Tink Hence, wearing a Springfield Cardinals uniform, pitches during a game at Hammons Field
Tink Hence, the top minor-league prospect in the Cardinals’ organization, is confident that 2024 seasons finds him making it to St. Louis at some point for his major-league debut. (Photo by Springfield Cardinals)

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Over the last few seasons, the Springfield Cardinals have been slanted heavily toward offense. Fans coming to Hammons Field have been treated to players like Brendan Donovan, Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn and Victor Scott II blazing a path to the big leagues.

The 2024 Springfield Cardinals, who open the home schedule on April 9 against Wichita, will have a different storyline. This team is stacked with pitching prospects, arms that might not be far away from helping out at Busch Stadium where Donovan, Walker, Winn and Scott are playing.

Leading the way is Tink Hence, the No. 1-ranked prospect in the organization according to MLB.com’s top 30 rankings. Five other pitchers also are on the list — Tekoah Roby (No. 2), Max Rajcic (13), Ian Bedell (19), Edwin Nunez (23) and Andre Granillo (27).

“We’re deep on the mound,” fourth-year Cardinals manager Jose Leger said earlier this week at the team’s media day at Hammons Field. “Our staff is really good. As long as you have pitching, you always have a chance as long as you play defense behind them.”

Right-hander could be on the brink of a breakout season

The excitement begins with Hence, a 21-year-old right-hander who could be on the brink of his breakout season. Gone are strict innings and pitch-count restrictions that Hence has dealt with since becoming the 63rd overall draft choice in 2020.

It was a year of ups and downs, but most of all education and evolution for Hence in 2023 after his mid-season promotion to Springfield from High-A Peoria. Hence had a 2-5 record and a 5.47 earned run average in 12 starts after making the large leap to the hitter-friendly Texas League.

But with that half-season under his belt, plus a few weeks in Cardinals’ major-league camp this spring, Hence feels a fresh sense of confidence. He’s eager to make the next move in a quest to become the impact starting pitcher the organization has sought for several years.

“I’m really feeling amazing going into the season. I’m just ready to showcase it all,” Hence said. “It’s a big year for me.”

Busch Stadium is on Hink's radar

The MLB.com Cardinals prospects summary of Hence noted that since he turned pro in 2020, “it’s been a slow, meticulous process … He set a career-high with 96 frames in 2023 and earned his first in-season promotion by jumping from High-A Peoria to Double-A Springfield. But he struggled in the hitter-friendly Texas League, particularly in August when he had more earned runs (24) than strikeouts (20) in five starts before ending the season on a brighter note.”

Tink Hence, wearing a Springfield Cardinals uniform, pitches during a game at Hammons Field
After spending the second half of last season in Springfield, where he had a 2-5 record and 5.47 earned run average in 12 starts, Tink Hence is eager for better results in 2024. (Photo by Springfield Cardinals)

The Cardinals have shown they aren’t hesitant to fast-track players to the big leagues, as with recent Springfield alums Walker, Winn and Scott. Hence is keenly aware and, when asked earlier this week if he had a timeline in mind, the soft-spoken Hence did not hold back.

“I definitely believe that I’m gonna have an appearance in the show,” Hence said, meaning in 2024. “I don’t know if it’s going to be soon or if it’s going to be late. My goal this year is to make an appearance up there and show them what I’ve got and just show to myself that I can compete at that level and consistently go out and do what the team needs.

“I feel like this is the year that I make that appearance. I’m excited and I’m ready to work.”

Hence was scheduled to start Springfield’s season opener on April 5 in Little Rock. His first Hammons Field start, in the team’s 20th season at Hammons Field, would likely come on April 11 or 12 against Wichita.

Manager calls him a ‘very easy guy to manage'

Jose Leger, wearing a Springfield Cardinals uniform, walks to the Hammons Field dugout before a game
Fourth-year Springfield Cardinals manager Jose Leger said that pitching will be the team’s strength this season. Six pitchers on the opening-day roster rank among the organization’s top 30 prospects. (Photo by Springfield Cardinals)

Count Leger as one who’s excited to see how Hence compares to a year ago.

“We’ll try to get him deep in games to see what he can do out there,” Leger said. “He had a really good spring, so I’m excited to see what he can do. He is a very easy guy to manage.”

Leger said Hence is a dream for minor-league coaches because of his attitude.

​​”He’s humble, down to earth,” Leger said. “A low-key guy. It’s a matter of keeping him focused, keeping him working and giving him what he needs. Communication is a big key. It’s one thing we preach to all the players. Communication goes both ways. I have to listen to them, pay attention to little things. I’m open to hear what they think.”

Hence said some timing issues with his mechanics have been cleaned up which should lead to more consistency in repeating his pitching with maximum efficiency.

“I had some timing things from last year that I cleaned up to help me get more movement on my pitches,” Hence said, adding that he spent much of his offseason in Atlanta working on leg and core strength to better equip his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame for necessary stamina.

Hence did a lot of listening at big-league spring training

Hence’s first time in big-league training camp was a chance to gain more knowledge that he hopes pays off, beyond merely getting his work in on the mound. Hence said he soaked up all he could from listening sessions with veteran pitchers like Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson.

“I’m not a very big talker,” Hence said. “A lot of times I would just sit around and smile, maybe say a little joke or laugh. I just like to listen … and learn things and just take notes. I stuff it in my backpack and have it, then whenever I go through a situation, I can go, ‘He told me about this.’

“It’s more of a mental thing, a confidence thing that you have to carry.”

Leger said Roby will start game two at Arkansas followed by Edwin Nunez, a highly regarded right-hander making the move to starter from reliever. Max Rajcic, the organization’s minor-league pitcher of the year in 2023, is set to start the home opener.

Offensive players to watch

Chandler Redmond, wearing a Springfield Cardinals uniform, celebrates with teammates in the dugout after hitting a home run
With a Texas League-leading 31 home runs, Chandler Redmond said the Springfield Cardinals are determined to advance in the Texas League playoffs despite a Game One loss on Tuesday night to Arkansas. (Photo: PJ Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

There are several notable hitters returning to Springfield, led by slugging first baseman Chandler Redmond and infielders Noah Mendlinger and Jacob Buchberger.

Leger said a newcomer for fans to keep an eye on is center fielder Nathan Church, a 23-year-old second-year pro who was an 11th-round draft choice in 2022 from UC-Irvine.

“Nathan Church is a very exciting player who plays the game the right way,” Leger said. “He’s a center fielder who can play all three positions, a right-handed bat who runs well.”

Springfield Cardinals' upcoming schedule

April 5-7 — at Arkansas

April 9 — vs. Wichita, 6:35 p.m.

April 10 — vs. Wichita, 6:35 p.m.

April 11 — vs. Wichita, 6:35 p.m.

April 12 — vs. Wichita, 6:35 p.m.

April 13 — vs. Wichita, 6:05 p.m.

April 14 — vs. Wichita, 1:05 p.m.

Tickets are available at the Hammons Field box office, on the Springfield Cardinals website or by calling (417) 863-2143

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Missouri Sports Hall of Famer, Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton