MESA, Ariz. -- If the St. Louis Cardinals are the gold standard the Chicago Cubs want to emulate, now is as good a time as any to play follow the leader.
And that means giving rookie Kyle Hendricks a realistic shot at winning a spot in the starting rotation.
Hendricks will get a look in spring training, just like everyone else. Pitching coach Chris Bosio said Hendricks will face left-hander Eric Jokisch in an intrasquad game Feb. 26, the day before the debut of Cubs Park, and will get some starts in the Cactus League.
Hendricks earned that by going 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA last year in Double A and Triple A, getting the nod as the organization's top minor league pitcher.
Acquired from the Rangers in 2012 in the Ryan Dempster trade, the 24-year-old Dartmouth grad is taking the same approach as every other young pitcher in spring training, saying he's just focusing on improving and learning from the veterans.
But there's no denying he's eager for the opportunity to show the Cubs what he can do.
"It's going to be a blast, facing big league hitters," Hendricks said Friday before the Cubs' opening workout. "That's what you dream about."
After an uneventful offseason, the Cubs head into the spring with one rotation opening for a handful of candidates. But they already have said Hendricks needs more development, and they're not in any hurry to bring him up.
Bosio said last fall he would lobby for Hendricks in talks with President Theo Epstein, but he knew that would be a long shot. It appears as if Jake Arrieta (favorite if healthy), Chris Rusin, James McDonald or Carlos Villanueva will fill the fifth-starter role, with Hendricks headed back to Iowa.
"For me, baseball has no age," Bosio said. "If you can pitch, you can pitch. If you can get guys out, it doesn't matter if you're 20 or 30. But it's having the trust in them, and those guys have the trust in themselves and the trust from the guys they play with.
"In the right case, there's no telling what could happen and how deep we can go in this organization if we needed starters. ... If we're healthy, which I assume we will be ... it's difficult to see him in our rotation.
"But there might be a couple of moves made, a couple of injuries ... then all of a sudden we may be forced to (use him). But we don't want to rush one of the better pitchers in the organization."
The Cardinals didn't worry about rushing top pitching prospect Michael Wacha last summer, even though he had made only 26 minor league appearances, including 15 starts at Triple-A Memphis.
The 22-year-old's arm helped lead the Cardinals into the postseason, where he went 4-1 and was named most valuable player of the National League Championship Series, throwing 132/3 shutout innings against the Dodgers in his two victories.
Hendricks may not be in the same class as Wacha. But if the Cardinals can stick Wacha in the middle of a pennant race, why can't the Cubs give Hendricks a shot on a rebuilding club?
Naturally, Hendricks says he is fine with the Cubs' plan. He went back to Dartmouth during the fall term to complete his degree in economics, which could come in handy when he's negotiating a contract down the road.
"Now, I just put it in my back pocket and play baseball and figure it out," he said. "I haven't really thought about what I'll do with it too much."
Most of the Cubs' top pitching prospects such as C.J. Edwards, Corey Black and Pierce Johnson are likely a year or two away. Hendricks is the only one of them in major league camp.
"We're going to get a good look at this guy before we send him out," Bosio said. "For selfish reasons, I want to see how he performs against big league hitters, not guys in Double A, A ball or Triple A. It's different.
"I think he'll keep his emotions in check. He seems like that kind of guy. His bullpen (sessions) have been pretty special. He knows what he's doing. So let's get him on a big league field against big league hitters and see what he can do."
The most important thing is for Hendricks to have a good spring and gain confidence. He's an integral part of the Cubs' youth movement though he hasn't gotten the same degree of hype as the hitting Gang of Four -- Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler.
"(Epstein) and all his people have talked to us a lot about it," Hendricks said. "The young players coming up are going to play a huge part in how this club does, and we're all excited hopefully to be a part of it."
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