The 2012 MLB Draft saw big names like Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, and Marcus Stroman taken in its first round. Max Muncy, Josh Hader, and even Jameis Winston were taken in the later rounds. However, with the 30th pick in the first round, the Yankees selected Ty Hensley, a 6’4 right-handed pitcher from Edmond, Oklahoma.
Hensley has had quite the journey since being drafted. He was a star pitcher, switch-hitter, and even quarterback at Edmond Santa Fe High School. It was evident from a very young age that he was an incredible athlete. While he could hit well and was a solid QB, he decided that his future was on the mound, going 10-0 with a 1.52 ERA his senior year, striking out 111 batters in just under 54 innings. Many colleges wanted him on their baseball team, and he committed to Ole Miss.
Rather than going to Ole Miss, he chose to enter the MLB Draft and take a chance on professional baseball.
“I was very fortunate to have a dad who played professional baseball as well. So I kind of had an idea of what I was getting myself into. I think physically and mentally; I was just mature enough to handle the next step.”
Once selected by New York, his professional career began. “I got through [Rookie Ball] okay. Then towards the end of the year, we went down to the Dominican for first-year Instructional League… It’s where all the first-year players would go get some extra reps in.”
While there, Hensley experienced his first setback.
While playing at the Red Sox’s facility a few days into the Instructional League, he felt a sharp pain in his stomach. “It was really weird, and I just tried to keep going through it, and the more I kept throwing, the worse it got.” Hensley tried to ignore the pain in his core that would not be going away anytime soon. He threw two innings, and it got even worse.
“At that point towards the end… I couldn’t even sit up straight. I had to stay hunched over because, as my stomach was in so much pain.” Because he was at the Red Sox facility, he had to ride on the team bus back to the Yankees’ place. All while feeling this horrible pain. He said it felt like the longest bus ride he had ever been on.
Upon finally arriving back, he noticed that there was a bump in his stomach that was “as big as a softball.” He was immediately flown to New York to be seen by Dr. Brian Kelly. Kelly discovered an impingement in Hensley’s abdomen that would eventually require surgery.
“So what he told me was, ‘I don’t know if it’s going to be a year from now, five years from now, or ten years from now, you’re going to have that… it won’t be too drastic of a procedure… You’re going to miss a little time. Three, four months.'” They decided not to undergo surgery.
Things were initially going well at Spring Training. There had been no pain in his abs, and he was throwing well. When the first hitter stepped into the batter’s box to face him, the pain returned.
“Sure enough, the pain and everything starts coming back again… So at this point, I kind of realize like, I’m gonna have that hip surgery.” His right hip was operated on April 3, 2013, and then his left hip followed on May 23.
The right hip had a straightforward recovery, but the left did not. Two weeks after the surgery, Hensley started feeling tremendous pain around that left hip.
“I got this really bad staph infection inside my hip. So it was, in my bloodstream… Within a matter of 10 hours, I was running a fever, just like insane… I wake up [at] five in the morning on my bed and like, I’m moving around and you can just hear like [imitating a disgusting sound] in my sheets… I’m like, what’s going on?”
The pain in his leg became more intense when he got up to go to the bathroom, and he knew that he was going to have to get it checked. Whenever his doctor made a small incision, the bump exploded across the room. “He cuts my leg open … just where my incision was that’s really small. Sure enough, it just bursts across the room. Like I’m talking like the liquid that was in my leg, just boom. And it just smelled terrible.”
Following the doctor’s visit, Ty went to Tim Lentych, the current big league trainer for the Yankees, who immediately took Hensley to an emergency room. His condition was getting worse as they headed to the ER. He was taken into emergency surgery and told that they would need to cut into his hip and leg to clean his infection. The procedure was going to be career-ending likely.
Right before Hensley was to go under the knife, Dr. Kelly calls from New York with an alternative plan for curing the infection. At this point, he was so sick that he was having severe trouble processing his situation. “I remember [the plane] hitting the ground… and then I got in a car and we drove into the city. I don’t remember the car ride at all… I remember getting to Dr. Kelly’s office and him. I was pretty sure it was a Sunday.”
The surgery went well, but Hensley had to wear a catheter that went to his heart through his arm.
This was one of the toughest times in his career. “I just… didn’t feel like a man anymore… pretty worthless. Just all sorts of just emotions going through my head.” Eight weeks after the surgery, he had an allergic reaction to his antibiotics, seriously hindering his healing.
“My skin’s red like and then like for the next year, like it all 2013 like I just had these horrible headaches like it just took my body forever to recover.” He didn’t pitch in a single game in 2013.
Hensley felt good during Spring Training in 2014 until he began pitching to batters. He felt a snap in his abdomen for the third time. He went to Dr. William Myers in Philadelphia to have an MRI. The MRI discovered part of Hensley’s abs were not attached to the bone. After a quick procedure, he had a smooth recovery, throwing ten days later with no issue. After a season without any setbacks, 2015 brought only more injury.
