It’s been a whirlwind year for former Catawba Valley baseball standout Bryce Hensley since being selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 2018 MLB Draft.
The former Red Hawk left-handed pitcher is continuing his journey to what he hopes will be a Major League career this summer with the Class-A Lexington Legends.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Hensley said. “I just finished up my first short season. I had a lot of success and figured some things out. I went home and had to make the adjustment of being home for six months instead of just one or two, and I really worked harder than I ever have this offseason. This has been a year of learning how my body works, how I need to pitch to have success and really just a lot behind the mental game.”
Hensley pitched in 12 games during his first full season in the minor leagues in 2018, recording a 1.33 ERA, two saves and 23 strikeouts between his stints with the Surprise Royals in the Arizona League and the Class-A Lexington Legends in the South Atlantic League.
His two biggest adjustments into professional baseball were meeting players from all different states and countries as well as the strenuous schedule.
“Obviously the language and cultural barrier is a lot different than a college setting I was used to, but luckily I adjusted pretty quickly,” he said. “There is also just a different schedule.”
Hensley’s second professional season got off to a bit of a scary start.
During extended spring training, Hensley was hit by a line drive in the shin by San Diego Padres rookie phenom Fernando Tatis Jr. during one of Tatis’ rehab games in Arizona.
“I stayed in the game and was fine after,” Hensley said. “I was just a little sore the next day.”
Following the end of extended spring training, Hensley received some shocking news while on a trip to San Diego. On June 3, Hensley found out he’d been assigned to Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
“Our Director of Player Operations shoots me a text and asks me if I have my glove and some cleats,” Hensley said. “I told him ‘yes’ and then he said he was just keeping me on my toes. I figured he was just messing with me. Then he calls me and tells me I have a 6:30 a.m. flight to Arkansas the next day. So I packed the few things I had with me and took off.”
Hensley appeared in one game for the Naturals, allowing just one hit and striking out one in 1.2 innings.
He called the experience at the Double-A level a “surreal” one.
“I remember driving to Jackson, Tennessee every weekend to watch my brother pitch in Double-A,” Hensley said. “That was sort of my first taste of hanging out with pro guys, going on the field and being in the locker room.
“The guys there (at Northwest Arkansas) are awesome,” Hensley said. “I made friends with a bunch of them in spring training, and they were awesome with welcoming me.”
After spending a week at the Double-A level, Hensley was assigned to the Class-A Lexington Legends.
In six games so far this season for the Legends, Hensley has recorded a 0.41 ERA in 22 innings pitched. He has allowed just one earned run, three walks and 15 hits while striking out 15 batters.
Hensley is currently holding opposing hitters to a .192 batting average.
“Honestly God has just blessed me. That’s really all I can say,” Hensley said of his sophomore season in the pros. “God has continued to give me opportunities, and the defense behind me has been doing its job well. Excellence is mundane — you go out there and repeat the same things every day so that when it’s game time it’s just second nature. That’s what I’ve tried to learn this year. Be where your feet are and control what you can control. All I can do is control my effort and attitude and that’s what I’ve tried to do all year and it’s worked.”
The highlight of Hensley’s time with the Legends so far came on July 2 when he pitched in his hometown of Asheville against the Class-A Asheville Tourists in front of a large group of family and friends.
At the game, Hensley recorded his first save of the 2019 season, allowing just two hits, one walk and striking out six batters in his four-inning appearance at McCormick Field in Asheville.
“My friends, family and the people that are in my corner really came out in a big way and showed a lot of support for it being a Tuesday night,” Hensley said. “Honestly, I think it was cooler for all the people that have supported me, stuck their neck out for me and believed in me when nobody else did and all the people that helped me get to that moment. It was really cool.”
Family has been an important part of Hensley’s pro journey thus far.
He has tried to use a lot of advice from his brother Steven Hensley, who is a former fourth-round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners.
“One thing I’ve been working on learning this year is that it doesn’t matter where I am and what level or team — my stuff plays, and I’m here for a reason,” he said. “My brother called me when I got to Double-A and told me find a way to make myself irreplaceable. He told me that I deserved to be here. I’d worked so hard, and my stuff was good enough to be here. During the first two or three pitches in Double-A, I was pretty nervous, but after I got my mind right, it felt like one of the most calm moments of my life.”
Being the highest-ever promoted baseball player to come out of Catawba Valley, Hensley hopes that he is blazing a path for future Red Hawks to tread down.
“I took so many different roads to get here,” Hensley said. “I hope more CVCC guys make it here and obviously beyond to the big leagues. Those guys at CVCC will always be like family to me and that place has a huge spot in my heart for helping me to get here.”