winn also had signed. Both players came up through the Arkansas Sticks Baseball Academy.
Hence pitched in talent exposure events like the Future Stars Series and the WWBA Showcase in 2019. He went through two programs that are joint efforts by USA Baseball and MLB — all costs covered.
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One was the Breakthrough Series, which focuses on developing players on and off the field through seminars, mentorship, gameplay, scout evaluations, video coverage and the highest level of instruction.
The other was the Dream Series, which puts a diverse group of high school players in a special development camp atmosphere as well as a showcase for professional scouts and collegiate recruiters. Participants receive daily presentations from former Major Leaguers, scouts, college administrators and other industry professionals that prepare them for collegiate and professional recruiting processes.
It’s part of the building of a future ace.
And that includes this: Tink Hence, as of late May, has not pitched more than four innings in any outing in his pro career. The Cardinals kept him around 50 pitches last season.
This season, in Peoria, it’s been 60-70. In five starts, Hence has a 3.78 ERA over 16⅔ innings, has walked six, struck out 20 and has a WHIP of 1.32.
He didn’t allow a run during his first three Peoria outings — covering 10⅔ innings. But he spent a month on IR with muscle tightness in his chest. Back on the mound now, he’s allowed seven runs in his last two outings.
“I know I’m young, and I think the Cardinals are being careful not to extend me too much yet,” Hence said. “This season I had a little setback with that chest tightness.
“I came in at 17 and learned right away it’s a whole different game. But at some point I have to stretch out and challenge myself and pitch more.
“I’m getting better, and it’s just part of the journey.”
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men’s basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. He can be reached at 686-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.
Game of ‘What if?’ with Tink Hence
Peoria Chiefs pitcher Tink Hence was asked two questions about his major league dreams:
Q: What major league pitcher did you like watching as a kid?
A: “Yordano Ventura,” said Hence, of the 6-foot, 195-pound Kansas City Royals righty who could touch 102 mph with his fastball. Ventura was killed in a 2017 car crash. “He was an undersized guy, like me,” Hence said. “I liked to watch him battle, and I respected the way he pitched.”
Q: What major league hitter would you like to face?
A: “A lot of star hitters to choose from, but my pick is a little different,” Hence said. “I’d like to face Michael Harris II.” Harris II is the Atlanta Braves center fielder who was drafted in the third round in 2019 and hit .297 with 19 home runs and 20 stolen bases as a rookie last season. The left-handed hitter is on an eight-year, $72 million deal with Atlanta. “We’re good friends, so I have to go with him,” Hence said. “We know each other well. He’s a rising hitter in MLB and I think it would be fun to face each other. And a real challenge, too.”
This article originally appeared on Journal Star: St. Louis Cardinals prospect has unique name, tattoo, 100 mph fastball
Source: Yahoo Sports