“2015 Spring Training… I’m definitely in a good place as far as moving on to the next year. And then, I think it was my second to last game of camp, I just threw a pitch and boom, my elbow.”
On March 31, 2015, Hensley underwent Tommy John surgery at 21-years-old. The operation didn’t stop him from working as hard as he could through the demanding rehab of Tommy John. After a year of recovering, he started a throwing program with Domingo German, who had TJ surgery on the same day as Hensley.
His velocity saw a significant decrease as he was able to start throwing more, beginning around 92 mph and then lowering to 84 mph after a few games on the mound. This was because his elbow had not recovered correctly, and 13 months after his first Tommy John surgery, he had to undergo the surgery all over again. After this surgery, he had stem cell injection, which he credits as an essential aid for his healing.
In December of 2016, while still recovering from his second Tommy John, Hensley was acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays in the Rule 5 Draft. “I was pretty excited just to kind of start hopefully with a new clean slate.”
He started off throwing well and feeling healthy in 2017. However, when he threw his first batting practice, his elbow snapped. “I see this bone poking, not through my skin, but poking against my skin straight up on the pit of my elbow… I think I’m in shock at this point because I don’t feel a thing. I’m like, I think I just broke my arm.”
Upon realizing that he may need a third Tommy John surgery, he began to question his future in baseball. “So, at this point… in my mind, I was like… if something’s wrong with my graph again… I’m going to be done.”
Fortunately, a third Tommy John was not needed. The only operation required was a screw that needed to be put into his elbow. Knowing that he would not pitch in 2017, he decided that once his elbow recovered, he would give pro baseball one more shot.
In April of 2018, he finally pitched in a game again. He was throwing 95 mph and felt great, but his pitches were missing the strike zone. The Rays released him two days after his only start.
Rather than giving up after his release, Hensley decided that he would use it as motivation for becoming the best pitcher that he can, in hopes of being signed by another MLB organization. “My stuff is just as good as anybody else’s… I firmly believe that. I know that anybody that I’ve ever played catch with would say the same thing.”
Soon after his release, he found himself in Evansville, Indiana, pitching in the Frontier League. It did not go as he hoped. “I wasn’t having a whole lot of success, and I just kind of fell out of love with baseball. And so I took a little bit of a break in July.”
The break was just what he needed to get back on track. He came back in August and threw a no-hitter through five innings. He consistently threw around six innings for the remainder of the season. In the offseason of 2018, he received a phone call regarding the Delivery Value System (DVS) in Detroit.
DVS is a facility in Detroit dedicated to maximizing a pitcher’s ability while also keeping them healthy. Hensley spoke highly of DVS and credited it for helping him avoid injury.
“I decided to come up and play in the United Shore Professional Baseball League up here in Detroit, and it was honestly the best decision that I ever made.”
To end 2019, Hensley reached the seventh inning in seven straight games. He finished his year with a complete game, the first of his career. His fastball was in the mid-90s again, and his curveball was collecting a lot of strikeouts.
Hensley has spent this offseason training for his 2020 season. Through DVS, he has been optimizing his pitching ability while learning mechanics that will protect his body and prevent future injury. Before leaving to train with DVS, he lived in Oklahoma with Andrew Heaney, a left-handed starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) January 25, 2020
Along with his ability to persevere, Hensley’s curveball is one of his best attributes. A video on the Twitter account known as Pitching Ninja recently released a video of Hensley throwing an 80 mph curveball with 3003 rotations per minute. There are only a handful of pitchers in MLB that can replicate that kind of speed and movement on their hook.
The use of Trackman to measure advanced metrics on pitches in the minors began while he was in the minors. It was then he realized how good his breaking ball was when measured against his competition.
“That was the first year that they did [pitch tracking] through the Minor League systems… Come To find out, not only was my spin rate the highest in all of Minor League Baseball, but it was the highest in all of baseball.”
With a mid-90s fastball and elite curveball, the likelihood of Hensley being signed by a major league club seems more like a matter of when rather than if. Until Hensley gets that call, you can bet that he will be working as hard as anyone.
Ty Hensley’s road to Major League Baseball has been covered in speed bumps. He’s been injured, injured again, released and injured again. While luck hasn’t been on his side, he has refused to give up. Before ending the phone, callI asked him what his goals for 2020 and the future were.
“You know, the next step for me is just hoping to figure out which team would be the best fit for me and for somebody to take a shot at me [and to] give me a chance and let me make somebody look smart… All that ability that I’ve always had is still there. And you know, unfortunately, I have a lot of scars to show for it, but you know, I don’t think that the good stories come without some scars, so like I’m just so excited to make somebody look smart hopefully.”